False prophet draws Latinos into an unholy faith
There is a Latino who calls himself God. Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda says he is Jesus Christ, while at the same time proclaiming he is the Antichrist.
He is also apostle Pablo reincarnated, Miranda says, and has the apocalyptic number of the beast 666 tattooed on his body.
Miranda is the leader of a church he calls Growing in Grace, which is headquartered in Miami.
Media sources say Miranda has around 80,000 followers in several countries. By his own account and other sources, Miranda has amassed several million dollars.
In a recent interview for La Comay, a Puerto Rican TV show, Miranda stated he has received numerous expensive gifts, which have not given him trouble with the Internal Revenue Service as these gifts are nontaxable.
Last week, the newspaper El Tiempo in Bogota, Colombia, reported that Miranda has churches in 23 of the 32 states in that country.
The same article reported that one of the church members, Alvaro Albarracin of Miami, donated 20 percent of his earnings to Miranda's church after he sold his Internet business, Dialtone, for more than $16 million in 2001.
Luz Fuentes, another Growing in Grace member, acknowledges giving the church 50 percent of her mortgage company's income.
Fuentes even honors Miranda in her company's name, Apos Mortgage, as Apos -- for apostle -- is one of Miranda's many nicknames. According to El Tiempo, Miranda's followers also call him papi and dios, and at the same time flood him with gifts.
Church members show their commitment to the church by tattooing their bodies with 666 or SSS (the first letter in six). They are very proud of carrying this seal, they say.
On the attack
Miranda's followers have caused many disturbances, even attacking Catholic marches and religious gatherings of other denominations, according to Jorge Raschke, pastor of the Pentecostal church in Puerto Rico.
Raschke challenged Miranda to a televised theological debate to "publicly show (he is) an impostor manipulating followers to lavishly enrich (himself)," he said on La Comay. At first, Miranda did not accept the challenge and argued that Raschke would "be beat beforehand, as he is not prepared to debate God." Finally, Miranda accepted, but it is still not known if the debate will take place.
The controversy was first made public on La Comay.
In modern history, several characters have declared themselves illuminated and ended up taking their followers to a tragic end. David Koresh, for example, called himself the Messiah. He had been expelled from the Seventh Day Adventist Church and joined the Branch Davidians religious sect founded by Victor Houteff.
Koresh joined the Davidians' headquarters at a Waco, Texas, ranch, and, ultimately, amid horrifying scenes and clashes with authorities, led more than 80 of his followers to their deaths.
A similar case was Marshall Applewhite, a former music teacher known as "father John." His gospel declared an apocalyptic end for humanity.
Certainly, since father John was allegedly invested with divinity, he had the solution to save his followers from such a devastating future. The only solution was to go aboard a space- ship, just like Noah's Ark, that would take the chosen -- father John's followers -- to heavenly domains.
In March 1997, the comet Hale-Bopp came close to Earth. Father John said the celestial phenomenon was a divine sign and convinced 39 people (21 women and 18 men) to commit suicide. He promised a spaceship would come behind the comet, collect their bodies and take them to paradise.
Similar cases occurred in ancient times. In Egypt, there was a very well-known story of a "man who played god." Artisan Ptahemheb, led by his lust for wealth, power and recognition, convinced a few people that he was God. It is because of those who believed his lies that he became a semi-god.
There is no doubt all cultures have had false idols. However, it surely seems that Latin Americans are quite susceptible to manipulation based on faith. Perhaps it is a religious zeal that springs from Latin America's geography and gets mixed with rich mythology and a variety of legends.
The Latino soil is fertile not only for apocryphal and false idols, but witches, populist politicians, spurious leaders and all kinds of charlatans.
Millions have abandoned faith and genuine religiosity to put their destiny in the hands of con artists.
One of the secrets of prosperous peoples is they know how to identify authentic leaders and true prophets.
Those without that capacity wander as a flock of docile lambs behind a wolf in sheep's clothing.