SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

 

dshoer@miamiherald.com dshoer@elNuevoHerald.com

Since the dawn of humanity, man has glimpsed the firmament with a mixture of awe and fear. Recognizing this innate nature, shameless individuals throughout the major civilizations have emerged to utilize their remarkable erudition to manipulate the sacred word so they may live from deceit.

For that reason the Bible warns: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves.” (Gospel of Matthew 7:15).

This breed of “God’s messengers” is notorious in today’s Greater Miami. To them, let me add, with all due respect, the other cast of pastors who call themselves prophets or apostles and shrewdly amass fortunes fit for a monarch out of the donations offered by their flock by preaching prosperity.

Two recent complaints highlight this dark facet of blind faith. Probably, others will surface. But the fear and obedience that bind the victims create a wall that inhibits them from speaking to the public.

At El Santuario Pentecostal Church in northwest Miami-Dade, the Rev. Anthony Cheverez delivered sermons about the responsibility God placed on him to bring the message of eternal salvation unto the ends of the Earth through preaching, evangelical crusades, books, radio and television programs.

According to some parishioners, he also practiced selfless humility by bragging about his federal job at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a position he has recently lost) to intimidate the faithful.

Perhaps as part of this commitment to serve and minister the needs of his worshippers, Cheverez asked them for loans totaling thousands of dollars. At present, he faces several civil lawsuits filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for allegedly not paying back the loans.

“I was vilely deceived by these people!” Nancy Garcia, one of the plaintiffs, told El Nuevo Herald. “This false prophet used the word of God to take our money.”

The indignant parishioners first contacted El Nuevo Herald after reading a story about another pastor who operated a political consulting business out of a taxpayer-financed community center in Hialeah. The pastor also happens to be a part of the Christian Family Coalition, a Florida bastion of intransigence that hardly represents the Christian values that Jesus Christ proclaimed in his gospel.

The Rev. Julio Epifanio Pérez, a man of “unimpeachable reputation” — his own words — for defending human rights and social justice and fighting poverty, probably prays to God to pour the honey of victory upon the political hopefuls for whom he works, including Florida state representatives, Miami-Dade County commissioners and judicial candidates.

Apparently, this pastor of the local politicians does not practice the apostolic ministry from the pulpit, although he claims to have been the cornerstone of temples and community centers. Since 2010, his services — not religious but as a campaign adviser — netted him almost $50,000, according to public records.

Raising the flag of faith to do politics is not the same as preaching from a life of faith. Obviously, when it comes to Hialeah politics, one has to submerge faith in disbelief.

The false prophets claim that they speak in the name of God but are not connected with the Creator. They call for a moral conduct but don’t behave as they preach. They quote the Scriptures accurately enough but remove them from their context as a means to profit.

They take advantage of people’s naiveté and their emotional needs to then commit abuses, a human defect that is evident in the social, military, economic and political realms. It is even more disturbing when we see it in people of the cloth.

One of the problems is that, in some independent congregations, there is no one to supervise the behavior of their leaders. Yet, belonging to an organized religion that is supervised does not guarantee the ethics and transparency of a member of the clergy, either.

Both believers and nonbelievers react critically when religion spawns a business. A life of consecration, embodying the virtues of genuine prophets, does not seem to fit the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by some pastors of multiple denominations.

To seek the will of God is to seek a friendly will. It is precisely there where spirituality blossoms — a vivid flower that is universal and belongs to everyone.

Daniel Shoer Roth, El Nuevo Herald’s Metro columnist, writes periodically about spirituality and values.

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Miami Herald

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