COVID-19: The truth behind Shincheonji Church

By Nur Sa’adah Batrisyia

“Patient number 31 refused to get tested and moved around the cities spreading the virus due to a belief to not seek any treatment even if you are sick.” 

Religion can be deadly. One sentence describes the chaos in South Korea at this moment.

In the light of recent COVID-19, a religious group branch in Daegu, South Korea steals the spotlight when nearly 1,300 Shincheonji (SCJ) church members out of 1,900 tested for coronavirus symptoms. This number rose rapidly increasing to 5,186 as this article was written.

Apparently, the 31st patient, 61-year-old woman, is a member of SCJ church and she was considered as a super spreader, nearly infected around 1,000 people when she attended a prayer service in a confined room despite the symptoms she had.

Shincheonji or the literal meaning from Korean abbreviation is “new heaven and new earth” founded by Lee Man Hee in 1984 and currently has around 215, 000 followers in South Korea alone. This church has branches all over the world such as in China, US, South Africa, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and unexpectedly it had spread to Malaysia.

Doctrine of Shincheonji

Shincheonji is a controversial organisation frequently accused of being a cult*. Their followers believed Lee Man Hee is immortal and his words are “words of God”.

Let me break down the doctrine of Shincheonji church to see how dangerous this radical group is.

First and foremost, Lee Man Hee claimed he can talk to Jesus and he received secret revelation of the Bible; which ultimately gives him power to twist the theology content of the holy book to persuade people to join them. SCJ followers believe only through him the hidden truth of the Bible will be exposed. 

Apart from that, his followers believe that Lee Man Hee is the second coming of Jesus; taking only 144, 000 people with him to heaven on the Judgement Day. SCJ members are obsessed to become among this 144, 000 people. The mystery behind this specific number is yet to be discovered.

Nevertheless, recruiting and converting new members are mandatory for them to graduate from this Bible school studies. “If you do not evangelise, you will be kicked out” – Lee Man Hee.

The dark side of Shincheonji

In spite of the sugarcoat promises they sprinkle on top of it, the dark side of this so-called religious movement had circulated to the world by their former members itself. The testimony leaked by SCJ former members was that it damaged people’s lives specifically their relationship with their family and friends. SCJ members need to attend meetings, teachings, seminars at the church which limited their times with their family and friends. Attending the church even when they are sick can be seen as among the factors of COVID-19 virus to be spread out drastically.

On a side note, how could the words of promising prophet break the bond of families, couples and friends apart? A religion that is supposed to promote good value towards their followers. This questionable issue answered by critics detailed the analysis over SCJ. Critics claimed SCJ is not coherent with Christianity and it is merely a cult, being fanatic over eschatology* and purely messianic*. Lee Man Hee played a role as a saviour, putting him on the same degree with Jesus. That sounds ridiculous!

Manipulating, tricking, deceiving people to believe on fake doctrine is common to them; forcing people to join their cult for the sake of their own agenda and targeting vulnerable people with false doctrinal study. Plus, once they join their group, they are not allowed to leave. Apostates are threatened and abused rigorously.

SCJ members were used to hide their identities to shield themselves and their organisation against public skepticism over their religious movement. Anonymity is habitual in their culture.

Shincheonji receives backlash from South Korea for spreading COVID-19 virus

One by one criticism received from mainstream church for practising strange belief, they again face huge backlash due to their ignorance and stubbornness for violating the authority’s command to self-quarantine; affecting the outbreak of COVID-19.

The groups were told not to wear masks during prayer (because it disrespects God), pray in extremely close contact (easier for the virus to spread out) and not to fear diseases. Diseases are seen as deeds of devils and since SCJ is solely fanatic over the Judgement Day; they shall allow themselves to die, disregard the reality of the world; solely concerned about the end world. 

Citizens of South Korea are beyond furious with SCJ followers’ egoism for causing widespread of the virus to the whole country. One’s ignorant behaviour is affecting thousands of lives.

Other SCJ bizarre faith that raises the anger of the South Korea nation is the belief to not seek for treatment even if they are sick. 

Seemingly, SCJ is not the only church that promotes cultish behaviour and fringe religion*. There are hundreds of churches around South Korea that are established based on one’s preferences and bizarre thinking, they just go with different names. Example of Church that exercised Pseudo Christian* are Grace Road and World Mission Society Church of God.

If you mention Shincheonji to any Korean, he or she would say it is a cult.

Here are the explanation on the terms referred to in the article:

*Cult: A small religious group that is not part of mainstream community and more accepted religion. Having an extreme and dangerous belief.
*Eschatology: Science of study concerning with death, final judgement and human destiny in life. Dealing with the ‘end things’.
*Messianic: Extremely passionate over the role of Jesus who will act as the saviour of a group of people.
*Pseudo Christian: Fake Christianity; a cult or religion that imitates aspects of Christianity. Usually blinded by their own selfishness. Is dangerous as they will brainwash one’s faith and belief to attain something.
*Fringe religion: A blurry line between sect, cult and an established religion. A weird religion.    ***

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