Eastern Lightning

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Eastern Lightning
The Church of Almighty God.png
Classification New religious movement
Scripture Christian Bible, The Word Appears in the Flesh
Origin 1991
China
Branched from The Shouters
Members 4 million (government estimate)
Official website www.holyspiritspeaks.org
Eastern Lightning
Traditional Chinese 東方閃電
Simplified Chinese 东方闪电
Alternative Chinese name
Chinese 全能神教会

Eastern Lightning (Chinese: 东方闪电; pinyin: Dōngfāng Shǎndiàn), which prefers to use the name The Church of Almighty God,[a] is a new religious movement established in China in 1991,[1] to which Chinese governmental sources attribute from three to four million members,[2] although scholars regard these figures as somewhat inflated.[3] The name "Eastern Lightning" is drawn 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." Its core teaching is that Jesus Christ returned to earth in our days as the incarnate Almighty God (全能神), this time not as a man but as a Chinese woman.[4] The movement is regarded by the Chinese authorities,[5] as a xie jiao (a term often translated as “evil cult” but in fact used since the Ming dynasty to indicate “heterodox teachings”)[6] and accused of various crimes, including the infamous Zhaoyuan McDonald's Cult Murder[7] Christian opponents and international media have in turn described it as a cult[8] and even as a "terrorist organization."[9] The Church denies all accusations, and there are scholars who have concluded that some accusations they have investigated so far are indeed false or exaggerated.[10]

History[edit]

The 1989 revival and the Shouters[edit]

Although the movement never mentions her name nor any biographic details (while admitting she is female), and cautions that any information supplied by outside sources may be wrong,[11] several scholars believe it identifies the incarnate Almighty God with a Chinese woman, Yang Xiangbin (b. 1973), who was born in northwestern China.[12] In 1989, during a revival of the Chinese independent churches, the person identified by the movement as Almighty God formally entered the House church (China) movement, i.e. the Protestant churches independent from the government, and began to utter words that followers compared for authority and power to those expressed by Jesus Christ.[13] At that time, she was attending meetings of the groups founded by Witness Lee, known as the Local churches in the West and as The Shouters in China,[14] as did most of her early devotees.[15] Many believers in the Chinese House Church movement believed that those words were from the Holy Spirit and started to read them in their gatherings in 1991, so that the origins of the church may be dated back to this year, although only in 1993 the person who was the source of these messages was recognized as Christ, the incarnate God, and the only one true God, and The Church of Almighty God emerged with this name.[16]

Zhao Weishan[edit]

Zhao Weishan
Administrative leader of The Church of Almighty God
Personal details
Born (1951-12-12)December 12, 1951
Acheng District, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
Nationality  People's Republic of China
Profession Teacher

Among those who accepted the person and the message of Almighty God was Zhao Weishan (Chinese: 赵维山; born December 12, 1951), the leader of an independent branch of the Shouters.[17] While some scholars regard Zhao as the founder of the movement,[18] others believe that this is due to a bias in the Chinese sources, which would not easily accept that a large religious movement was founded by a woman, and in fact the title of "founder" of The Church of Almighty God should rather be attributed to the (female) person the movement venerates as Almighty God.[19] According to Australian scholar Emily Dunn, in 1991, the organization had more than a thousand members. After being investigated and prosecuted by local police station, Zhao left Heilongjiang and continued the organization in Qingfeng County, Henan, where it continued to expand.[20] He was later recognized as the leader and the Priest of The Church of Almighty God. The church insists that it is personally led and shepherded by the person it recognizes as Almighty God, and that Zhao, "the Man used by the Holy Spirit," is the administrative leader of the movement.[21]

Expansion and repression[edit]

The Chinese government was immediately suspicious of The Church of Almighty God because of its anti-Communist teachings,[22] and the harsh repression of the mid-1990s targeted together the Shouters and The Church of Almighty God, whose theological differences were not necessarily clear to the Chinese authorities.[23] In 2000, Zhao and Yang went to the United States, where they entered on September 6, and in 2001 they were granted political asylum. Since then, they live in and direct the movement from New York.[24] In early 2009, He Zhexun, who used to be in charge of the work of the Church in Mainland China, was arrested by the Chinese authorities. On July 17, 2009, Ma Suoping (female, 1969–2009), who took over He Zhexun’s role, was also arrested by the Chinese police and died while in custody.[25]

