Music blasting in my headphones and eyes downcast, I was walking back to my dorm when a hand flashed in front of my face. I took my headphones out, thinking it was a friend trying to get my attention.
Two women approached me and, thinking they needed directions, I asked what they needed.
Instead, they asked me if I knew about God the Mother. I said no, quickly excusing myself from the conversation.
Before that encounter, I had heard about God the Mother. Friends had told me it was a group that tried to lure young women into sex trafficking.
I decided to do some research, and after hours perusing the internet, I stumbled upon The World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCOG) and its philosophy that God is, in fact, two beings: God the Father and God the Mother.
Besides the church’s take on God being a man and a woman, I found no evidence they were involved with sex trafficking. I came upon multiple reports from schools in states including Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio, who have conducted investigations into local WMSCOG branches that also found no ties between the church and the sex trafficking industry.
However, some universities have banned the WMSCOG members from advertising on their campuses, such as the University in Mississippi and the University of Memphis, which issued bans on members of the group due to displays of aggressive recruiting.
While the church claims no involvement in human trafficking, people largely do not believe the church due to its recruitment tactics, which usually involve targeting young women who are alone. It has also been rumored that other groups may be using the name God the Mother for the purposes of sex trafficking. Church members have also been known to ask those they approach to get into their vehicles so they can get baptised and to provide phone numbers as a way of personal contact, which has only fueled the rumors of the church’s involvement with human trafficking.
Former members describe the recruitment tactics of WMSCOG as focusing on “young people at malls and on college campuses and showering them with affection [“love bombing”] before eventually encouraging them to cut ties to family members who are critical of their new beliefs.” These encounters most often happen late at night or early in the morning, with church members approaching people to participate in a bible study group. In some cases, like mine, WMSCOG recruiters just directly ask, “Have you heard about God the Mother?”
In South Korea, where the church was founded in 1964, “devotees would [wander] around places where there are a lot of people, such as [the] subway station, movie theaters, [or] on the streets, and just grab people walking by [and] introduce their religious idea[s] and invite them to their church,” Diana Lee, an exchange student at the UW from Korea University, said in an email. “It might sound ridiculous, but I heard that there are tons of people who started to believe in [the] World Mission Society Church of God by such way.”
Since its foundation, the church has gone worldwide, with “over 6,000 local churches … established in about 175 countries.” Members adhere to the belief that the church co-founder, Ahn Sahng Hong, is God the Father (the reincarnation of Jesus Christ). They also believe that God the Mother (the heavenly mother Jerusalem), the female representation of God, is co-founder Jang Gil Ja.
Many have also disputed WMSCOG’s claim that it is a sect of Christianity. The Christian Council of Korea and the National Council of Churches in Korea have called it heretical.
“In a way, it sounds kind of Christian because God can become in human form,” Mark Alan Smith, UW professor of political science and adjunct professor of comparative religion and communication, said. “Instead of having the one through Jesus, now we have two — the male and the female.”
WMSCOG is also known for its apocalyptic views, predicting that the world was going to end in 1988, 1999, and 2012.
Smith, who conceded he does not know much about the group as opposed to The Unification Church — another Christian church originating in South Korea that also shares the view that their co-founders are the male and female components of God — said that WMSCOG’s apocalyptic ideology follows the views of early Christianity.
“But then to have a mother version of that, that’s a very new feature,” he said.
Examining The World Mission Society Church of God is a website founded by self-proclaimed former WMSCOG members dedicated to debunking the church’s practices and unveiling it as a “new religious movement” that controls the behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions of members.
“Members say that they are told to avoid anyone trying to ‘speak against’ the church because Satan will use the people closest to you to try to ‘kill your spirit’,” the website says. “By automatically calling their doctrine ‘the truth,’ the WMSCOG discourages any critical questions.”
Diana Brown, a former member, detailed her experience with WMSCOG in 2016 through her one-woman show “So Amazing.” In the show, Brown touched on topics including the “systematic and deliberate behaviors [she suffered] that have been universally defined by authorities in mental health and law enforcement as mind control techniques.”
When I tried calling WMSCOG’s main phone number for comment, the automated voice on the other end of the line repeatedly told me — because I called three times — that my call could not be completed as dialed.
