The South Florida preacher who gained fame after declaring himself to be Jesus Christ has fared poorly in divorce court.
The Christmas season was not kind to the self-proclaimed Antichrist.
Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, who gained international notoriety by declaring himself first to be Jesus Christ, then the Antichrist, roundly lost his divorce court bid to protect his church from financial claims by his most recent ex-wife.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Roberto Pineiro essentially ruled that de Jesus’ Growing in Grace church was his personal business, rather than a religious nonprofit organization, and awarded Josefina de Jesus Torres the more than $2.2 million she sought in the divorce — the amount her lawyer deemed was half the assets of her ex-husband and his church.
”I think the judge did what was right and awarded Josefina what she was entitled to under the law,” said Torres’ lawyer, Norman Segall. “The church has millions of dollars . . . and I’m sure if [de Jesus] issues an edict from up above that he needs money, it’s available to resolve the situation.”
The ruling marks a downturn in the fortunes of the colorful preacher, one that affects not just him but others in his life. His daughter, JoAnn de Jesus, is fighting contempt charges related to the case. His father and first wife face possible eviction from properties held in his and the church’s names that the judgment awarded to Torres if he doesn’t pay up this month.
De Jesus disappeared in August, when the judge declared him in contempt of court and ordered him to surrender to authorities for not paying Torres $15,000 a month in alimony. The divorce trial went ahead without him that month.
JoAnn de Jesus has since testified that her father has been living in Houston — in a house that Torres could soon own, according to the ruling.
De Jesus’ lawyer, Leonardo Renaud, is in the process of appealing the ruling and is filing a request to halt the property transfers until the appeal is heard.
De Jesus exploded into popularity — and controversy — in the past few years after he declared himself to be Christ. He later claimed that his teachings replaced those of Jesus and so he should be called the Antichrist. He and his followers then began tattooing themselves with ”666,” a practice that generated protests and headlines.
Growing in Grace has since expanded to more than 300 churches in 30 countries, with de Jesus’ sermons broadcast by satellite to thousands of households worldwide.
During the trial, de Jesus’ representatives argued that neither he nor the church were as rich as Torres’ team claimed, especially since the value of many of the properties have fallen in the past two years. They also said that donations have dropped since the start of divorce proceedings, with the revelation of de Jesus’ tangled finances, including disclosures that he paid his first wife’s alimony with church funds.
Many of his followers believe that de Jesus’ divorce court difficulties are further proof that he is Jesus’ Second Coming, quoting biblical prophecies of persecution such as Luke 17:25, which says “first, He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
”These life events are further proof that Jose Luis de Jesus is the reincarnation of the same spirit that dwelled in Jesus of Nazareth,” said church member and spokesperson Axel Poessy. “We are privileged to be witnessing the days of the Son of Man, the last manifestation of God on Earth, who is here to reign over all nations.”
In explaining his decision to treat de Jesus’ and the church’s finances as one, the judge wrote that de Jesus “dominates the ministry like only a god can. . . . In what other corporation does the board of directors literally worship the president?”
Daughter JoAnn de Jesus, the ministry’s finance manager, potentially faces contempt charges at a Jan. 21 hearing when she must explain why the church has not complied with an order to deduct Torres’ alimony from de Jesus’ salary.
De Jesus owes Torres $121,000 in back alimony, above and beyond the divorce judgement.
Shortly after the judge issued the August deduction order, JoAnn de Jesus switched her father from a salary of approximately $21,000 a month to paying him as a private contractor, with monthly payments of about $12,000 a month. She began writing those checks to cash, which she then used to pay his bills.
In a November deposition, she said that she cut his salary because the church was in financial trouble, not because she was trying to avoid paying Torres’ alimony.
JoAnn de Jesus said the church has been kicked out of its Doral location and is being sued by the landlord for $80,000. The church now has a new meeting hall in Hialeah. She said that de Jesus — who often boasted of his lavish lifestyle and the ”box . . . of Rolexes” provided by donations from his followers — had closed one of his local bank accounts and had a negative balance in another.
• Life with the Antichrist: The wife of a controversial Miami-based preacher is divorcing him but staying married to his teachings. (Miami Herald, June 28, 2007)
• More about Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda (Apologetics Index)