Interview: Personal "Horrible" Experience of Korean Cult Shinchonji for a Year and Half

A cross.
A cross.
By Yi YangMarch 16th, 2020

South Korea's Shinchonji caused public outrage by gathering as usual to have consequently helped spreading the pandemic. In China by taking the opportunity of the pandemic, Shinchonji launched very wide network promotion of the cult which highly alerted the Chinese Church. There is also news about Shinchonji's branches in Shanghai, Changchun, Beijing, Dalian and Shenyang etc. Its promoting methods and developing rate have brought harm to mainstream Church damaging the image of Christianity which needs great attention.

Recently, one victim told of his experience with Shinchonji for a year and half in east China. He had attended its systematic classes so understands the way of their promotion, but he also suffered from its harm resulting in his family broken up and economic losses. Later he quitted because he could not accept the teaching of "Lee Nam-hee's physical immortality". However, he could no longer recover the lost time with and the debt to his family.

Brought to Shinchonji by friends

The victim narrated that his mother was a Christian so he occasionally went to church as a child and heard her tell him to "go to church and pray, God will protect you", "but I am not a true Christian."

Since leaving home for education and later for employment, he rarely went to church, but the religious impression was still with him. Coincidentally, one of his best friends, who was also a believer, asked him out to meet a sister from the northeast, and began to study bible together.

It is believed many people are curious why are some people attracted to Shinchonji? The victim said that people were emotional animals. When he came into contact with Shinchonji members, they were very friendly so he contacted them time after time to listen to their bible teaching.

In the course of explaining the bible, Shinchonji will also come up with a Bible verse that contrasts the interpretation from the Three-self Church by comparing their interpretation, and say, "We explain more thoroughly here."

"Their members are particularly loving and passionate whom in the normal society are difficult to encounter. They show care and bring gifts to people-to impress you through this extraordinary passion."

He found that one of the promotion methods of Shinchonji was similar to that of pyramid marketing in which started by friends and family. In his Shinchonji group, many people are a family together in it. A member will take their classmates and friends in as it is easy to build trust.

The message from the cult

In a period of almost a year and half from being dragged down by a friend to leaving Shinchonji, he had completed all the courses of Shinchonji, and reached to a backbone leader's position going through the process from 'turning over the floor' (a slang), the gospel room to the primary, intermediate and advanced position. The slang 'turn over the floor' means bringing new people in. It usually takes place in KFC, café or other places to first chat for mutual understanding and getting the other's ideas. After meeting like this for three or five times and if it is felt appropriate, person can be invited to enter the gospel room to learn 'specialized' courses for six days a week. It is generally a morning, an afternoon or an evening of the day, level by level, and each stage has the corresponding exams in addition to mandatory notes taken for each class.

Invitation to the gospel room means the systematic "brainwashing" has begun. First step is listen to some teachings different from the mainstream Church interpretation. Then, listen to parables, the Old and New Testament, and Revelation. By now, they will speak of symbolic meanings of "dragon" and "beast" and vaguely reveal that someone has set up the new heaven and new earth by God's revelation, and guide people to believe that Lee Nam-hee is that person. The cult also claims that in South Korea there are already many people believe and acknowledge them that they do a lot of public welfares and "big things". Some VIPs are believers.

At the stage of gospel room, those who are active and stable in the cult teachings are asked to "go to bear fruit". At the beginning of drawing new members in, there will be older members to accompany them. Some will lurk in the Three-self churches. Some go to family gatherings, and some to universities to join various student communities to carry out activities like photography, street dance, mountaineering and reading in order to draw people in.

The victim tells me that Shinchonji likes to speak of biblical parables, comparing chapter verses from the beginning of the bible right to Revelation, step by step, till finally convincing people that Lee Nam-hee is the man who leads them build a "new heaven and earth"-he is the revealer of Jesus in this era. Moreover, their promotion means is advanced usually very attractive to young people. In order to attract people they play with emotion by making appointments with people to talk and understand their difficulties and matters.