Almost the same thing happened when I attempted to call the local Seattle branch, with the line ringing and ringing before the call ended. I called them twice Feb. 25 and once again the next day.
On March 2, I went to the church in person.
Along with another Daily staff member, I approached the church with the pretense of learning about WMSCOG’s beliefs.
We were guided to a Bible study room where David and Danielle (whose names have been changed) preached to us that the Bible explicitly mentions the mother figure first in one of the first lines of Genesis. WMSCOG use the phrase “let us make humankind in our image” as evidence of God the Mother since what followed was the creation of both men and women.
Danielle, who graduated from the UW last year, is one of several WMSCOG members who recruit on campus. According to her, most church members tend to stick to popular areas such as Red Square for approaching students.
Danielle and David continued to explain how the Bible was one big prophecy and how this belief led WMSCOG members to trust that the second coming, which the Bible foretells, is real.
They further broke down the idea of God the Mother and God the Father; while humans have a physical mother and father, they also have their spiritual equivalents. WMSCOG also believes that God the Father and Jesus Christ are one and the same, as Jesus says “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” in John 14:9-11.
In response to the sex trafficking rumors, Danielle refuted them and proclaimed that any church that would participate in something like that is a place where God wouldn’t be.
David took us on a tour of the church, where he pointed out framed pictures of the Seattle branch volunteering at various activities, such as blood drives and picking up trash. According to him the local branch often volunteers around the UW area, and the church even adopted 17th Avenue (Greek Row) as part of the Adopt-A-Road project.
David and Danielle then played an introductory video about WMSCOG. Filled with dramatic music — the kind you’d find in an action movie trailer — the video featured the volunteering the church did and the recognition it received, including the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2016, the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2015, and the South Korean Presidential Citation in 2015.
After the video ended, I asked about the elderly woman wearing a hanbok in the video, knowing very well that she was the physical form of God the Mother.
Danielle said she was the leader of their organization, but wanted to leave that topic for future study sessions and to focus on the basic ideas of WMSCOG for today.
My coworker pushed, saying he wanted to hear more about who the woman was. This clearly made David and Danielle uncomfortable, and they promised they’d explain her role to us soon.
After around 20 minutes, we finally got to discussing God the Mother.
David said that God the Mother represents Eve (while God the Father represents Adam), and that since Eve was created in the last moment of the sixth day of Genesis, God the Mother’s role is to come during the last days of the second coming. Because the mother is currently present, that means that we’re in the last days and that the second coming is near, though no one in the church actually knows the exact date of the second coming.
After more than four hours of touring, bible study, and a service, we left the church
Major Steve Rittereiser, the UWPD’s information officer, advised students that are approached by these groups — on or off campus — to think seriously before committing to anything. He suggested that students do research about groups they are interested in and not give out any personal information.
“Quite frankly you can easily find out about groups … [through] a quick internet search,” Rittereiser said. “I also think that it doesn’t hurt to ask a friend or trusted adviser before you make a commitment to something [or] anybody that approaches you and wants you to join.”
According to the UWPD, whether a group is a cult or not, as long as they respect university policies surrounding advertising on campus and do not pose a threat, they are welcome to preach their beliefs.
“We respect freedom of expression for everyone,” Rittereiser said. As long as groups advertise “within certain conformity within the institution,” such as not “disrupting classes,” "the normal campus flow,” or “blocking roadways,” the UW will allow them on campus.
He also told students that if they feel entrapped within one of these groups, the UW has the resources to help them get out.
“If you’re feeling so controlled by an organization like that that it makes you uncomfortable, I think you should take some action to stop that from having that kind of uncomfortableness,” Rittereiser said. “And I clearly think that sometimes it’s hard to step away from that, but it’s very easy for a trusted friend to take a look at it from the outside looking in and say, ‘Yeah this is a bad situation.’”
He talked about the idea of having what he called a designated friend, or “someone to look after you a little bit.”
Lastly, he warned students from being too open with groups like WMSCOG that advertise on campus.
“Sometimes organizations … purposely come to campuses because campuses are with people that feel free in exchanging ideas and are very open,” Rittereiser said. “I think part of education is being exploratory, and I think by nature, we can as college students be a little more susceptible just by our open-mindedness. And so you have to be a little careful with that.”