Shincheonji is an apocalyptic Christian group from South Korea that has attracted followers in several countries, including the US. It has always been in some or other controversy in South Korea, and recently it has attracted significant attention because of coronavirus.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine is 11,631 on February 25. The country has tested 31,923 suspected cases; 20,292 tested negative. The current confirmed cases are 893, with nine deaths. So far, South Korea has released 22 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals. You can check the live status here.
There was a sharp spike in the number of patients infected by the coronavirus in South Korea. On February 17, there were just 30 cases. The number increased drastically to 763 cases on February 24, with seven reported deaths. Of the total, more than 60% of the patients were found to be members of the Shincheonji church, their relatives, and other contacts.
According to authorities, the cult is behind the enormous surge in the number of patients infected with the Covid-19. Infections in at least four South Korean provinces are linked to the church. The main reason behind all the scrutiny is because several of the coronavirus confirmed cases could be tracked back to Patient no. 31, a 61-year old woman who is a devout follower of Shincheonji.
The story goes like this…
After a small accident, the woman (Patient no. 31) checked in to a hospital. On the fourth day in the hospital, she developed a fever but refused to get tested for the virus. This was because the woman insisted that she hadn’t traveled abroad or been in contact with anyone contaminated. When she was finally tested on February 17, and she received positive results the next day. By then, she had slipped out of the hospital at least four times to attend services that were attended by up to 1000 other people. She became the ‘super spreader’ of the disease in South Korea.
According to the Korea Center for Disease Control, Shincheonji’s method of worshipping during the services could have contributed to the spread of the virus amongst the members. The congregation members have to kneel in tight rows, and they aren’t allowed to cover their faces with masks or even glasses. Health authorities are still searching for the members to prevent the worsening of the outbreak.
What is Shincheonji Church of Jesus?
The name Shincheonji comes from the Book of Revelation. It translates as ‘new heaven and earth’ in the Korean language. The official name of the group is Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony. It is located in the country’s south-eastern city of Daegu. It is the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.4 million people.
Shincheonji was founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee, who identifies himself as ‘the promised pastor,’ mentioned in the Bible. According to Lee, he is the only person who can interpret the Bible. He promises to take 144,000 people to heaven with him on the Day of Judgement. Even though this group is considered a cult by mainstream churches in South Korea, it has at least 150,000 members. Members believe Lee is the second coming of Jesus Christ who will save them from an apocalypse.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, the founder, Lee Man-hee, reportedly told his followers that the virus was the work of the devil ‘to stop the rapid growth of Shincheonji.’ Allegedly he wrote, ‘just like Job’s faith was tested, it is an attempt to destroy our progress.’
What is happening now in Shincheonji Church?
The city of Daegu has become a ghost town. The neighboring areas of the sect’s church in the city, like coffee shops, banks, convenience stores, and restaurants have all shut down. All across the town, people are scared to venture outside, leaving the department stores, shopping alleys all empty.
More than 550,000 sign petition to dissolve Shincheonji by force. Over 552,000 people have signed an online petition to that effect since Saturday, when it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae. Any petition that gets more than 200,000 signatures within a month requires an official response from Cheong Wa Dae.