A big thank you to Jon Twitch for keeping up to date on the various front groups employed by one of Korea’s most notorious and visible cults. And a bigger thank you for allowing me to offer my thoughts on Shinchonji and its many incarnations.
Update May 2, 2016: Asia Pundits is offline pending renewal. Jon’s piece is archived here. I’ll copy and paste it below for safer keeping.
Lately, there’s been a lot of attention directed at a shady volunteer group called International Peace Youth Group (IPYG). They seem to take peace very seriously, and theyve been organising peace walk campaigns around the world. But who are they, and where did they come from? Heres the long answer.
If you are visibly non-Korean and were present in Korea in spring/summer 2012, chances are you were approached by a shady volunteer group called Mannam. They offered free Korean language classes, volunteer opportunities, free balloons, fun fun parties, running clubs, photography clubs, cooking classes and more. And yes, they were a front for a cult.
Their reach was far. They were in all the major cities, and in smaller cities they visited schools with foreign teachers and orphanages. They even waited for new arrivals at the airport. They were hungry for foreign participants but kept Koreans at arms length.
My first encounter with Mannam was outside the World Cup Stadium. I met a Mannam volunteer who was offering a trip to Ganghwa-do as well as several other services, including free Korean lessons. That piqued my interest because I was planning to write an article about free Korean lessons. I traded contact information and did a short interview with the Mannam contact. She ended up texting me repeatedly about that trip to Ganghwa-do, which I never had any interest in joining.
I published the article, complete with images of some of the classrooms. They showed adults studying Korean and generally having a pretty good time. But the one image I got from Mannam wassketchy.
Something on their faces, I could tell they felt awkward being there, something was wrong. I had nothing more than an unspoken gut feeling, but it was enough to pique my interest (later, when I discovered Mannams true nature, the article was edited to remove any mention of them).
I was approached by one of Daegu’s most active members, a young girl who had given up her studies, temporarily I hope, to volunteer full time for Mannam, says Peter Daley, an expert cult-watcher we previously interviewed on the topic of Korean cults who runs his own cult-watching website. She showed me a Mannam brochure and told me about the group. By then, I had been interested in Korean cults for about seven years, so I was quite familiar with the front groups of other Korean cults like the Moonies, JMS, and Dahn Yoga. The material she presented me with and her description of Mannam reminded me very much of the various front groups used by those other cults. I asked her if Mannam was related to a religious organization. Her negative answer was a lie. A lie, which I later discovered, was not uttered in ignorance.
The closer we looked at Mannam, the more distinctive some of their features emerged, leading to the secret of their true nature. They had that hand gesture, with the thumb and forefinger extended like youre pretending to hold a gun. They had that slogan, When Lights Unite. What was that about?
In your very first Mannam class, they teach you the phrase When light and light meet, there is victory, or in Korean, 빛과 빛의 만남은 이김. Turns out, this is kind of an anagram of two Korean names, 김남희 and 이만희, with particles added and converting 희 into 빛, another derivation from the same Chinese character as I understand it. Kim Nam-hee was the official chairwoman of Mannam, and Lee Man-hee was the honorary chairman. He was also the head of Shinchonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ), a notorious destructive religious cult.
What do I mean by destructive? Surely some cults are just misunderstood. Yes, definitely, but SCJ is well known for its subversive techniques. It breaks up families and infiltrates mainstream churches, sowing conflict and recruiting whoever is shaken free. It sends members to university campuses to work on attracting young girls, a popular commodity for cults that use honeytrap tactics. Most Korean churches quickly learned what they were doing and began posting anti-SCJ posters on their doors forbidding the subverters from entering.
SCJ knows its name is dirt, which is why its so careful not to reveal its true identity. Most SCJ followers are lured in for Bible studies classes, and by the time they learn theyre in SCJ, theyve already been indoctrinated. This is nothing new, and many Korean cults have been doing this for years.
