Sep 28, 2019

Wellington man who left 'manipulative' Shincheonji cult issues warning to others

Tommy Livingston
September 27, 2019

A warning has been issued over a "deceptive" cult operating in Wellington.

A Wellington man who was part of an apocalyptic cult is warning others about their deceptive recruitment tactics and dangerous teachings.  

The man, who Stuff has chosen not to name, was involved with Shincheonji - also known as the "New Heaven and New Earth" church - until a few weeks ago. 

Concerns were raised last month after it was revealed Shincheonji had been recruiting people in the capital. 

The South-Korean linked group is known for infiltrating churches and university groups using deceptive recruitment techniques.
They teach a distorted Christian theology heavily focused around the end of the world and have been criticised for brainwashing people and breaking apart families. 

Founder of the group Lee Man-Hee professes to be Christ's messenger, and is referred to as "God's advocate" by followers. 
The Wellington man - who is in his early 20s -  joined the group after being invited to a Bible study by a friend earlier this year.
The group, made up of half a dozen people, met regularly at a house in Karori. The majority of members were young professionals. 

The leaders of the group initially seemed normal, and were offering the Bible study to people who wanted to grow in their faith, he said. 

The man believed he was one of a number of people new to the group, and formed friendships with the leaders and other members. 

"Sometimes we just hung out. They seemed like normal, friendly people." 

However, over time the teachings became increasingly twisted and secretive. 

Pastor Nick Field has said there is "no shame" in people admitting they have been caught up in the Shincheonji cult.
None of the leaders had social media accounts or gave away any personal information - including their last names. 
Members were told "to get rid of our own thoughts" before studies and to not tell anyone else about what they were doing. 
They were also encouraged to distance themselves from people not part of the group. 

"We were told not to do outside research because mixing teachings from elsewhere would poison our minds." 

The teaching increasingly focused on the group having exclusive knowledge of the Bible and the true revelation of its meaning. 
This included Lee Man-Hee a prophet appointed by God.
Eventually the leaders revealed they were Shincheonji. Some of the people claiming to be new members of the Bible study were already Shincheonji members, planted to help with the recruitment process, the man said. 

The group revealed they infiltrated churches to "harvest" people and teach them the "truth" about the Bible. 

One of the symbols associated with Shincheonji, also known as the "New Heaven and New Earth" church.

"I was sickened to my stomach at how blatantly manipulative their practices were." 

The man is now wanting to warn others about the group.
"These people seem to know the Bible extremely well. You need to think critically about what they are trying to teach you and be alert.

"If you are involved and want to get out - don't be ashamed."
Senior church leaders throughout Wellington met earlier this month to discuss how to respond to the cult. 

Pastor Nick Field of The Street Church said it seemed Shincheonji had been active in Wellington since last year.
Much of their activity had been based out of the house in Karori and had only fully come to light recently, he said. 

"I have never come across a cult which seems to be as highly organised, systematic and effective in what they are doing," Field said. 

Upwards of 12 members of the The Street congregation had been caught up in the cult, while many more had been approached.  

Those people involved had similar experiences to the man spoken to by Stuff. 

"I am proud of these people who have stepped out of this group and talked to us. There is no shame. There is no embarrassment." 

Leader of Blueprint Church Reverend Scottie Reeve agreed it was important people felt they could leave the group and not be ridiculed. 

He had been in contact with people who were part of Shincheonji, and was offering assistance to anyone who wanted it. 

"We want to be a safe and non-judgement space for people to come and experience faith that is honest, genuine and biblical.
"There is no shame being tricked by someone who is out to trick you." 

When Stuff visited the Karori address a woman said she did not know about Shincheonji. 

Emeritus professor of religious history Peter Lineham previously told Stuff Shincheonji - which he labelled "dangerous" and "deceptive" - could be defined as a cult due to its recruiting techniques.

Shincheonji, which is also known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, or SCJ, has been operating since the 1980s, he said. 

Recruits were told over time that the communities they belonged to were demonic and that had led to people cutting off family members and friends, Lineham said.  

"The essential problem with this group is that they are not honest about who they are," Lineham said.  

"Everybody has the perfect right to believe and follow what they want, but it is a reasonable expectation that groups will be upfront so people are able to make a rational decision when joining."

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