Religious expert surprised at how bold 'dangerous' Korean religious sect Shincheonji has become in NZ

New Zealand Herald/July 6, 2022

By Lincoln Tan

A religious expert says he is puzzled as to why a Korean religious sect described as dangerous is advertising and promoting itself in New Zealand.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, founded in the 1980s and established here about eight years ago, has been described as a doomsday cult. It is led by Lee Man-Hee who claims to be the successor of Jesus Christ.

In an email to the Herald, the sect said: "As Shincheonji Church in New Zealand is growing rapidly and attracting a lot of attention, we would like to help New Zealanders to be informed about the events hosted by the church.

"Chairman Lee calls all the believers to become one around the Word of God that has been fully revealed to the believers in this era."

The sect claimed that its online seminars, which have been held since October last year, have received 21 million views including from the New Zealand audience "which is continuing to grow".

It wanted the Herald to publish an article about "revelations" made by Lee to "pastors, believers and journalists" on July 4.

Massey University religion and cult expert Professor Peter Lineham said he was "extremely surprised" at how bold the sect has become.

In 2017, The New Zealand Korean Churches Association, representing Korean Protestant Churches, warned its members about Shincheonji's activities.

The association's spokesman at the time described Shincheonji as a "dangerous cult" that harmed families, society and churches.

"This was a group that had previously operated under cover names, and now the advertisements are very boldly Shincheonji," Lineham said.

"It's very clear who that was and no disguise whatsoever, it's not their normal approach and I was intrigued by that."

Lineham said the sect appeared to be openly targeting those seeking "exotic teachings and ideas".

A New Zealand woman who spent years as a member of the sect in Auckland, last year issued a warning about its fraudulent recruitment techniques.

She was introduced to the group through a person she thought was a friend she met in university.

The woman said classes usually comprised about eight people, half of whom were recruits and the others were members pretending to be recruits.

Lessons would begin fairly normal but would descend into talks of the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.

Members are asked to remove themselves from all earthly temptations, and to recognise Lee as the successor of Jesus Christ.

Lineham described Shincheonji as a "Christian conversionist, separationist group where's there's a messiah at the heart of it".

"Typically they've been very coy about what they've said about themselves. In the past they have kept their operations fairly anonymous."

Lineham said he was told at a recent meeting of university chaplains that Shincheonji was operating under new obscure names.

"This is a distinct change of strategy to openly proclaim who they are, but I must say I am much more comfortable about that," Lineham said.

"Because this way, anybody who does due diligence can look them up and immediately know the issues around them."

A representative of Shincheonji said there have been misunderstandings about the group.

"We are also actively engaged in the peace work. Chairman Lee Man-Hee has inspired many peace agreements including one in Mindanao, Philippines where at least 100,000 people are estimated to have died," the spokeswoman said.

"The conflict was brought to an end after decades of war. Chairman Lee led this agreement in 2014."

She claimed the group had also established many memoranda of understanding with various Christian denominations, promoting co-operation and unity.

"The church is very active and it's making a significant impact in the world of religion today, as well as a positive impact on society."

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