Shincheonji Church of Jesus
|Shincheonji, Church of Jesus,the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony|
Shincheonji Headquarters located in Gwacheon
|Classification||Christian new religious movement|
|Region||South Korea and abroad|
|Origin||14 March 1984 |
|Separated from||Olive Tree (1984)|
|Members||317,320 (According to the Health Ministry of South Korea)|
|Other name(s)||Shincheonji (accepted common name)|
Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ), commonly known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus or simply Shincheonji (Korean: 신천지; 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 in 1984. The group is known for being a secretive cult.
Shincheonji's teaching claims that their founder Lee is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and that the Bible is written in secret metaphors which only Lee can correctly interpret. Before founding his own religious movement, Lee was a member of a controversial group called the Olive Tree which spawned the first countercult movement in post-war Korea.
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, 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 homocide, causing harm, and violating the Infectious Disease and Control Act.
The group is apocalyptic and messianic in character, and has been described as a doomsday cult. The group's founder and leader Lee is a self-proclaimed messiah. Known for its secretive nature, adherents believe that Lee is the returned Jesus Christ and that the Bible is written in secret metaphors which only Lee can correctly interpret. The group believes that on the Day of Judgment, Lee will take 144,000 adherents to Heaven with him, where they will enjoy eternal life.
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. The group is regarded as heretical by mainstream Christian denominations.
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.
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.
- 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.
"Those who become involved [in Shincheonji] gradually withdraw from friends and family and actively lie about their real lives." 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."
- Singapore - In late February 2020, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs would be investigating the local Sincheonji chapter for fraudulent activities including creating front companies and using deceptive methods to recruit young people into their sect.
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. A dozen Chinese members of the sect from Wuhan were also connected to the Daegu Shincheonji outbreak.
In Busan, a 61-year-old Daegu resident is believed to have spread the virus. By 20 February 2020, 53 new cases were Shincheonji attendees or their families, reaching over 300 by 23 February, over half of all cases in South Korea. 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, 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. 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. 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.
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." USCIRF reported that South Korean "Vice Minister of Health Kim Kang-lip has publicly stated that the Shincheonji church has cooperated with authorities." 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.
- (보도설명자료) JTBC 등 신천지 신도명단 보도 관련 (PDF) (in Korean). Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 27 February 2020. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
- Rashid, Raphael (9 March 2020). "Being Called a Cult Is One Thing, Being Blamed for an Epidemic Is Quite Another". NYT.
- Tan, Lincoln (4 April 2017). "Churches on alert of "dangerous cult" Shincheonji on takeover mission". New Zealand Herald.
- Tan, Lincoln (4 April 2017). "Shincheonji members helped believer "escape" family". New Zealand Herald.
- 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..
- BBC (2 March 2020). "Coronavirus: South Korea sect leader to face probe over deaths". BBC.
- Kim, Suki (4 March 2020). "How South Korea Lost Control of Its Coronavirus Outbreak". The New Yorker. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
In a speech, Moon blamed the outbreak in South Korea on members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a religious group widely considered to be a cult, whose adherents make up more than half of those infected with covid-19.
- Matthew Bell (11 July 2017). "This apocalyptic Korean Christian group goes by different names. Critics say it is just a cult". The World. Public Radio International.
- Min Joo Kim (21 February 2020). "South Korean coronavirus spike linked to doomsday sect with messianic leader". Washington Post.
- Dasl Yoon (6 March 2020). "A Man of Two Faces: Leader of South Korean Church Tied to Outbreak". Wall Street Journal.
- "Seoul city seeks murder charges against sect founder over virus". Yahoo!. Agence France-Presse. 2 March 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
- Anthony Kuhn (2 March 2020). "Megachurch In South Korea Accused Of Spreading Coronavirus". Morning Edition. NPR.
- Choe Sang-Hun (21 February 2020). "Shadowy Church Is at Center of Coronavirus Outbreak in South Korea". New York Times.
- "Controversial religious group holds int'l peace event in Seoul". www.koreatimes.co.kr. 18 September 2014.
- Farrer, Martin (25 February 2020). "Coronavirus: South Korea to test 200,000 sect members as pandemic fears hit markets". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
- Sang-Hun, Choe (10 March 2020). "'Proselytizing Robots': Inside South Korean Church at Outbreak's Center". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
- Cha, Sangmi (1 March 2020). "Murder probe sought for South Korea sect at center of coronavirus outbreak". Reuters. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
- Kim, Victoria (2 March 2020). "Secrecy is paramount for South Korean sect linked to coronavirus surge. Many believers are in SoCal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
- Kim, Victoria (27 February 2020). "Were you on this bus with a coronavirus patient? South Korea is on the hunt for infections". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
A religious sect with 12 branches around the country, the church has been described as a 'cult' for its messianic leader. It has been criticized for reportedly infiltrating other churches and its domineering hold on its members.
- Farley, Harry; Bingham, John (10 December 2016). "Exclusive: Churches warned of 'deceptive cult' linked to South Korea infiltrating congregations". The Daily Telegraph.
- "'Dangerous Korean cult' Shincheonji sends Christians in Northeast into a tizzy". The New Indian Express.
- Ang, Hwee Min; Yong, Michael (28 February 2020). "MHA investigating unregistered Singapore chapter of South Korean religious group Shincheonji". Channel News Asia. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
- "Coronavirus: Singapore authorities investigate 'deceptive recruitment' at secretive Shincheonji church at centre of South Korea's outbreak". South China Morning Post. 28 February 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
- "Ultra-secret South Korean cult's tactics in Singapore mirror those used elsewhere". The Straits Times. 28 February 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
- Shin, Hyonhee; Cha, Sangmi (20 February 2020). "'Like a zombie apocalypse': Residents on edge as coronavirus cases surge in South Korea". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 20 February 2020. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
- "The updates of COVID-19 (as of Feb.19) in Korea" (press release). Korean Center for Disease Control. 19 February 2020.
- Rhea Mahbubani (26 February 2020). "Followers of the doomsday church that is linked to South Korea's coronavirus outbreak were meeting in Wuhan until December". Business Insider.
- Rashid, Raphael (9 March 2020). "Opinion | Being Called a Cult is One Thing, Being Blamed for an Epidemic is Quite Another". The New York Times.
- Martin, Timothy W.; Dasl Yoon (25 February 2020). "South Korea Plans 'Maximum' Quarantine Steps in Coronavirus-Struck City". The Wall Street Journal.
- Song, Jung-a (20 February 2020). "South Korea reports first coronavirus death as cases surge". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
- "Coronavirus Live Updates: Xi Acknowledges 'Shortcomings' in Fight Against Outbreak". The New York Times. 23 February 2020.
- "The updates on COVID-19 in Korea as of 24 March". Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 24 March 2020. Archived from the original on 22 April 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
- "Coronavirus: South Korea sect leader to face probe over deaths". BBC. 2 March 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
- Kim, So-hyun (17 March 2020). "'Shincheonji didn't lie about membership figures'". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
- U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (March 2020). "The Global Response to the Coronavirus: Impact on Religious Practice and Religious Freedom" (PDF). Retrieved 19 March 2020.
- "Human Rights without frontiers release white paper on Coronavirus". Risingbd.com. Dhaka. 18 March 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2020.
- "Mener kristen sekt er utsatt for jakt på syndebukk for koronautbruddet". Vårt Land. Oslo. 31 March 2020. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
- Choe Sang-Hun (10 March 2020). "'Proselytizing Robots': Inside South Korean Church at Outbreak's Center". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 April 2020.
Even before the coronavirus scourge, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus was viewed suspiciously. Now it has become the most vilified church in South Korea.