What about the religious beliefs of SCJ? I dont like to get into this too much, but suffice it to say, they took the Christian Bible and inserted their leader Lee Man-hee as a continuation. Ive heard them describe Jesus as being promised in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New Testament, and in a similar way they see Lee Man-hee as promised in the New Testament. Lee claims to have been visited by Jesus. He started SCJ in 1984, when the Universe completed its first orbit. He also is the only one with a total understanding of Revelation with his own symbolic interpretation that requires a great amount of studying from his followers. He has a Messiah complex, often comparing his own churchs poor reputation with the persecution of Jesus. Putting aside his apparent preaching for peace, he also claims Anyone who hears the testimony about the fulfillment of the New Testament prophecies and refuses to believe it will be destroyed, just like the people in the time of Adam and Lot. If you want to hear more stuff like this, here are some excerpts from his book The Creation of Heaven and Earth. But suffice it to say, whether Lee is the Advocate, or the Promised Pastor, or SSN or whatever, his cult uses deception tactics to lure in new recruits.
So, this revelation that Mannam was somehow intimately linked to SCJ helped kick things into gear, beginning a long, drawn-out struggle across the media and Internet to reveal Mannams cult ties. The news spread fast, devastating foreign attendance in Mannams numerous, numerous branches and clubs. Still, we couldnt convince everyone:
1. While many of us were crying Mannam is a cult! it didnt match up with many of the active volunteers. Well, these people would respond, theyve never mentioned religion at any of the classes Ive attended. The second they start preaching, Im out the door. Mannam didnt feel like a cult because they werent actively recruiting for a religion, and they allowed members of all religions (or no religions) to join.
2. Many more just flat out didnt care. Im getting free classes/food/etc and Im not giving anything back in return. If Mannam is a cult, I dont care. Theyre not going to recruit me into their fruity little religion.
3. It was unclear how much control this hated cult had in Mannam. Was it possible SCJ was just one of many backers of Mannam? (Spoiler: SCJ 100% funded and controlled Mannams activities from behind closed doors.)
4. Mannam is a humanitarian group, and they would not turn away this cult just because you hate them.
5. What do you have against world peace? If you are against Mannam, are you pro-war?
People who think SCJ is harmless simply have no idea what they are talking about, says Peter Daley. Such an opinion is usually based on attendance at peripheral events organized by SCJ front groups like Mannam and perhaps friendships formed with Korean members at those events. Such an opinion is usually accompanied by a complete ignorance of SCJ’s teachings and history coupled with a reluctance to correct that ignorance. If you are going to form an opinion about SCJ by its front groups and the nice young people in them, you might as well form an opinion about North Korea by believing its propaganda. Don’t judge SCJ by the quality of the kimchi you made at a Mannam cooking class or the goal you scored at a Mannam soccer match; judge SCJ by Lee’s hate-filled book The Creation of Heaven and Earth, judge SCJ by the testimonies of former members and their families, judge SCJ by its lies. Better yet, sit down with the mother of a young girl who has been indoctrinated to believe her mother is possessed by Satan and then tell me SCJ does no harm.
It became clear over the course of studying Mannam that foreigners were on a separate track from Koreans. Foreigners were shepherded around, taught the slogans and hand signals, set up in photo ops, but they werent being invited to take Bible classes nor asked for money. We later heard from insider sources that SCJ instructed its Mannam workers not to try to convert foreigners, to just let them be content. Because they knew if they started talking Revelation, theyd lose all those foreigners.
On the other side of the aisle, the Korean members were hearing very different things. They were told that Lee Man-hees message of world peace was resonating around the world, that he was universally admired by everyone. And look, here are pictures of foreigners doing the SCJ hand signal and shouting what happens when Light and Light Meet. There had even been numerous public events where foreigners and Koreans were told different things at the same time: 이만희선생님 만세! Do you guys want world peace? When Light Meets Light So that way if you only know English, you can cheer for world peace and repeat a bland slogan. Meanwhile, if you only know Korean, all you heard was Long live Lee Man-hee!
They operated under the assumption that foreigners and Koreans couldnt communicate or understand each other. Essentially, they were spending a lot of money to lure thousands of foreigners to their events, events which were really nothing more than film sets for SCJ propaganda videos. And in return, their Korean followers would see SCJ progressing into the world and, more importantly, keep tithing. It worked as long as everyone remained compartmentalised. So while foreigners were being deceived through Mannam, we were being deceived in order to commit a greater deceit on Koreans through SCJ. By willingly taking advantage of what Mannam offered, you were complicit in victimising Korean cultists, most of them in their early 20s or younger. I heard one story about a foreign guy who had been dating one of the girls in Mannam. When he heard all this he exclaimed Am I being pimped out by a cult?