Despite governmental repression, and the fact that some leaders of Christian mainline churches accused The Church of Almighty God of heresy,[26] the Church grew in China and, according to Chinese official sources, had reached three or even four million members in 2014,[27] although scholars regard these figures as somewhat exaggerated.[28] Since the Zhaoyuan McDonald's Cult Murder of 2014, the repression in China intensified, and several thousand members escaped abroad, where they founded churches in South Korea, United States, Italy, France, Spain, Canada, and other countries, in addition to those established in Hong Kong and Taiwan, with non-Chinese members also joining the movement.[29] An unattended consequence of the diaspora was the flourishing, in the countries where the Church of Almighty God can freely operate, of a considerable artistic production of paintings and movies, with some films winning awards in Christian movie festivals.[30]

Beliefs[edit]

The Three Ages[edit]

The “Eastern Lightning,” according to the Church, is Jesus Christ returning as Almighty God, from a country in the east, China, to inaugurate the third age of humanity, the Age of Kingdom, which follows the Age of Law, i.e. the time of the Old Testament, and the Age of Grace, which went from the birth of Jesus to the advent of Almighty God in the 20th century.[31] With Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the sins of humans were forgiven, but their sinful nature was not eradicated. In the Age of Kingdom, Almighty God is at work to eradicate that sinful nature.[32] In Almighty God’s own words, "My entire management plan, a plan that spans six thousand years, consists of three stages, or three ages: the Age of Law in the beginning; the Age of Grace (which is also the Age of Redemption); and the Age of Kingdom in the last days. My work in these three ages differs in content according to the nature of each age, but at each stage it accords with man’s needs"; and: "Though Jesus did much work among man, He only completed the redemption of all mankind and became man’s sin offering, and did not rid man of all his corrupt disposition. ... And so, after man was forgiven his sins, God has returned to flesh to lead man into the new age."[33]

Holy Scriptures[edit]

In The Church of Almighty God, the Bible is accepted as the holy scripture for the Age of Law and the Age of Grace, although it is argued that "recorded by human beings, it contains messages from God and some truthful insights, which are helpful to know God's work in the Age of Law and the Age of Grace, but it also carries many human errors."[34] In our time, the church believes that we find a safer guide in the utterances of Almighty God, which are recorded in the massive book The Word Appears in the Flesh, consisting of more than one million words, addressing a number of questions of sacred history, theology, ethics, and spirituality, and regarded as normative by the movement.[35]

Millennialism[edit]

The Church of Almighty God teaches a form of millennialism. The Age of Kingdom is not to be confused with the Age of Millennial Kingdom, a future time following the apocalyptic disasters prophesied in the Bible, when the message of Almighty God will be accepted in all countries, human’s sinful nature will be transformed, and humans purified by God’s work will live eternally on earth.[36] According to the church, after the incarnated Almighty God (who is not believed to live forever on Earth) will have completed God's work on Earth for the last days, the catastrophes prophesied in the Book of Revelation of the Bible will come, in the form of famines, earthquakes and wars. However, "the Earth will not be annihilated, and the ones who are purified by God will be saved in the cataclysms of the last days, and will live on Earth forever."[37] According to American scholar Holly Folk, "the division of history into several eras reflects the influence of the Plymouth Brethren and other evangelical missionaries in China. Dispensationalism, a method of Biblical interpretation that supports a cosmic view of history that includes the end times, was developed in the nineteenth century by John Nelson Darby," although there are also differences between Darby and The Church of Almighty God.[38]

The Great Red Dragon[edit]

The Church of Almighty God believes that Almighty God is the returned Jesus in our days and was born in China, a country that, according to the church, represents at the same time the place where the evil Great Red Dragon of the Book of Revelation manifested itself in the semblance of the Chinese Communist Party and where the Second Coming of Jesus Christ must also manifest himself.[39] As Emily Dunn noticed, the theology identifying the Great Red Dragon with a political power that persecutes Christian has not been invented by The Church of Almighty God but has a long tradition among Chinese Christians, including the Shouters.[40]

Absences of Sacraments; worship[edit]

