Dec 11, 2016

Exclusive: Churches warned of 'deceptive cult' linked to South Korea infiltrating congregations

Man-Hee Lee, founder of the controversial South Korean group known as Shinchonji
The Telegraph
Harry Farley & John Bingham
10 DECEMBER 2016

Hundreds of British churches, including some of the UK’s largest congregations, have been warned against possible infiltration by a group accused of being a “cult” promoting “control and deception”.

The Church of England has issued a formal alert to almost 500 parishes in London about the activities of the group known as Parachristo.

The organisation, a registered charity, runs Bible study courses at an anonymous industrial unit under a Botox clinic and a personal training company in London Docklands.

But it is understood to be linked to a controversial South Korean group known as Shinchonji (SCJ) – or the “New Heaven and New Earth” church (NHNE) – whose founder Man-Hee Lee is referred to as God’s “advocate”.

It is claimed that some of those who become involved gradually withdraw from friends and family and actively lie about their real lives.

Some are said to have also given up their jobs or university courses. Many have made trips to Korea and Switzerland.

Members of the group, which has links around the world, are alleged to have visited large evangelical congregations in London inviting worshippers to special study groups.

One British man is said to have gone to work with the group full time, sleeping in bunks while telling family and friends he was busy pursuing a high-flying career in the City.

Among churches openly warning parishioners is Holy Trinity Brompton, one of the UK’s biggest congregations, known as the home of the Alpha Course, the short introduction to Christianity which has been used by at least 15 million people.

HTB, as it is commonly known, counts about 4,000 in the pews on a Sunday as well as having “planted” 35 other congregations.

It is regarded as effectively the spiritual home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who was a longstanding member before his own ministry.

Parachristo was formally registered with the Charity Commission this summer as a religious organisation operating “throughout England” for the benefit of “mankind”.

Its official aims are stated as advancing Christianity by running Bible classes to “strengthen the commitment of members of the religion” and “enlighten” others.

The group lists a business unit near Canary Wharf in east London as its headquarters, while offering a telephone number which does not operate and a website address which has been “suspended”.

Those who attend its three-month course are not told initially about links with SCJ but the group strongly denies that this is deceptive.

In a message to all clergy in London last month, the Diocese of London’s safeguarding team said there had been complaints about the group, adding “it has been alleged that they have links to a cult”.

A statement from the diocese added: “This group has no connection whatsoever with the Diocese of London and has no authority to promote itself among our churches.

“However, a number of concerns have been raised by parishes about the group’s activities and so a call for vigilance has been issued to all churches in the diocese.”

The Rev Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, issued a stark warning to members of his congregation in an email last month calling Parachristo a “cult which has been recruiting from HTB and other churches”.

He added: “We are now in contact with several other churches who have experience of this deceptive and potentially dangerous cult and are aware of others in the UK and around the world.”

The Rev John Peters, rector of St Mary’s London, another prominent evangelical Anglican congregation, posted a warning on his church’s website also openly referring to Parachristo as a “cult” whose members attend other churches to make friends to “hang out” with.

“After the friendship is established they might invite you to a Bible study in Canary Wharf,” he added.

“Over time they begin to advocate beliefs that amount to control and deception.

“A number of members of London churches have been pulled into this cult and gradually they are encouraged to cut all ties with friends and family.”

Approached repeatedly by The Sunday Telegraph about the allegations, the directors of Parachristo replied through their lawyer with a detailed response to a list of questions.

It confirmed that Parachristo shared “the same teaching” as the NHNE church and SCJ.

It added: “Parachristo was set up by members of NHNE church to teach God’s revealed word through the Bible to people.”

While the group does not “instruct” students to attend other churches to invite people on courses, it says they are “free to attend any church they wish … and invite their friends to a Bible study if they wish”.

Asked about people giving up jobs and courses, the statement said: “Our client does not advocate or encourage deception, secrets or lies. This is one of the most common misunderstandings about our client.”

Regarding the use of the word “cult” to refer to Parachristo, it said: “The mission of Parachristo is to spread the word of God.

“Our client feels incredibly disappointed that HTB, which we must assume has the same ultimate aim, has embarked on what appears to be a coordinated campaign against it by using such an emotive and baseless slur.”

The group was also asked at what point the link with SCJ was made clear. It replied that it did not wish to “direct students to … false allegations” about SCJ but that students were informed of the link if they asked.

Pressed on two specific cases involving people telling family elaborate lies to cover up their involvement, Parachristo replied: “Our client’s members’ personal choices are personal to them and our client will not comment upon personal matters regarding members’ private lives.”

No comments: