Since its foundation in 1926, members of the Light of the World Church have faced discrimination, but more than that, the mythification of their members and religious practices.
Eliezer Gutierrez, who has been a minister of the Light of the World for 31 years, believes that “when [people] do not know the community directly, they create an uninformed image”, which he believes hinders dialogue and greater integration of the Church with the community.
Pastor Gutierrez, and director of the Public relations Ministry of the church, affirmed that a more open and generous education is the best resource in order to “see each other as human beings, regardless of specific differences that may exist among us,” according to him, “they have had to face the effects ignorance has on people”.
Myths surrounding the practices of the Light of the World, which consists of more than 70 thousand members in the Metropolitan area of Guadalajara according to its leadership, are considered unearthly and even absurd.
For example, it is said that they do not listen to music, that they have a sectarian attitude that shuns anyone outside of their religion, that they forbid matrimony with members of another religion, or that there are members of its community that are subjected to labor exploitation.
There are other notions regarding the role of women within the Church, and that if a man has a dream about her, he may have sexual relations with that woman.
About these myths, Nicolas Menchaca, pastor of this congregation for 30 years, and Deputy Director of the Public Relations Ministry, and Eliezer Gutierrez denied that any of these ideas of the collective imagination were true. They explained that the consequence of these prejudices are not only disinformation but also a “direct discrimination, and in some extreme cases, even [victims of] violent demonstrations, verbal and physical”, added Pastor Gutierrez.
“It is not the Church who determines the way we carry ourselves or our way of life, but our own selves”, said Pastor Nicolas Menchaca, who also affirmed that in his Church they practice free will. He assured that the Light of the World Church keeps its doors open, and they have had to deal with myths, many of them “unmentionable”.
Discrimination drove them to create Beautiful Province
The establishment of the community of the Light of the World in the Beautiful Province suburb of Guadalajara was due to an existential necessity, and not for the sake of segregation, according to Pastor Gutierrez.
The first believers of the Light of the World religion lived on 46th Street, Jarauta Street, and close to the Libertad market in the San Juan de Dios neighborhood, and in the commercial zone of Obregon, but they had to leave their original homes due to intolerance, the Pastor related.
“People did not just call them ‘hallelujahs’ or ‘protestants’, but on two separate occasions there were attempts to burn them within their temples, this led them to seek a property where they could live and practice their lifestyle and religious freedom according to their convictions”, said Pastor Gutierrez.
The Beautiful Province community was founded in 1950 and in it is the international headquarters of the Light of the World religion, which is present in more than 50 nations.
Creating spaces for cultural expression
In contrast with what the myths say about the members of the Light of the World, cultural events are organized every Saturday in Beautiful Province, [open to everyone] including people who do not practice their religion. “It is a space open to the public, to every artist”, said Jose Larios, director of the cultural collective.
The collective is conformed by more than 90 artists, according to Larios, who is also a composer. “These collective and artistic unit was brought about because of a desire of Apostle Naason Joaquin to encourage our generations to take an interest for the arts and the knowledge of their culture”, Larios commented.
There is also a production house, Berea International, which is not only charged with broadcasting the message of apostle Naason Joaquin, but also with the distribution of musical talents, documentary film, and radio. “We are open to the outside,” said Efrain Mendez, director of production in Berea.
Berea International produced “The Salt of the Earth”, which documents how this religion reached the Panamanian rainforest. Ana Ochoa, Colombian documentarian, member of this congregation, and professor at the University of Antioquia participated in the creation of this documentary.
The Light of the World community also has a program designed to help educate older adults, designed to help them learn to read and write, they can also study Elementary, Middle, and High School, or even obtain a degree.
Myths and realities of the Light of the World
|They do not listen to music||Not only do they listen to it, they are creators.|
|They are a cult, they are close-minded, and self-segregate||The Light of the World is a religious association, they are not segregated, its members are free to live and do business where they choose.|
|They cannot marry someone who is not part of their religion||“Who someone marries is decided solely by that person, and it is very personal”, Pastor Eliezer Gutierrez. They also decide where to work and study.|
|Members are required to work||“The public law of religious associations speaks of two types of contributions members can perform: voluntary and paid”, said Pastor Nicolas Menchaca.|
|Women must use skirts at all times.||Use of a skirt is voluntary to the extent that they choose to do so. For example, for physical exercise they use appropriate sporting attire; and for work as nurses or in manufacturing they wear the uniform that their employment demands. Each member has complete right to freedom.|
|Samuel Joaquin, who was apostle and leader of the Light of the World, would have dreams about women, and this would mean he could engage in sexual relations with them.||These allegations are completely false. The church is respectful of the law. Harassment, abuse, and rape are defined as crimes and we completely condemn them.|
In the Church, women have the same dignity as men, as they were both formed in the image and likeness of God. We respect and look after women as a commandment of God and personal conviction.
|Women have less rights than men in the church||“Women in the Church are citizens fully capable of exercising their rights, they are not restricted, they profess, pray, teach, and participate”, Pastor Nicolas Menchaca.|
|They are forbidden from practicing sports or leaving Beautiful Province||The church promotes a healthy lifestyle. Among the faithful there are children and youths who are martial arts champions, golf champions, and other sports. There are professional sportsmen, including some who represent their nations in international competitions. There are several clubs that promote different sports [in the community].|