Life with the Antichrist: Wife divorcing preacher

Josefina De Jesus Torres gently runs her perfect French manicure across the pages of her wedding album, ruminating on life as the wife of the self-proclaimed Antichrist.

In one picture, church leader Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda pulls off her garter with his teeth. In another, the couple sip frothy champagne in front of a gleaming limo.

”He was my apostle, the perfect man . . . the Prince Charming — even better: God himself had come to love me,” sighs Torres, a doe-eyed honey blonde. “I felt better than the Virgin Mary.”

Torres says she often washed his feet and cut his fingernails and toenails as a sign of devotion.

A Cult of Christianity

Theologically, Creciendo en Gracia is a cult of Christianity. This term is used of a group or organization whose central teachings and/or practices are claimed to be biblical, but which are in fact unbiblical.

Sociologically, Creciendo en Gracia has cult-like elements as well

Now, though, the romance that De Jesus told her was divinely decreed has ended in the most temporal of battlefields: divorce court. And, amid court revelations about his personal spending, she is speaking out publicly about life with the controversial Miami-based preacher.

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that Torres’ legal action has forced her husband, head of the multinational Growing in Grace ministry, to give testimony that for the first time reveals how he paid personal expenses with donations to his tax-exempt church. This month, the judge in their divorce case sent a transcript of a recent hearing to federal prosecutors, saying he felt ”ethically compelled” to bring it to their attention.

De Jesus gained international notoriety by declaring himself to be Jesus Christ in 2004, then later claiming to be the Antichrist. His theory: As he is the Second Coming, his teachings supersede those of Jesus.

De Jesus declined to be interviewed about his finances or his wife’s allegations. But in his Wednesday sermon, he said his wife is trying to destroy him because she doesn’t truly believe in him. His church deputies also deny any wrongdoing.

In two three-hour interviews, Torres described a tumultuous life, saying De Jesus regularly ordered her away, sending church bishops to remove her from the house and pack up her clothing. She says he told her details of sexual escapades with other women who were members of the church.

De Jesus’ second-in-command, ”Bishop of Bishops” Carlos Cestero, said Torres’ motives for the accusations are selfish. ”She’s looking for money and fame,” he said.

Cestero said that on at least two occasions — at De Jesus’ request — he asked Torres to leave the couple’s South Florida home and escorted her to the airport. He also said that De Jesus felt free to have relationships with other women during the couple’s many separations.

‘The procedure, our obedience to the `Apostle,’ our gratefulness toward him — she never understood that,” Cestero said.

Torres, 44, says her suit could help her husband find redemption.

”He himself teaches that unless you suffer something really hard, like prison or serious illness, you will never learn,” she said. “God always sends you a warning, `Look, that’s bad, correct yourself.’

”That is why I am doing this, not to be judgmental, but something is not right,” said Torres, who is seeking half of her husband’s wealth.

Torres, a former Colombian television personality, has told the court she is too psychologically damaged by the stress of the divorce to work. Her financial affidavit lists expenses of $400 a month for twice-weekly trips to a beauty salon, and $6,000 for food — most of which she spends with a female companion at the ”very luxurious restaurants” she became accustomed to with De Jesus, she told the court.

The pair met in late 1999, when De Jesus, who preaches that all sin was destroyed when Christ died on the cross, still called himself only “the Apostle.”

Torres wanted to be a pastor in the church. De Jesus told her he fell in love the first time he looked into her eyes. He wooed her by phone the last three days of December, then arranged to meet at a Bogotá hotel on New Year’s Day.

”For him to court someone is the most explicit act, the most special act in the world, the most detailed act,” she said. “He makes a woman surrender, he blinds her to anyone else.”

They married in 2002 in a lavish wedding attended by 1,000 of his faithful.

As a teenager, Torres became known in Baranquilla for dressing up as a dancing nun called ”Sister YeYe” and hosting first Communion parties in nightclubs. She parlayed that character into a children’s TV program in the mid-1980s that she says featured early appearances by Shakira, then 8 years old, now a Grammy-winning singer.

Torres also had small parts on telenovelas and hosted other television programs, including a kids’ talent show and a reality show, Plastic Surgery: Vanity or Solution?

She left all that and more behind when she met De Jesus, she says.

”The Bible said that if you leave mother, father and children to follow God, your blessings will be multiplied,” said Torres, who has four children from two previous marriages. “I left everything . . . for the Apostle, for Jose Luis, for my husband. I put my whole life in his hands.”

Torres concedes she struggled with De Jesus’ evolving religious identities, particularly when he declared himself Jesus.

She initially told him, ”He couldn’t be God because if God got inside his body, He would transform him,” she said.

He and his deputies scorned her skepticism, she said. “They said I wasn’t a child of God, that I was a wolf, not a lamb.”

When De Jesus claimed the ”Antichrist” title earlier this year, he tattooed his arm with the symbol ”666.” Many of his faithful followed suit.

Torres already had her tattoo: a tribal design covering her lower back from hip to hip that she got in 2005, after one of their many ruptures. Inside the curving design are two J’s, for Josefina and Jose Luis, and three S’s — for De Jesus’ slogan ”Salvo siempre salvo,” or “Saved always saved.”

”We reconciled and I wanted to take something new to him, to please him,” she said. ‘It worked at first, but then he turned to other people . . . I asked myself, `What is it about me that can’t please him?’ ”

Despite their troubles, Torres eventually came to believe, as De Jesus does, that he is Jesus-Christ-Man, the mediator for God on earth.

She still follows his teachings, though she’s leaving Growing in Grace.

”I followed his teachings to the letter, because it is written in the Bible — and what is written in the Bible, I cling to,” she said. “The Bible says that as you sow, you shall reap . . . and you pay for everything right here.”

Miami Herald staff writers Lisa Arthur and Jack Dolan contributed to this report.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday June 29, 2007.
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