The term "religious scandal" may evoke events such as the Catholic Church's coverup of abuse committed by priests or the physical and mental abuse allegations levied against leaders of the Church of Scientology, but scandal can also touch organizations that are not nearly as well known.
One recent religious ministry scandal involves the La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World) megachurch, an evangelical, reformist Christian movement that started in 1926 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has grown into a global movement with temples in more than 50 major cities including Dallas, where there's a church located in the Oak Cliff neighborhood.
Some of the church's highest-ranking members, including the head of the church known as "The Apostle," have been convicted of crimes that only scratch the surface of the scope of the damage alleged by its followers.
A new documentary airing on HBO and its streaming service HBO Max sheds a light on the abuses committed by the church's leaders. Unveiled: Surviving La Luz del Mundo was directed by Jennifer Tiexiera and produced by documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney's Jigsaw Productions and Law & Crime Productions.
The church's current "Apostle," Naasón Joaquín García, the third García family member — which founded the movement — to take on the title, is serving 16 years and 8 months in a California prison after pleading guilty to three counts of sexual assault against three minors last June. Officials charged him in 2019 with 36 felony counts of crimes such as human trafficking, production of child pornography and forcible rape of a minor, but a deal allowed him to plead guilty to three of those charges in exchange for a shorter sentence, according to statements released by the California Attorney General's office.
Other church officials who faced charges in connection with the ministry include Susana Medina Oaxaca, who was with García in 2019 when police arrested them both at Los Angeles International Airport for assault likely to cause great bodily injury. Medina Oaxaca received one year of probation and time served in jail.
Prosecutors also described Alondra Ocampo as a groomer for "The Apostle" and charged her with three counts of contact with a minor for the purposes of committing a sexual offense and one count of forcible sexual penetration. Ocampo pleaded guilty on all charges in 2020 and received a four-year prison sentence, according to released statements.
Unveiled lays out the full scope of abuses committed by church officials from its highest seats of power. Victims describe in graphic detail acts they were forced to commit on church leaders and other members. One woman in the film's trailer describes La Luz del Mundo as "one of the largest religious cults of our time."
The film also describes through testimonies other cult-ish behaviors such as former church members who are unable to contact family members still in the church and leaders who have accrued massive amounts of wealth as evidenced by their owning items such as yachts. Some of the interview subjects remained anonymous out of fear of reprisal for speaking out against the church.
Despite the guilty plea and jail sentence, several La Luz del Mundo chapters, including the Dallas location, still recognize García as its leader and "the Apostle of Jesus Christ," according to a statement released on Facebook by the Iglesia La Luz del Mundo church in Oak Cliff after García's sentencing in June.
The Oak Cliff church accepts the plea deal García made but alleges that "evidence was suppressed, hidden, manufactured and altered," according to a translated statement.
"He wants to spare the church and his family weeks of unfounded public accusations, including threats to his physical integrity," the statement reads. "We publicly manifest our support for the Apostle of Jesus Christ; our trust in him remains intact with full knowledge of his integrity, conduct and work."
We attempted to reach a member of the Dallas church for comment but phone calls were not returned by presstime.