HBO docuseries shines light on controversial church’s plans in Ga.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

La Luz del Mundo megachurch hasn’t publicly backed away from plans to build a sprawling complex in Hall County

In between emotional interviews with victims of sexual abuse, a new HBO docuseries about a megachurch’s pedophilic leader takes viewers on an aerial tour of Hall County, Georgia. There are shots of sprawling forests and bucolic Flowery Branch, a small town on the shores of Lake Lanier.

The program, titled “Unveiled: Surviving La Luz del Mundo,” lays out longstanding patterns of alleged abuse at La Luz del Mundo, which translates to The Light of the World. The Mexican-based church has a reported 5 million members across the globe – and a large Georgia footprint.

The towering figure at the head of the church is Naasón Joaquín García, considered by disciples to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Over the summer, he confessed to sexually abusing children and was given a plea deal sentence of 16 years in jail, angering his victims who testified.

According to California prosecutors, García leveraged his spiritual authority to coerce girls into sex, telling them it would lead to their salvation. Filmmakers made survivors’ quest for justice the centerpiece of the HBO documentary, which was released in full on Tuesday. They also tell the story of the church’s rapid expansion and wealth accumulation since its 1926 founding.

Among the church’s most ambitious plans for the future is the establishment of a sprawling complex in Flowery Branch. It would transform a nearly 300-acre rural area into a metropolis replete with hotels, retail shops, administrative buildings and, of course, churches and worship centers.

Anchoring the documentary is the testimony of Sochil Martin, a former church member who says she was abused for years by García. She described La Luz del Mundo as an insular cult, a characterization echoed by Atlanta-based former members of the church in interviews with the AJC.

“They want to build a whole community in Georgia,” Martin says early in the documentary. “They have so much power … but they want more and more, including cities of The Light of the World.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reached out to La Luz del Mundo for comment.

In the documentary, the story of LLDM’s eye-catching Georgia building plans is told largely from the perspective of a longtime Flowery Branch resident identified only as Kate.

A survivor of sexual assault herself, she said she was moved by a “passion for justice” to look into the church’s track record when she first heard of its proposed expansion into her community. She spread word of her findings among Flowery Branch locals, and reached out to media outlets to continue to raise awareness.

“The reaction from most [people] was, you know, ‘We don’t want this.’”

According to Shelia Cooper, city clerk at Flowery Branch, local authorities have yet to receive a rezoning application needed before the church can move ahead with their ‘City of Light’ project on their 272-acre tract, located at 5071 Hog Mountain Road.

The church owns five other tracts on Hog Mountain Road, according to reporting from the Gainesville Times.

Records from Hall County Building Inspections show permits for demolition of single-family structures at 5510 and 5610 Hog Mountain Road. Another permit has been filed to build a church building at 5533 Hog Mountain Road.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Report for America are partnering to add more journalists to cover topics important to our community. Please help us fund this important work at