My first year in Korea was spent in the rural town of Geumsan in Chungcheongnam Province. The town is famous for ginseng, but what I remember most about Geumsan is that it is home to a very dangerous cult. The cult is known in Korea as JMS, after the initials of its leader: self-proclaimed Messiah and fugitive Jeong Myeong Seok.
I had the rather unique experience of watching Ema, my fellow teacher and flatmate, become indoctrinated over 5 months to believe a Korean man she had never met was the Messiah. I didn't know Ema was being indoctrinated at the time, and of course neither did she, but when we both realized she had been lied to, it was fascinating to look back, and see exactly how her indoctrination was carried out.
Throughout her indoctrination Ema would sometimes share with me her experiences at Providence Church. She told me once that Jeong had said that God had killed Princess Diana as punishment for sleeping with a Muslim. It was a notion that seemed to contradict Jesus' message of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. I decided then that Providence Church was not for me. Later, after accepting a hiking invitation, I was surprised to find myself at Wolmyungdong, the base of Providence Church. I had been invited hiking, but we didn't do any hiking. I hadn't been invited to church, yet was at church. I was annoyed. Why had she lied?
The "hike" was actually an all-night festival hosted by the Global Association of Culture and Peace (GACP) an organisation founded by Jeong. There were 4,000 people there that night, most of whom were female university students. At 1am Jeong's photo was shown on a giant screen. The reaction of the thousands of girls there was quite astounding. They gasped and screamed with their eyes riveted to the screen. Their emotional responses seemed totally out of proportion to the images on the screen. That was when I first thought: these people think Jeong is God. I left Wolmyungdong absolutely sure that what I had just seen was a cult; a search of the Internet confirmed my suspicions.
Reading about the JMS cult for the first time, knowing that almost everybody I knew in Korea at that time was a member, was very disturbing. The website I found contained information that was consistent with what I had witnessed the night before. According to the site, Jeong did indeed claim to be the Messiah. More disturbing was the claim that Jeong had been charged with rape and was now a fugitive hiding in China. The high proportion of female university students suddenly seemed quite sinister. I called the Korean police and they confirmed that Jeong had been charged with rape and was a fugitive. I had paid money to attend that GACP meeting. I was absolutely furious that a hiking invitation led me to give money to a fugitive.
Although I found information on the Internet relatively easily, there was no information about JMS activities outside Korea and little information in English. So, I began gathering information about JMS and became fascinated by how JMS indoctrinates and controls its members. Attending JMS events was like stepping into the pages of George Orwell's 1984, taking a trip back in time to Nazi Germany, or visiting North Korea.
The recent visit to our campus of the PSV Busan soccer team, a team founded by a senior JMS member, reminded me that our students can encounter this cult on our campus. Jesus warns us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, for inwardly they are ravenous wolves." To help us better "beware" of this woolly wolf, let me tell you more about Jeong and his cult.
Born in 1945, Jeong founded his church in 1978, claiming to have received special revelations from God. In 1999, Jeong fled Korea the day after rape allegations aired on national TV. Formally charged with rape in 2001, he was arrested in Hong Kong in 2003 on visa violations. South Korea applied for his extradition. At the extradition hearing, Jeong was allowed to go free on bail. Breaking his bail conditions, he disappeared and he has yet to be recaptured. His extradition was granted in his absence and wanted posters were distributed in Hong Kong. His weekly Internet sermons have continued uninterrupted. JMS members are routinely lied to about Jeong's criminal status. Most have no idea they are worshipping a criminal.
Although its members come from all works of life: university lecturers, soldiers, doctors, teachers, nurses, housewives, and children, JMS is essentially a university cult. Most of the former members I have spoken to encountered JMS on a university campus. Younger girls are also targeted for recruitment: in Hong Kong the cult has high school liaison officers, and in Seoul a church especially for schoolgirls.
Soccer, cheerleading, modelling, photography, martial arts, dance, drama, and music festivals are all activities JMS uses to acquire new members. Hosting these events are front organisations: organisation with no obvious links to JMS. Totally deceptive in nature, members routinely lie to hide their JMS connections. An international student studying at Ewha Women's University found herself at Wolmyungdong after being invited to a martial arts display.
