Where Is Disgraced Pastor Naasón Joaquín García Now?

In Guadalajara, Mexico, a massive white building stands, looking something like a pyramid of tents with gold trim and a spiraling top. Inside is a soaring nave of color and a circular motif. On August 14, 2022, thousands gathered in that building to celebrate the Holy Supper (per El País). Their pastor addressed them for just 15 minutes by phone; he was being held in prison in another country. The building and the congregation belonged to La Luz de Mundo (LLDM), and the imprisoned pastor was Naasón Joaquín García.

García remains a prisoner in the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chico, California. It's expected he'll be there for the remainder of the 17-year prison sentence he was given in 2022, part of a plea deal he made to avoid a life sentence. García faced 36 charges when he was arrested in California in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times, including human trafficking, extortion, rape, being in possession of child pornography, and forcing children to do sex acts. Women who had escaped his church had shared their stories of abuse and intimidation with the authorities and were eager to share them in court, but the plea bargain meant that García would avoid a trial. 

The terms of the deal left some survivors outraged. "Give us peace, not an agreement," one of them said to El País. And LLDM retains thousands of followers loyal to García. But since his conviction, more and more people have come forward to defy him and other church leadership.

[Featured image by Joab Crisóstomo Gonzalez via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]

3 generations of LLDM leaders

Naasón Joaquín García's church, La Luz de Mundo (LLDM), has been one of the fastest-growing megachurches in recent decades. While its headquarters are in Guadalajara, LLDM has temples throughout Mexico and in Chile, the mainland United States, and Alaska (per the Anchorage Daily News). While precise statistics cannot be determined, the church has claimed to have around 5 million followers worldwide according to El Pais. It presents itself as a restoration of the original teachings of Jesus Christ (per the Desert Sun) and its unusual temples have attracted notice and followers.

But LLDM has long attracted controversy too. It was founded in 1926 by one-time shoe vendor Aarón Joaquín González. The Guardian, covering the release of the HBO documentary "Unveiled," reported that González demanded 10% of his followers' income and that he targeted the most vulnerable in the state of Jalisco where he operated. His son, Samuel Joaquín Flores, took over LLDM in 1964 and faced suspicion throughout his tenure. His lavish lifestyle raised eyebrows, it was said he controlled all facets of his congregation's everyday lives, and he faced accusations of rape and coercion.

No charges were ever brought against Flores, who died in 2014. The leadership of LLDM passed to his son, García, and some victims of the church have said that they were abused by both father and son according to WBUR.

How has the church reacted?

In response to Naasón Joaquín García's arrest, La Luz de Mundo (LLDM) strenuously maintained his innocence. Even after García entered a plea deal, LLDM claimed that he had no choice. They publicly defamed him," a church spokesman wrote on X (formerly Twitter), "and the anticipated sentence was obvious; there could not be a fair trial." Lay followers voiced their continued devotion and support for the man LLDM refers to as "the apostle of Jesus Christ."

That image of García — that he is God's chosen representative on Earth — was also put on his father, Samuel Joaquín Flores, and his grandfather and LLDM founder Aarón Joaquín González. The "cult of personality" deepened under Flores' leadership according to El País and, when coupled with the church's prescribed dress and speech codes, have convinced many that LLDM is a full-blown cult. Flores and García both played on their assumed status as apostles when abusing their followers; per The New York Times, García lectured young children about his immunity from judgment and how kings could have mistresses.

But that cult of personality may be tested again. With documentaries from HBO and Netflix increasing awareness of LLDM and its leaders' crimes, some victims hope to mount a federal case against García, one that would give them time in court (per WBUR). It could also lead to a longer prison sentence for their abuser.