Evangelicals in Switzerland concerned about cult “aggressively” proselytising among young Christians

The South Korean-born Shincheonji group has been active in Switzerland since 2016. Experts warn that they target people aged between 18 and 25 and try to isolate them by a total commitment to their activities.

Evangelical Focus/March 29, 2024

Shincheonji, a religious movement born in South Korea, has been active in Europe for around a decade, causing confusion among young people interested in the Christian faith, according to church leaders in several countries.

In Switzerland, the Evangelical Alliance (SEA-RES) says the cult, as they define it, has been active since 2016 and is “causing growing concern, particularly among young Christians”.

The evangelical body has spoken out against the “sophisticated methods used by the sect to aggressively recruit new members”. The presence of the group is still limited, with around 250 members in the region of Zurich, and smaller communities in other cities. But the Swiss Evangelical Alliance believes the number of people contacted by the Shincheonji “is much higher since many leave the movement” before they become established members.

“New heaven and new earth”

In Korean, “Shincheonji” means “new heaven and new earth”. The group has alternatively been called ‘religion of the New Revelation’, and they target specifically people aged between 18 and 25 who have some kind of interest in the Bible.

“They are approached mainly via social media and in public spaces, for example near churches”, says the SEA-RES. When introducing themselves, Shincheonji members do normally not mention the name of their religious movement. They invite many to their Bible courses, and during these apparently inoffensive activities and “intensive support and supervision” of people is offered while “contact with the outside world is increasingly limited”. The “sheer time commitment” required for training and attending religious services “makes it impossible to continue the old social life”, the evangelical body says.

Only the Shincheonji will be saved, founder is 'king of the universe'

The group teaches that Christian churches have false teaching and that “only the Shincheonji will be saved”, describes the SEA-RES. The founder of Shincheonji, Man-Hee Lee, has “crowned himself king of the universe and sees himself as an angel fulfilling the New Testament, and his words as the words of God”.

The conditions of membership (called “passage from death to life”) are three training courses, acceptance of the guide, attendance at events three or four times a week, and passing tests.

Love-bombing and threats

When someone shows interest in learning more about the group's belief, they “are inundated with compliments. However, if you want to leave the group, there is a great deal of psychological pressure”. Finally, all personal contact is broken.

According to the Swiss Protestant relinfo information service about religions and cults, “the most important thing when dealing with people living in a problematic community is to maintain contact in all circumstances and to let them know that you are always there for them”. In terms of prevention, awareness-raising and information are essential to help people recognise the issues before joining such a community.

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