Rev. Shin Hyeon-uk, South Korea

Controversial religious group uses K-pop boom for overseas recruiting

The Korea Times/January 23, 2019

By Kang Aa-young

The local Christian community alleged Wednesday that a controversial religious group has been using the international K-pop boom to increase its members, urging believers to stay alert not to be duped by the "heretical" group. 

The warning comes as Shincheonji Church of Jesus - the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ) has seen a rapid increase in its overseas members in recent years, particularly in China, South Africa, the United States and Germany. 

Rev. Shin Hyeon-uk of Guri Chodae Church and director of Guri Cult Counseling Center in Gyeonggi Province said SCJ held a general meeting on Jan. 13, where branches shared their accomplishments.

Shin told The Korea Times that he joined the meeting in the guise of an SCJ member and taped what was said there.

Based on the information he obtained, Shin said the church has an estimated 202,899 members, a 9 percent increase from a year ago, mainly due to an increase in overseas members. 

"Facing a rapidly decreasing membership, the church has been focusing on overseas missions over the past few years. The cult's overseas members are growing rapidly, a contrast to what is happening at home," he said.

"Public awareness campaigns launched by Christian groups helped SCJ lose its ground at home. But people outside the country don't know who they are. Last year alone, the church was able to recruit 6,000 new members overseas."

Founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee, who claims he has seen Jesus and has since been given immortality, SCJ had expanded rapidly. It teaches members that when the world ends, the souls of "martyrs" and the bodies of its believers will be united and enjoy eternal life.

The church is notorious for its use of deception techniques, approaching people through various front groups such as Mannam Volunteer Association and Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL). 

Recently the church saw a decreased membership after Kim Nam-hee, Lee's second-in-command, left the church and some believers followed her. The church also extorted 1.2 million won from members who failed to recruit new adherents, which also led some to leave it. 

Pastor Shin gathered information about SCJ from former members who sought the advice of the Guri Cult Counseling Center and shared their experiences.

"We've seen many people who were victimized by SCJ," he said. 

The pastor called on the Christian community to work together to prevent SCJ from spreading throughout the nation. However, outreach to other countries has been limited. 

On Tuesday, at a press conference held at the center, a former SCJ member surnamed Kim said he participated in the group's "missionary activity" while he was staying in Turkey for two years and three months. 

"I couldn't mingle with other people in Turkey because of cultural differences. But I had to focus on recruiting members by advertising the group using Korean culture, by running a Korean cosmetic business, building a cultural exchange cafe and running Korean language classes," Kim said. 

"As a result of my actions, four Turkish teachers and seven others joined SCJ. The church successfully recruited 70 people there."

SCJ's international believers have reportedly increased from 2014 when the church put its focus on overseas recruitment. So far it is believed to have over 22,000overseas members, making up about 10 percent of its total. 

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