Eastern Lightning (Chinese: 东方闪电; pinyin: Dōngfāng Shǎndiàn) is a millennial Chinese Christian terrorist organization and new religious movement. The official name for the group is the Church of Almighty God (Chinese: 全能神教会; pinyin: Quánnéng Shén Jiàohuì), but it is known by many names, prominently also as Church of the Gospel's Kingdom (国度福音教会 Guódù fúyīn jiàohuì). The group has been described as a cult and a terrorist organization. The name "Eastern Lightning" comes from the New Testament, Gospel of Matthew 24:27: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be".
History and beliefs
The group was founded in 1990 in Henan by Zhao Weishan (赵维山, born 1951) who later fled to the United States from where he continues to lead the church. The followers believe that the biblical God has returned to earth as a woman named Yang Xiangbin "born to an ordinary family in the northern part of China" in order to guide mankind for the third and final time. According to the group, the first and second times of active guidance of mankind were as Yahweh of the Old Testament and as Jesus in the New Testament.
The group teaches that a woman who styles herself "Almighty God" (全能神), from Zhengzhou, Henan, is the second Christ. Her most widely distributed book, The Word Appears in the Flesh (《话在肉身显现》) proclaims itself the Word of God. The book claims the first coming of Christ was to redeem humanity, while the second is to judge and purify mankind and defeat Satan. It also claims that those who do not accept her words will receive severe punishment when the judgment ends.
Eastern Lightning expresses the belief that the world will end; however, no exact date of the doomsday is explicitly mentioned in its literature. December 21, 2012, was a date referenced by other eschatological religious and spiritual groups. This doomsday apocalypse prediction had wide popular traction in China where the film 2012 was popular and a few entrepreneurs made a profit building and selling "arks" to survive the putative apocalypse. The church held outdoor prayer meetings and passed out pamphlets asserting that joining up would save believers from the end-time apocalypse. Immediately prior to the "doomsday" date of December 21, the Chinese government arrested 400 members of Eastern Lightning in central China, and as many as 1000 across China, characterizing the organization as an "evil cult". The church refers to the Communist Party of China as the “Great Red Dragon” predicted in the Revelation, who comes out in the end time to persecute God’s chosen people. It has also prophesied the destruction of the “Great Red Dragon” by God. The rapid development of this church worries the Chinese government, which fears that it has political purpose and will subvert its rule.
Most of the information available on Eastern Lightning comes from human rights organizations, the Chinese government, and international Christian groups with connections to Christian communities in China. The Chinese government lists the group as a cult and has actively tried to suppress it, especially since its millenarian theology takes an explicit stance against the Chinese government. They are believed to employ extreme methods to attain converts, including kidnapping, torturing and brainwashing. In 2002, for instance, they kidnapped 34 of the leading members of the China Gospel Fellowship and held them for two months.
Christian groups also regard the group as a heretical sect that deserves the label "cult" due to the radical differences that separate Eastern Lightning teaching from orthodox Christian doctrine. The group seems to stray from the second Christian doctrine of neighbourly love. The group also uses flirty fishing to attract potential converts.
The Chinese government and other churches have started an information campaign against the group, using posters covering several aspects of the actions of the cult and warns against them.
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4 broadcast a half-hour-long documentary emphasising the cult characteristics of Eastern Lightning or the Church of Almighty God, and that it is very widespread in China and of growing concern to the Chinese government. The reporter stressed the aggressiveness of the cult and how widespread it is. A key element of the documentary was the murder of a potential recruit in a McDonald's restaurant by a family of six trying to recruit new members to the church, and since the murder public outrage has caused the police to carry out more investigations into church activities. The report also indicates difficulties in finding members of the cult willing to explain the workings of the organisation. According to the BBC report, there seems to be no indication that the cult is spreading to other countries yet.
In 2010 members killed an elementary school student, leaving a lightning-like mark on one of the victim's feet. The police investigation revealed that the boy was killed because one of his relatives, a member of the church, expressed his desire to quit.
In 2012 the church was found to be behind more than 40 riots caused by spreading doomsday rumors and distributing propaganda material. Also in 2012 Ming Yongjun, who said he was motivated by the doomsday prophecies of the church, stabbed an elderly woman and 23 students at a school in Henan province.
On May 28, 2014, six members of the Eastern Lightning sparked a national outcry when they attacked and killed a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong (招远), a city in Shandong Province of China. During an interview with a CCTV journalist, Lidong Zhang (张立冬), the lead attacker, claimed that the subject rejected his daughter's request for her phone number and was called a "devil" (邪灵), which prompted the six members to attack. Zhang described in detail how they kept stamping the victim's head to the ground for about three minutes, and that "he felt great", but he deliberately avoided questions on the organization and his rank within the religious group. Five of them were convicted and on October 10, two were sentenced to death and later executed, one to life imprisonment, and the other two to 7 and 10 years in prison.
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