Shincheonji Church of Jesus

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Shincheonji, Church of Jesus,
the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony
20150301NC백화점 과천점1.jpg
Shincheonji Headquarters located in Gwacheon
ClassificationChristian new religious movement
LeaderLee Man-hee
RegionSouth Korea and abroad
FounderLee Man-hee
Origin14 March 1984
South Korea
Separated fromOlive Tree (1984)
Members317,320 (According to the Health Ministry of South Korea)
Other name(s)Shincheonji (accepted common name)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationSincheonji

Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ), commonly known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus or simply Shincheonji (Korean신천지; Hanja新天地; lit. New Heaven and New Earth; IPA: [ɕintɕʰʌndʑi]), is an offshoot Christian new religious movement established in South Korea by Lee Man-hee.[2][3]

Shincheonji's teaching claims that their founder Lee is the pastor who is prophesied in the new testament, sent by Jesus Christ in the time of Second Coming[3] and that the Book of Revelation is written in secret metaphors which only Lee is capable of deciphering.[4] Before founding his own religious movement, Lee was a member of a controversial group called the Olive Tree, a cult which spawned the first countercult movement in post-war Korea.[5]

Shincheonji teaches that it is the true faith with its members receiving salvation at the time of final judgment. Everyone not in the group will be denied forgiveness and destroyed.[6]

In 2020, the group became the center of intense scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic in South Korea. The outbreak of coronavirus cases in Korea was initially centered in the city of Daegu after a 61-year-old Shincheonji member known as Patient 31 infected other church members causing the pandemic to surge in Daegu. As the disease spread among Shincheonji's members and thousands of others, the group's founder and leaders refused to get tested, citing their religious beliefs to privacy, which resulted in a national outcry against the group. Shincheonji members also resisted government attempts at tracking the spread of pandemic and implementation of social distancing rules and prompted the Seoul City government to file legal complaints to state prosecutors against 12 leaders of the sect accusing the group of homicide, causing harm, and violating the Infectious Disease and Control Act.[7][8]

In response to the negative media attention on Shincheonji, Lee Man-hee spoke publicly about being misunderstood or falsely accused.[9]


The group is apocalyptic[10] and messianic in character,[11] and has been described as a doomsday cult.[11] The group's founder and leader Lee is a self-proclaimed messiah;[12] church followers variously refer to him as "Chairman Lee"; "the chairman"; "the promised pastor"; "the one who overcomes"; or "the advocate."[10] Known for its secretive nature, adherents believe that Lee is the returned Jesus Christ[3] and that the Bible is written in secret metaphors which only Lee can correctly interpret.[4] The group believes that on the Day of Judgment, Lee will take 144,000 adherents to Heaven with him,[13] where they will enjoy eternal life.[14]

The group is known for its aggressive, and deceptive proselytizing practices. With a poor image in mainstream South Korean society, Shincheonji leaders have at times instructed their members to lie about being adherents of the group, although the group has said that doing so is not its official policy.[15] The group is regarded as heretical by mainstream Christian denominations.[15]


Lee Man-hee was born in 1931. From 1957–1967 he was active in the Olive Tree, and in 1966 became one of the first members of the Tabernacle Temple which, under pressure from the "religious purification policy" of Chun Doo-hwan (coup in 1980), affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. In March 14, 1984, Lee founded Shincheonji and opened its first temple that June in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province. Membership grew and in June 1990 the Zion Christian Mission Center was established in Seoul. In 1995, the membership within South Korea was divided into Twelve Tribes, according to geographic territories. In 1999, the headquarters were moved to Gwacheon, which has a prophetic meaning within Shincheonji theology. Mainline Christian churches became alarmed at the loss of members, and the first cases of deprogramming Shincheonji members began in 2003. In about 2013 a NGO called the Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) was founded, which included non-Shincheonji members, and HWPL obtained special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2017.[16]


In 2014, it was estimated to have over 120,000 members,[17] while a 2020 estimate put membership at around 200,000.[18] It was once the fastest-growing religious sect in South Korea.[19]

In March 2020, health authorities of the Government of South Korea investigating the COVID-19 pandemic officially declared to the press that they obtained an exact list of 317,320 registered Shincheonji members.[20][21]


protest against shincheonji, Wonju-si

The sect has been accused of actively infiltrating other churches to convert other churches' members.

