Kukmin Daily Newsletter (Issue 22)

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Kukmin Daily Newsletter (Issue 22)

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Kukmin Daily Newsletter
Issue 22
February 27, 2020
Seoul, Korea

The season of Lent this year finds us especially humble, as we face a rapidly increasing number of confirmed 'corona 19' cases in Korea. One lucky element, however, due to the slow spread during the first weeks of the domestic outbreak, was that we had time to develop a diagnostic agent. This newsletter reports on how a particular heretical cult has caused the exponential spread of the virus. Another article shares statistics on Korean society’s level of trust in the churches. Let us sustain our spirituality, trusting in God’s providence.

How Shincheonji became a “COVID-19 super spreader”

Photo courtesy of Newsis

With the successive emergence of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) at Shincheonji’s Daegu church, awareness about Shincheonji is rising. In contrast to Seoul’s Myeongryun Church, where the number of confirmed cases has remained low following discovery of the first case, the Shincheonji situation has produced a super spreader of the virus. Cult experts think this is a consequence of Shincheonji’s activities, which reflect its anti-social character and fraudulent doctrines.

Why did Shincheonji believers from other regions gather in Daegu? Shin Hyeon-uk, director of Guri SCJ Cult Counseling Center, said, “Shincheonji basically sees its 12 branches as one. So they worship at a Shincheonji church wherever they happen to be on a Wednesday or a Sunday… A large number of worshippers at the Daegu church this February 9 and 16 are likely to have come from other regions. Shincheonji is probably reluctant to make this known.”

Camouflaged as church, reluctant to reveal secret places. According to the February 20 announcement by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 9 a.m. on this date, among the 1,001 members of Shincheonji’s Daegu church, 90 showed suspicious symptoms, while it was impossible to contact 396 others. Experts surmised that the reason was Shincheonji’s wish to avoid communications, and its reluctance to disclose its lines of movement even if contact was made. If that happened, all of Shincheonji’s secretly operating sham churches, centers, gospel rooms and other such places would be exposed.

Jin Yong-Shik, president of the Association of Korean Christian Cult Counseling Centers, said, “Though the authorities will target Shincheonji believers in its investigation, they may not tell the truth… They absolutely will not divulge the places they visit.” Director Shin added, “The government needs to take into account the special character of Shincheonji, and consult with cult experts in order to cope effectively with the virus… The authorities should find all of Shincheonji’s places of operation including those not open to the public, to determine the extent of the infection.”

Anti-social end-times doctrine. When now-confirmed coronavirus patient no. 31, hospitalized in Daegu since February 7, had a sore throat and chills on the 10th, she was advised to get a COVID-19 check, but she refused, saying, “I haven’t traveled abroad, haven’t met any confirmed patients, and my symptoms aren’t serious.” This attitude could be related to Shincheonji’s “bodily immortality” doctrine, or to its so-called “god-human unification” doctrine. Since the past, Shincheonji has been looking forward to “Unification,” while preaching about the “Great Opening of a New Era of Heaven and Earth” and “Completion of History.” At the time of “Unification,” they say, believers will become bodies that do not die but have eternal life. This is a sort of limited end-times doctrine, but in fact it is basically the same as the end-times doctrine that has stirred public criticism.

Shincheonji believers already number more than 200,000. Experts estimated five or six years ago that the cult had over 140,000 followers. However, with the Great Opening of Heaven and Earth not having happened, the cult has created a modified doctrine related to the Biblical references to “grain and chaff,” “sheep and goats,” maintaining that one must enter the category of grain or sheep in order to participate in god-human unification.

Worry about attending regular Sunday worship. It has been noted that Shincheonji believers are likely to go to regular churches for Sunday worship. Under the eyes of the disease control authorities, Shincheonji has closed its own meeting halls and suspended its gatherings, but is known to be encouraging followers to attend regular churches instead. If they do, some of them may have been exposed to COVID-19 and thus transmit to others. Rev. Kim Sang-gil of Daejeon Full Gospel Church warned, “Word is going around that the cult is giving its members such guidelines as ‘If you go with a partner to a big church, you won’t be suspected,’ but ‘Avoid small churches, where you’ll arouse suspicion.’”

Six out of ten Koreans: “I don’t trust Korean churches”

Reportedly six out of ten Korean citizens do not trust Korean churches. The level of trust is especially low among those in their 30s~40s. Last month, at the request of the Movement for the Practice of Christian Ethics, JI&COM Research surveyed 1,000 persons 19 years of age and older with a focus on the question “How much do you trust the Korean churches overall?” (See graph.)

Prof. Jeong Yeon-seung (Business Management, Danguk University), a member of the steering committee of the Korean Christian Academy of Management (KOCAM), said, “Persons in their 30s and 40s are active in society and probably feel frustrated over the difficulty of raising their voices in the church… This is a politically sensitive generation, and they appear to have been influenced by the political activities of some ministers.”

To the item inquiring about trust in ministers, 68.0% of the survey respondents indicated “Do not trust,” far exceeding the 30.0% who replied “Trust.” As for “the religion you trust most,” the replies were in the order of Catholic (30.0%), Buddhist (26.2%) and Protestant (18.9%).

Asked what areas churches should improve in order to receive trust, the response was greatest for “non-transparent use of finances” (25.9%). This was followed by “church leaders’ way of life” (22.8%), “attitude toward other religions” (19.9%), and “church growth emphasis” (8.5%).

“What the Korean churches need to do first of all is recover their ethical and moral character,” Prof. Jeong said. “While working for social integration, they also need to communicate effectively with the world.” The survey had a confidence level of 95% with a ±3.1% margin of error.

박여라 영문에디터 yap@kmib.co.kr

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