Wolmyongdong, an isolated rural retreat located on the slopes of Daedan mountain, is the perfect place to keep members isolated, busy, and tired. Its most distinguishing feature is a rock garden containing large phallic symbols. I witnessed a group of twelve-year-old girls, products of the cult's arranged mass marriages, shout out their love for Jeong in front of 20,000 cheering members. The carnival-like picnic atmosphere both masked and aided the indoctrination of a new generation of victims.
The JMS 30 lesson Bible course is almost identical to billionaire Sun Myoung Moon's "Divine Principles," the Bible course of his Unification Church, the difference being which leader each course identifies as the Messiah. In his teens, Jeong was reportedly a follower of Moon; undoubtedly, that is where he learnt claiming to be God can be profitable.
The English 30 lessons never give Jeong's full name. He is referred to as "Our founder" or "R," short for rabbi, ironic since Jeong has praised Hitler. On English websites he is called either Joshua Jung or Joshua Lee. Students taking this course are never allowed to take the materials home with them. This control of information makes it harder for students to reflect critically on the material.
JMS events are also designed to promote sleep deprivation, which aids in the indoctrination process by impairing critical thinking skills. There are 4am daily dawn services and overly long weekend services and events: sometimes all night, sometimes all day, sometimes both.
There are 3 levels of cult involvement. The first is at the superficial level: membership in cult front organisations. Members at this stage may never be aware of any JMS links or be targeted for further indoctrination. They serve Jeong simply by paying to attend cult events. Their presence also lends credibility to the cult. The second level involves the 30 lesson Bible course. Having completed the course, a member is ready to accept Jeong as the Messiah. A bait and switch has occurred: at the beginning the object of worship was Jesus, now it is clearly Jeong. The majority of members stay at this level with only a select few women reaching the next.
A private meeting with Jeong marks entry into the deepest levels of the cult. Former members describe being asked to disrobe for a "health check," then being told that sex with the Messiah can cleanse them of their Original Sin. The girls are threatened with "spiritual death" should they speak of their experiences. Sometimes the threats are more specific. In one speech , Jeong spoke of a member who had disobeyed him dying in a car crash. The message was clear: disobey me and risk death. When Ema stopped attending JMS services, she was told that God would kill someone in her family for her betrayal.
Although these kinds of threats sound like nonsense to non-members, such threats should be taken seriously; cult members sometimes carry them out. The Seoul offices of SISA Press were vandalised and reporters were assaulted after the publication of several articles critical of JMS. The father of the operator of the Korean anti-JMS website was bashed and had to be hospitalised. The anti-JMS site in 2004 told of the murder of a female member, who over a ten-day period was imprisoned and bashed to death by 6 fellow male members. The police confirmed to me that such a murder took place; however, they refused to comment on the religion of those involved. Such a murder, if carried out by JMS members, is consistent with the central message of Jeong's speeches: It is better to die than fail me. It is the goal of the cult's indoctrination program to produce people who will obey Jeong without question.
The JMS churches I visited had these in common: no outside signage of any kind and a large projector screen inside. Beware the church that hides itself; beware the absent preacher giving Internet sermons. There may be a photograph-like image of Jesus on one wall, but even then Jeong maintains the focus on himself: he claims to have taken that photograph. Another sign of the cult is a symbol of an eagle, which adorns JMS websites and T-shirts.
A 30 lesson Bible course, an absent pastor giving Internet sermons, cheerleaders, dancers, martial arts, soccer games, overly long services, eagle symbols, and a secluded mountain retreat with phallic symbols. That is how you spot the woolly wolf Jeong Myeong Seok.
JMS Sites and Front Groups:
The Global Association of Culture & Peace (GACP) www.gacp.org
Korean International Cultural Society (KICS)
Christian Gospel Mission (CGM) www.cgm.or.kr
The Bright Smile Movement www.smilekorea.org
Sky Soccer www.skysoccer.or.kr
Providence World www.proviworld.com