  • South Korea – Its members have been sighted in Myeongdong Cathedral, often pretending to be pious believers seeking to lure other Koreans or foreigners into their own religious meetings.[22]
  • United Kingdom – In November 2016, the Church of England issued a formal alert to around 500 parishes in London about the activities of a Shincheonji affiliate known as Parachristo. Parachristo, a registered charity in the UK, runs Bible study courses in London Docklands, and was using these courses to recruit members of the Church of England.[23]

"Those who become involved [in Shincheonji] gradually withdraw from friends and family and actively lie about their real lives."[23] Further warnings were issued by Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, and John Peters, rector of St Mary's Church, London.

  • India – In August 2019, the Baptist Convention in Manipur, India, warned worshippers to be wary of Shincheonji. "Their leader Lee Man-Hee claims to have access to secret knowledge of scriptures which other church pastors do not know. Moreover, he claims that one can truly know God only by following and listening to the teachings of Shincheonji. Once they are into this group, they spend most of their time inviting people to join Shincheonji group and spend less time with their families, friends and churches and neglect and quit their studies or work."[24]

In 2017, Shinchonji was reported to be evangelizing students in the University of Auckland to be members.[28]

Association with the coronavirus outbreak[edit]

Cases of the Shincheonji cluster

The sect became involved in controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic, an outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infections followed from the participation of a SARS-CoV-2 infected person, "Patient 31", at the organization.[29][30] A dozen Chinese members of the sect from Wuhan were also connected to the Daegu Shincheonji outbreak.[31][32]

In Busan, a 61-year-old Daegu resident is believed to have spread the virus.[33] By 20 February 2020, 53 new cases were Shincheonji attendees or their families,[34] reaching over 300 by 23 February, over half of all cases in South Korea.[35] With an additional 4,000 cases of COVID-19 within two weeks, and roughly 60% of the total infections nationwide having stemmed from the church,[36] the Seoul city government asked prosecutors to press charges against the religious group's founder and senior members for murder, causing harm, and for violating the Infectious Disease and Control Act.[13] Interviews have occurred with all 230,000 members of the religious group and nearly 9,000 were said to be showing symptoms of the virus.[37] After a lawsuit was started by the Mayor of Seoul, the police raided the church premises to check whether the list of members supplied by Shincheonji pursuant to a request by the authorities was, as the Mayor argued, not complete. The authorities checked the list seized during the raid with the one Shincheonji had supplied, and concluded that discrepancies were minor.[38]

In March 2020, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern that religious freedom rights of Shincheonji members may be violated in South Korea by "exaggerating the church's role in the outbreak," and stated that, "USCIRF has received reports of individuals encountering discrimination at work and spousal abuse because of their affiliation with the church."[39] USCIRF reported that South Korean "Vice Minister of Health Kim Kang-lip has publicly stated that the Shincheonji church has cooperated with authorities."[39] The Belgian NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers and CESNUR released a "White Paper" claiming that, although it did make "mistakes" in its management of the crisis, Shincheonji had also been discriminated against because of its status as an unpopular group in South Korea.[40][41] Some sect members have alleged that broader Korean society has unfairly blamed them for spread of coronavirus.[42]

In a press conference in early March 2020, the church's founder Lee Man-hee publicly kneeled and bowed his head to the ground in a traditional Korean gesture of apology, apologized for church members unintentionally spreading the virus, and said that the church was cooperating with the government.[43]

On 31 July 2020, Lee Man-hee was arrested by South Korean authorities for allegedly hiding crucial information from contact-tracers and other offenses; by this time the Shincheonji Church was being linked to more than 5,200 coronavirus infections, or 36% of South Korea’s total cases.[44]


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  4. ^ a b Tan (9 March 2020). New York Times Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Kim, David W.; Bang, Won-il (2019). "Guwonpa, WMSCOG, and Shincheonji: Three Dynamic Grassroots Groups in Contemporary Korean Christian NRM History". Religions. 10 (3): 212. doi:10.3390/rel10030212..
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  9. ^ "This apocalyptic Korean Christian group goes by different names. Critics say it's just a cult". The World from PRX. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
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  41. ^ "Mener kristen sekt er utsatt for jakt på syndebukk for koronautbruddet". Vårt Land. Oslo. 31 March 2020. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
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