If you were approached by Mannam volunteers around then, you may have been told about a World Peace Festival held on September 16, in conjunction with the UNs International Day of Peace. Or, earlier, they might have said it was the International Day of Mannam. Here are a couple posters.
So, which is it, International Day of Mannam or World Peace Festival? Actually, no, it was Lee Man-hees birthday party (he was born September 15, 1931). You see, every four years, SCJ holds the Shinchonji National Olympiad. 2012s was to be the sixth Olympiad, and it was happening on September 16. At the same time and place as the above events. With no mutual acknowledgement. Was the Olympic Stadium double-booked? Or did they just want to cram as many people into the stadium as possible? Heres a look at the 5th SCJ National Olympiad:
You are likely thinking Wow, that is exactly like that Mass Games/Arirang Festival performance in North Korea. And you are right. Same type of performance, similar message, different leader.
News of Mannams shady cult ties was devastating to SCJ, whose big end game was fast approaching. One of the top blogs that did the research and exposed a lot of their lies was Scroozles Sanctuary.
Mannam ploughed ahead, refocusing away from the English-speaking expat community and going after the US military, migrant workers, and new arrivals at the airport. Every chance, they denied that the event was at all related to SCJ, and when confronted with the fact that, yes, there is only one event planned in Olympic Stadium that day for 100,000 people, they claimed that SCJ had offered Mannam the role of co-host of the event and are still arms length from each other. They also began leaning on the World Peace Festival and and the World Peace Initiative, de-emphasising Mannam further.
Two nights before the Olympiad, on the eve of Lees birthday, SCJ and Mannam held a press conference in the Westin Chosun Hotel with speeches by Lee and Kim themselves; Asia Pundits was there.
If youve ever been to a Mannam event, this was far worse. Cameras everywhere capturing us at all time from many angles. Most present were devotees visiting from overseas. During the question period they took turns grilling Lee onwhat he thought about world peace. The cantankerous octogenarian rambled on and on about world peace with gems like If only everybody shared the same beliefs and goals, there could be world peace. He has stated numerous times his belief that the true obstacle to world peace is diversity; we wont have peace until everyone has the same beliefs, the same interests, the same religionunited in peace under the leadership ofwell, you can probably see where this is going. The same direction its gone with every deluded megalomaniac hellbent on world domination.
If you study the banner behind Lee, youll see a few unexpected names:
You may notice that the Ministry of Unification is listed as a sponsor. They had been tricked into sponsoring the World Peace Festival, but they figured out the ruse just a couple days prior to the Olympiad and withdrew their support. By then, it was too late to pull their names from the various banners and flags printed for the Olympiad. Consequently, and conveniently for SCJ, their name remained proudly on display all through the festivities.
As well, I bet this was the first time outside of internal documents that the names Shinchonji and Mannam appeared next to each other in English. Actually, they had originally planned not to have the name Shinchonji present at all. Here, take a look at the cover of the press kit. See anything fishy?
Well, okay, theres a lot thats fishy, starting with Culture and Sports Celebration and Restoring Light. Down in the lower left, theres Mannams name and logo, under which is SCJs logo anda sticker of their name? Peeling it off, I discovered it was blank underneath. Theyd originally intended to just include the SCJ logo without saying what it was. But then they obviously knew the jig was up so they added it in at the last minute.
So, other than this press conference, Mannam kept lying to foreigners to lure them to the Olympiad. And foreign supporters of Mannam continued to deny SCJs involvementright up until they were shown to their seats in a huge stadium with tens of thousands of colour-coded cultists cheering on a very thoroughly religious performance.
This is of course the same group whose leader claimed We volunteer silently and without fanfare. Let me repeat that, in image macro form, the only medium that adequately communicates the hypocrisy present here.