The Church of Almighty God believes that the sacraments, including baptism, were practices of the Age of Grace and have no place in the Age of Kingdom. Accordingly, there is no baptism in The Church of Almighty God, and one becomes a member of the church by confessing that the incarnated Almighty God is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the appearance of the only one true God in the last days, being willing to pray in the name of Almighty God, and being able to understand and accept the beliefs of The Church of Almighty God.[41] The absence of sacraments does not mean that gathering together, praying and worshiping God is not important for the members of the Church of Almighty God. They “fellowship” regularly by meeting and discussing their sacred scriptures, hearing sermons, singing hymns, and sharing testimonies; Italian scholar Massimo Introvigne observes that, in this sense, "the intensity of the religious life contrasts with a minimalist style of worship."[42]

Controversies[edit]

Accusations of serious crimes against The Church of Almighty God, which frequently appears in the media, come from two sources: the Chinese Communist Party and other Christian churches.[43] The Chinese government and media periodically accuse The Church of Almighty God of crimes. The most frequent accusations concern four main incidents: the Zhaoyuan McDonald's Cult Murder of 2014, which was at the center of a BBC World Service’s news service in the same year,[44] the pulling out of a young boy’s eyes in 2013 in Shanxi,[45] the kidnapping of Christian leaders in 2002,[46] and riots connected to announcements that the end of the world will occur in 2012.[47]

Chinese official sources also occasionally mention other accusations: that riots were instigated by the church in 1998 in Hetang county, Zhuzhou City, Hunan, where they reportedly broke the arms and legs, and cut the ears off their victims; that in 2010 members killed an elementary school student, leaving a lightning-like mark on one of the victim's feet, because one of his relatives was leaving the church; and that on an unknown date, a follower of Eastern Lightning killed her father before calmly turning herself in to the Public Security Bureau.[48]

In 2017, Western scholars, including Massimo Introvigne and Holly Folk, who had studied the church, were invited in Henan by the official China Anti-Cult Association for a conference on dangerous cults and The Church of Almighty God.[49] A second conference was organized by the same China Anti-Cult Association later in 2017 in Hong Kong, and scholars received from Chinese law enforcement officials information and documents on the crimes the latter regarded The Church of Almighty God as guilty of.[50] They observed that the additional accusations appear to be less frequently mentioned and less supported by documents with respect to the accusations concerning the four main incidents.[51]

The Zhaoyuan McDonald's Cult Murder[edit]

On May 28, 2014, six "missionaries" who claimed to represent the "Almighty God" sparked a national outcry when they attacked and killed a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, a city in Shandong Province of China.[52] During an interview with a CCTV journalist, Zhang Lidong (张立冬), the lead attacker in what became known as the Zhaoyuan McDonald's Cult Murder, claimed that the subject rejected his daughter's request for her phone number and was called an "evil spirit" (邪灵), which prompted the six "missionaries" 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 to which he belonged and his rank within the religious group.[53] Five of the "missionaries" (the sixth was a minor) were tried and convicted and on October 10. Two were sentenced to death and executed in 2015, one to life imprisonment, and the other two to 7 and 10 years in prison.[54]

The McDonald's murder was later studied by scholars of new religious movements such as Emily Dunn,[55] David Bromley and Massimo Introvigne.[56] They came to different conclusions with respect to earlier reports by most Chinese and Western media, and argued that the assassins were part of a small, independent cult not connected with Eastern Lighting, who used the words "Almighty God" to designate as a "dual deity" its two female leaders, Zhang Fan (Zhang Lidong's daughter, who was executed in 2015) and Lü Yingchun.[57]. At trial, the defendants stated explicitly that, although they both used the name “Almighty God,” their group and The Church of Almighty God led by Zhao Weishan were two different organizations. One of the leaders, Lü Yingchun, declared, “the state labeled Zhao Weishan’s fake ‘Church of Almighty God’ as a evil cult , and we label them as ‘evil spirits.’ Only Zhang Fan and I … could represent the real ‘Church of Almighty God.’ Zhang Fan and I are the unique spokeswomen for the real ‘Almighty God.’ The government has been cracking down on the Almighty God that Zhao Weishan believes in, not the ‘Almighty God’ we mention. They are fake ‘Almighty God,’ while we are the real ‘Almighty God.’”[58]

The Case of Guo Xiaobin[edit]