The group he joined has a total of over 200 people with the majority is young. 25-30-year-olds account for about half. Shinchonji's targets are mostly young people and successful people. For the latter, they are willing to pay great efforts as such people are also a great source of income for them. From the moment of joining the gospel room, participants will have to donate "tithes" and make it feel inappropriate to attend worship only and not to give. As the curriculum deepens, the variety of dedication will increase including the construction of the cult headquarters.

"When donating, the cash is to be replaced with brand-new notes. The people present are basically all giving otherwise will be regarded as an outsider. They will also imply that the donation is supposed to be generous for more blessings." Some who can't work but are to give. A lot of people swipe credit cards and put themselves in debt so cannot live a normal life. Most of them are part-timers.

"Either you provide money or you pull people in otherwise you will be cut off from the tree of life. They use the so-called God's will to threaten people and control their minds."

Most people in Shinchonji believe in their faith. Some of them also have doubts, but cannot quit or are hindered by face value not to have the courage to leave. The organization will tell believers that those who are hostile towards the organization are evil, "the church" is God's instruction, and Lee Nam-hee is the messenger sent by Jesus-full of intimidation.

Joiners, who have devoted their time, energy and money, always want to wait for an answer, to become one of the 144,000 people, and therefore don't want to come out. Moreover, there are not many people who can think for themselves and all their time is taken up.

In order to control believers, they claim to have a "life book" and use it as a basis to register private information including family and work addresses, copies of identity cards, copies of household books, family members and economic income.

Troubles after quitting

As he is unable to accept Lee Nam-hee's physical immortality, all the more, he realized that he had wasted a lot of time regardless of his family and real life, he left decisively.

In the organization, he was taught not to contact his family and friends but to lie to those around him in the so-called principle of "being flexible like a snake". He was told those who oppose Shinchonji are devils. They made him thinking about listening to lectures and pulling people in all day long. Through their teachings, many people no longer work properly nor even marry and have children. "They say the Kingdom of Heaven is about to be fulfilled and God is not happy with people enjoy the world but rather start to run."

Every day at five o'clock in the morning, they begin to gather to make people do not have time to work. People who think of work will be described as "greedy for the world." Those who stay can't be idle as they have to find a way to pull people in every day or they will be despised and criticized by management.

Although he left, he had paid a heavy price for it. After joining Shinchonji, he had very low sense of family responsibility and never attended his children's education with no financial responsibility at all. Every day, when he woke up he ran to the "church". He had no idea what had happened at home. These led to constant quarrels between him and his wife only to end up in divorce.

The experience also gave him some negative views about Christianity, "Religion is good intention, but it's rather offensive for someone to make selfish gain out of it."

Shinchonji will also make an impact by reaching out to VIPs and teaching people to lie. In South Korea, when they were under investigation for being responsible of the outbreak in the country they provided false lists, and instructed believers if asked say they no longer believe, which made it impossible for the authorities to verify. In this regard, he hopes that the news media will increase the exposure of Shinchonji in order to improve awareness and discernment. "If it hadn't been for this outbreak, Shinchonji would not have been able to get this attention."

Editor's comments: 

Shinchonji's promotion methods are diverse. Under the outbreak, they have also built an online prayer group for the outbreak and distributed a "praying for Wuhan" WeChat group QR code. They let people who joined the group start to listen to Shinchonji classes and then some members will follow up to pull people in. They also have online counseling to attract those emotionally affected by the pandemic. Or they may provide free bible studies. They also sneak in online groups through the invitation information given by other churches. Once in the groups, they will post their information or make friends privately.

Shinchonji is an organization that constantly pulls people in. They believe that only by constantly pulling people in can they enter the 144,000 places, can become a priest and can receive enter eternal life. That is apparently a utilitarian mentality. Now everyone is resting at home so it becomes their golden time for pulling people in. Therefore, they will highly focus on their promotion.

As to cults, perhaps the mainstream Church do not only guard against it, but also equip believers in its routine ministry by teaching them how to distinguish heresy, building on the foundation of the bible in order to fundamentally resist cults.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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