Luis De Jesus Miranda, minister of the Miami Growing in Grace church, gained international notoriety in 2004 by declaring himself to be Jesus Christ, and then later claiming to be the Antichrist. His theory: As he is the Second Coming, his teachings supersede those of Jesus.
His powerful and charismatic influence over the congregation of Growing Grace was in evidence when they all showed up, in mass, to get the numbers 666 tattooed on their bodies, in honor of their messiah. At home, he had a dutiful and obedient wife who frequently washed his feet and clipped his toenails to show her devotion, but that all came to an end in one of the most unspiritual places, divorce court.
The Miami Herald reported in June that the minister was forced, for the first time, to give testimony that revealed how he paid personal expenses with donations to his tax-exempt church. Following the testimony the judge in their divorce case sent a transcript of the hearing to federal prosecutors, saying he felt "ethically compelled" to bring it to their attention and soon after de Jesus disappeared.
This week the minister was declared in contempt of court for failure to pay alimony to his soon-to-be ex-wife. Their divorce trial went ahead without him this week, with wife Josefina de Jesus Torres alleging abuse, abandonment and infidelity. Torres backed up her claims of infidelity with descriptions of how, during their marriage, de Jesus cast her off for another woman in Houston -- a woman his inner circle now calls his ``wife.''
Torres also claimed to be abused when her husband pushed her against a fence on one occasion, and emotionally abused her on others by threatening to send ''angels of destruction'' to her and her children.
She's seeking half of both the Growing in Grace church assets and his personal property, which her attorneys argue are the same because they claim de Jesus controls the church's finances, all of which, Torres claims add up to $2.2 million.
De Jesus claims poverty, and his daughter, JoAnn de Jesus, the ministry's finance manager, testified that because of the drop in donations, the church is two months behind on the rent at its Doral headquarters and she is hoping for ''a miracle'' that will allow them to stay. Several church members implied that Torres' statements criticizing de Jesus in the press played a role in the financial problems.
De Jesus' tax attorney testified that, based on his interactions with an Internal Revenue Service investigator, he believes a fraud investigation is under way. A spokeswoman for the IRS said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an inquiry.
De Jesus and his followers have been fighting back, outside the court room. Recently they sent a video to supporters showing a woman who claims she was Torres’ lesbian lover when Torres met de Jesus, and who suggest Torres set out to entrap de Jesus for his money. There is no corroboration for the claim on the video, but the attack smacks of political smear campaigns used in Republican Party politics.
Meanwhile, Torres reports receiving threats from various church members while those same Growing Grace members say they have spoken to de Jesus but have no idea where he is. For an anti-Christ he’s been keeping a remarkably low profile these days.