On August 24, 2013, a woman pulled out the eyes of a young boy called Guo Xiaobin in Shanxi. The boy later became internationally famous for the successful ocular prosthesis surgery performed in Shenzen.[59] After the Zhaoyuan McDonald's Cult Murder, some Chinese media attributed the crime to members of The Church of Almighty God.[60] A study by the American scholar Holly Folk, written after her participation in the two 2017 conferences organized by the China Anti-Cult Association, noticed that the Chinese police had closed the case in September 2013 by concluding that the crime was perpetrated by Guo Xiaobin’s aunt, and had nothing to do with The Church of Almighty God. Only after the McDonald’s murder in 2014 did some Chinese anti-cultists start to mention The Church of the Almighty God in connection with the incident.[61] Folk also noted that accusations of gouging out eyes of Chinese victims were a common theme in Chinese anti-Christian propaganda since at least the 19th century.[62]

Accusations of kidnapping Christian leaders[edit]

Some leaders of other Christian churches have accused The Church of Almighty God both of “heresy” and of “sheep-stealing” through devious strategies.[63] Accusations include the claim that, in 2002, The Church of Almighty God kidnapped thirty-four leaders of the China Gospel Fellowship (CGF) in order to convert them.[64] A number of Christians in the West found the accusations believable.[65] In a study published in 2018, Introvigne found inconsistencies in the story as told by the China Gospel Fellowship, found it strange that nobody was arrested or committed to trial for the crime, and concluded that it was not impossible that, by inventing the story of the kidnapping, the China Gospel Fellowship simply tried to find a justification for the fact that many of its members, including national leaders, had converted to The Church of Almighty God, although other interpretations of the accounts also remain possible.[66]

2012 doomsday predictions[edit]

The doomsday apocalypse prediction concerning the year 2012 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.[67] Within the global framework of the 2012 phenomenon, based on prophecies attributed to the Maya civilization, The Church of Almighty God was accused of predicting the end of the world for 2012, causing riots and even crimes around China.[68] Immediately prior to the “Maya” doomsday date of December 21,2012, the Chinese government arrested 400 members of Eastern Lightning in central China,[69] and as many as 1000 from other provinces of China.[70] Chinese authorities also claimed that a certain 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.[71]

Australian scholar Emily Dunn, in what was the first scholarly book devoted to The Church of Almighty God in 2015, noted that, like many Chinese, some “members of Eastern Lighting embraced the Mayan prophecy” but they “appear to have done so without sanction from the group’s self-proclaimed authorities,” who in fact declared “Mayan” and other theories about the end of the world as theologically and factually “mistaken.”[72]

Introvigne noted that the position of the members of The Church of Almighty God who accepted and spread the prophecies about the end of the world in 2012, some of whom were expelled from the church, “was not consistent with the theology of the Church. Almighty God does not announce the end of the world, but its transformation. And this will not occur before the work of Almighty God on Earth is completed,” i.e. before the person recognized as Almighty God will pass away, while she was alive and well in 2012.[73]

Refugee issues[edit]

Particularly after the crackdown following the 2014 McDonald’s murder, thousands of members of The Church of Almighty God escaped to South Korea, the U.S., Canada, Italy, France, Australia, and other countries, seeking refugee status. While authorities in some countries claim that there is not enough evidence of the fact that asylum seekers have been persecuted, some international experts counter that evidence that The Church of Almighty God is persecuted as a movement is enough to support the conclusion that members would face serious risks should they return to China, and decisions unfavorable to applicants are not justified.[74]

Fake news claims[edit]

The Church of Almighty God claims to be the victim of fake news campaigns instigated by the Chinese Communist Party. It insists that some flyers and banners depicted in Chinese and Western Web sites as evidence of its 2012 prophecies were in fact either fabricated or derived from alterations with Photoshop and other techniques of existing materials of the Church of Almighty God.[75] The Church has also denounced the existence in the United Kingdom of a false Web site “Church of Almighty God UK.”[76] Attempts by The Church of Almighty God to have it removed have been so far unsuccessful, despite scholars stating that the fact that the Web site does not represent the positions and theology of The Church of Almighty God should be obvious to anybody familiar with them.[77] A “Declaration Concerning Websites Imitating The Church of Almighty God” was issued by the Church denouncing the incident.[78]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Always written with a capital T in "The"; Chinese: 全能神教会; pinyin: Quánnéng Shén Jiàohuì

