South Korean cult merges sex with prayer

Crisscross News, Japan/July 27, 2006

"First of all, we'd like you to look at the photos of the seven bikinied beauties at left," Friday (July 28) says coyly, as if readers' eyes will not have strayed in that direction uninstructed.

The young women are introduced as faithful members of a South Korean cult called JMS, which stands for Jung Myung Suk, the cult's smiling 61-year-old founder. He has — or at least he had, before pending rape charges apparently forced him to flee his native country — ample reason to smile. "These women," alleges Friday, "are the among the founder's specially selected sex partners." Five of the seven are identified as teenagers; one of them is in junior high school.

There's nothing new anymore in pseudo-gurus abusing their charisma. Nor, perhaps, is there anything really new in the apparent fact that JMS's Japanese membership continues to soar even as the allegations against Jung multiply. New or not, the ease with which people seeking answers to unanswerable eternal questions allow themselves to be taken in by fast-talking "saviors" never fails to shock. And in Japan at least, JMS believers are hardly intellectual no-accounts. On the contrary, says Friday, most of them are drawn from the most prestigious universities and corporations in the country.

Jung honed his sagely credentials as an acolyte of South Korea's Unification Church, whose founder, Sun Myung Moon, presided over too far-flung a business empire to retain much credibility as a holy man. In 1978, Jung broke away from the church to found the sect that bears his initials. Nine years later, a JMS missionary enrolled at Tsukuba university as an exchange student served as the Seoul-based cult's Japan bridgehead. The gospel he preached, thin though it may seem to a skeptical outsider, evidently had something in it that people are looking for.

Its Bible-based teaching is similar to that of the Unification Church but departs from it, Friday explains, in three particulars. First, it expressly identifies Jung as a savior. Secondly, it teaches that depravity, originating in intercourse with the devil, can be defeated by intercourse with the savior, in which connection it offers what it calls "lovers' education" to those judged worthy. Thirdly, it stipulates that female believers who have not received this lovers' education must marry male members of the cult in mass weddings called "benediction ceremonies."

A South Korean backlash to all this had been brewing for a year when, in December 1999, Jung fled the country, a lawsuit for rape pending against him. Other lawsuits followed as alleged victims continued to come forward.

Why, then, should the cult be flourishing in Japan? "One reason the cult has not had much negative attention here," Friday hears from a former believer, "is that it limits its recruiting to students and graduates of top universities" — Todai, Hitotsubashi, Waseda, Keio and so on. "The cult worms its way into university clubs, and wins converts by flattering the elite pride of the members.

"Tragically," says Friday, "many young women believe JMS is a pure religion; they don't know about the sexual exploitation by the founder that comes with it. Any number of women, virgins among them, have been forced into sexual relations." Korean and Japanese victims, the magazine figures, number in the thousands.

And yet even now, Friday continues in unconcealed astonishment, "in Japan and South Korea, every Sunday believers gather at various locations to take in the master's sermons, delivered via the Internet from his refuge in China. Photos of likely sex partners continue to be sent to him, followed by the women themselves, if they pass muster, for 'lovers' education.'"

"Jung prefers tall girls who look like models," says a former believer. "Preferably girls with little sexual experience — he's afraid of venereal disease. Virgins rate highest of all, as far as he's concerned."

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