Let me work you through what youre seeing up there. Basically, the entire section across from us was a human LCD, with each pixel controlled by a cultist holding up a colour-coded sign. You can just barely make out the minders standing in front of each section controlling the turning of cards (the North Koreans do this better through the use of percussion). To either side of the human billboard you have the colour-coded sections for each of the twelve tribes of SCJ, named after disciples of Jesus such as Simon in orange on the upper left and Bartholomew in green on the right.
Each tribe sent a platoon of its colour-coded members to stand on the stadium grounds in formation for most of the morning. And in the middle, the white-clad disorganised mass, thats the 13th tribeMannam. Some of the people there had literally just been recruited off the street and had no clue what they were in for. I found the firsthand account of one person down there who claimed he was terrified the whole time.
While some (obvious SCJers) still adhered to the story that this was a secular event, that would require a superhuman level of compartmentalising, as the secular bits of Mannam are surrounded by a sea of SCJ, and those same SCJ members held up Mannam signs as well as religious stuff in their card performance. The two organisations were intertwined to the point that it became clear were talking about one big group. The people themselves were kept separate so they couldnt compare notes, simultaneously supporting two contradictory narratives depending on which side of the stadium you entered and on which language you read. There were many heavy-handed security workers to keep that curtain up.
As well, the name of the Olympiad was in dispute depending on what you looked at. Check out the official name courtesy of the human LCD:
Lets compare the two.
|Upper||World Peace Festival||6th World Peace Restoring Light and Heavenly Culture Celebration|
|Lower||The 6th Culture and Sports Celebration of Restoring Light||Shinchonji and Mannam Volunteer Organization (international ministry) Coalition Festival|
I cant be too sure about representing 부 as ministry, as Im using it more in the government ministry sense, but it does seem to identify Mannam as an internal part of SCJ. Also, I later heard there was a bit of disagreement from Mannam leaders regarding that 6th, as this was the 6th SCJ Olympiad but the first Mannam event of this kind, and that number was a dead giveaway at who was behind the wheel.
So yeah, the secret was out. Theyd previously been so careful about not exposing foreigners to the religious content through Mannam, that I think their strategy was to fill seats using any means possible, and then it didnt really matter what happened next. After all, this is still a religious cult, operating on the belief that if they assembled 144,000 people, it would trigger the Second Coming. Well there was no Rapture or Armageddon or whatever, though this whole event created a tidal wave of rage and regret in the foreign blogger community from those whod been duped and were angry about it.
I spoke to a former SCJ member who told me SCJ expected to recruit foreigners from Mannam after the Olympiad, says Peter Daley. They assumed they would have built up enough good faith by then to make targeted foreigners more susceptible to the less secular and more cultic aspects of the parent organization. The greater awareness of Mannam forced SCJ to essentially scrap it as its most visible front group.
And Mannam, having outlived its usefulness, faded from public view. So, end of story, right?
Rather than disappear altogether, Mannam simply shifted its activities. Following the Olympiad they made a big push in Africa. Previously (April 7), Mannam had organised a charity concert for Al Noor, a South African orphanage that cares for orphans infected with HIV. However, when contacted, nobody at Al Noor had heard about Mannam or received a cent from them. Mannam representatives were questioned by a Yonhapreporter about the missing charity money, at which point they made a lot of excuses and sent one of their people to donate the suddenly remembered money, which amounted to 1.27 million KRW. The money was handed over on September 29, over five months after it had been collected, and probably only because they were called out on it.
So, like a door-to-door vacuum salesman, Mannam had its foot firmly wedged in the door in Africaand what they were selling sucked just as much.
In December 2012, they launched an Africa tour for Lee Man-hee, using the same double-sided propaganda approach theyd previously tried on us in Korea. A renowned South Korean peace activist was said to be touring Africa, meeting with leaders such as the presidents of Ethiopia and South Africa. Oh, and you might note that they were now no longer referring to Lee as the honorary chairman of Mannam.
Somehow an internal e-mail explaining Lees Africa tour was leaked, and we learned how Mannam/SCJ sounds behind closed doors. SSN stands for 선생님, or teacher, which is how they refer to Lee inside the cult, along with the Advocate.