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Dunn (2008a).
  2. ^ Li (2014), Ma (2014).
  3. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  4. ^ Dunn (2008a); Dunn (2015), 62.
  5. ^ Irons 2018.
  6. ^ Palmer (2012).
  7. ^ Dunn (2015), 2-3.
  8. ^ Gracie (2014); Shen and Bach (2017).
  9. ^ Tiezzi (2014).
  10. ^ Dunn (2015), 204; Introvigne (2017a); Introvigne and Bromley (2017), Folk (2017).
  11. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  12. ^ Dunn (2015), 68-72.
  13. ^ Zoccatelli (2018), 8.
  14. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  15. ^ Folk (2018), 72.
  16. ^ Dunn (2015), 48; Introvigne (2017c).
  17. ^ Dunn (2015),48: "Other Chinese sources present a far more complex account of Eastern Lightning's origins. They charge a middle-aged man named Zhao Weishan 赵维山, once a physics teacher or railroad worker, with founding the movement. These sources ... was a member of the Shouters in the late 1980s. He left the group with other believers in 1989 to form an offshoot called the Church of the Everlasting Foundation (永存的根基教会 Yongcun de genjijiaohui), in which he presented himself as a 'Lord of Ability' ( 能力主 nengli zhu). In May, 1992, a Chinese Christian magazine reported that a group called 'the New Church of the Lord of Ability' (新能力主教会 Xin nenglizhu jiaohui) had been distributing tracts and cassette recordings in the southwest Henan since March 1991."
  18. ^ Kindopp (2004), 141: “Similarly, a disgruntled Protestant Christian named Zhao Weishan broke from his church to establish the Eastern Lightning cult, also in Henan"; Aikman (2003), 242: “"Some time in the 1990s, the man regarded as the founder of Eastern Lightning, Zhao Weishan, came to the United States with a false passport and applied for—and in 2000 was granted—political asylum.”
  19. ^ CESNUR (2017).
  20. ^ Dunn (2015), 48.
  21. ^ Introvigne (2017c); Zoccatelli (2018), 9.
  22. ^ Dunn (2008b).
  23. ^ Introvigne (2017c); Irons (2018).
  24. ^ Dunn (2015), 49; Introvigne (2017c).
  25. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  26. ^ See e.g. China for Jesus (2002; upd. 2014); Chan and Bright (2005).
  27. ^ Li (2014), Ma (2014).
  28. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  29. ^ Zoccatelli (2018), 10.
  30. ^ Introvigne (2017b).
  31. ^ Folk (2018), 64.
  32. ^ Folk (2018), 61.
  33. ^ Quoted in Folk (2018), 61-63.
  34. ^ Folk (2018), 62.
  35. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  36. ^ Introvigne (2017c); see Church of Almighty God (2015).
  37. ^ Folk (2018), 66.
  38. ^ Folk (2018), 66.
  39. ^ Dunn (2008).
  40. ^ Dunn (2008).
  41. ^ Introvigne (2017c)
  42. ^ Introvigne (2017c)
  43. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  44. ^ Gracie (2014).
  45. ^ Lai and others (2014).
  46. ^ Shen and Bach (2017).
  47. ^ Dunn (2015), 94.
  48. ^ China People's Daily (2014); Gracie (2014).
  49. ^ KKNews (2017).
  50. ^ Zoccatelli (2018), 6.
  51. ^ Folk (2017); Introvigne (2017c).
  52. ^ Gracie (2014).
  53. ^ Sina Video (2014).
  54. ^ BBC News (2014).
  55. ^ Dunn (2015), 204.
  56. ^ Introvigne 2017 (a); Introvigne and Bromley (2017).
  57. ^ Introvigne (2017a); Introvigne and Bromley (2017).
  58. ^ The Beijing News (2014).
  59. ^ Irvine (2014).
  60. ^ Lai and others (2014).
  61. ^ Folk (2017).
  62. ^ Folk (2017), 101.
  63. ^ See e.g. China for Jesus (2002, upd. 2014).
  64. ^ Shen and Bach (2017).
  65. ^ See e.g. Aikman (2003), 81 and 267; Chan and Bright (2005).
  66. ^ Introvigne (2018).
  67. ^ Dunn (2016).
  68. ^ Dunn (2016).
  69. ^ Patranobis (2012).
  70. ^ Jacobs (2012).
  71. ^ China People's Daily (2014).
  72. ^ Dunn (2015), 95.
  73. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  74. ^ Šorytė (2018).
  75. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  76. ^ See the (false) Web site "Church of Almighty God UK 英国全能神教会," last accessed February 20, 2018.
  77. ^ Introvigne (2017c).
  78. ^ Introvigne (2017c).

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]