The secretive South Korean religious group at the center of the country’s new coronavirus outbreak is a sprawling network so wealthy it can mobilize thousands of believers to hold Pyongyang-style mass performances at Seoul’s Olympic stadium.
More than half of the country’s nearly 1,600 infections are linked to Shincheonji followers.
Temple of God
Shincheonji — in full the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony — was founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee, now 88.
Often condemned as a cult, it describes itself on its website as “the one and only kingdom and temple of God on this earth”, pledging to yield to the will of Jesus “by sacrificing our bodies like a candle”.
Shincheonji proclaims Lee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgment.
But with more church members than available places in heaven, they are said to have to compete for slots and pursue converts.
It seeks recruits surreptitiously by dispatching its members to mainstream Protestant congregations to try to persuade their believers — a tactic that has prompted many churches to issue warnings to keep them at bay.