The purpose of SSN vist
1. To let all mankind know that Shinchunji is the only the place that can receive salvation and The avocate, who is Chairman of Shinchunji, is the only one that can lead us to heaven.
2. To make everybody recognize Only Shinchunji can show heavenly culture. Mt11:27
Let us do not lose our focus on the purpose of SSN visit here.
In terms of the event, First priority of event should be Open bible seminar
we should put our energy and all the efforts on OBS first and the others are rest.
if we can make it perfect and beatiful then there is no argue. if we can bring many pastors,members and medias, then SSN should be pleased.
Mannam and WPI is just instrument to take an eyes from Media and Keyperson.
Even though the size of event that we will do in Capetown would be small, important thing is let Press and Media should know about the SSN.
Person who going to meet is more important.
They claimed in a statement (also visible on the same page linked above) that two million people of Nigeria invited us, and several hundred thousand people of Congo invited us, although those events seem to have been cancelled; we heard from an insider that Lee was disappointed with the trip and wanted to cut it short, taking his anger out on his followers for being too lazy.
But anyway, it was content. There were articles appearing in the media referring to the visit as a Mannam event, but also many more inward-pointing coverage of Lee as the leader of SCJ. So, its the same old Important people come to meet peace activist/chairman of Mannam -> Important people met with leader of Shinchonji bait-and-switch. This has happened many times over a long period of time.
Likewise, they doled out all this content a little at a time, spreading it out and maximising it. They attempted to bury the negative press by overwhelming the Internet with their own content through a pro-Mannam thicket of blog after blog after blog after blog after blog after blog after blog after blog after blog after blog. This tactic was mildly successful in diluting all the accurate information and negative press present in the blogosphere. It didnt change anyones mind (it was actually quite worrying to see), but anyone new looking for information on Mannam would have two well-presented opposing sidesat least when the peace group wasnt telling tasteless racist jokes.
Actually, there have been glimpses of Mannam pouring religion into its programming. There was a rumour sometime in 2013 that one foreign Mannam volunteer in Korea somewhere was told if she wanted to keep attending, she would have to attend Bible Studies classes. I dont know what happened with that. As well, they sent out invitations to an actual religious event run under the name Mannam, in contradiction to Mannam’s own guidelines as stated by Chairwoman Kim Nam-hee on Mannam’s official website: within Mannam Volunteer Association there must not be any political and religious activities.
Mannam continued to exist and still has events to this day, but it operates in secrecy, with even the locations of its Korean classes publicly undisclosed. Facebook groups operated by Mannam are typically closed and any dissenting opinions are censored. But Mannam itself has withered away and fallen out of the spotlight. Part of the reason for this might be Kim Nam-hees fading influence; although she was for a while speculated to be positioning herself to run the whole show once Lee dies, it does seem like Mannam hasnt been the huge success they were all counting on. But anyone whos seen the recent Captain America movies knows what happens when you cut the head off a hydra.
First, Mannam rebranded itself under the new name MIYC (Mannam International Youth Coalition) which first started appearing online in early 2013. They targeted youth-based organisations overseas, mainly in Africa as well as in West Asia, reaching out through a number of feel-good activities such as peace walks meant to promote world peace without really speaking meaningfully on it.
They held a march on June 25, 2013, to mark the almost-60-year-anniversary of the cessation of hostilities of the Korean War. They carried signs of the worlds great peacemakers like Gandhi, Mandela, Willy Brandt (incorrectly labeled as Billy Brandt), andLee Man-hee. They had anonymous members stationed throughout Itaewon holding placards thanking veterans for their service.
They flashed the SCJ handsign as they marched up and down Itaewon, driving the police crazy and generally confusing everyone else. They even managed to convince a few foreigners to participate, who didnt ask what the M in MIYC stood for. When I talked with those guys after, they were quick to realise theyd been tricked; they knew about Mannams cult background but hadnt connected it with MIYC.
Also at this event, as if realising what was holding them back, they removed the Mannam from their name, becoming International Peace Youth Group instead. In their literature they claim this as a merger, butyeah, thats likely. And you wont be surprised who is named as the founder of IPYG.
Lately, things got quiet, and the cult-watchers were kept busy watching Salvation Sect go down the drain and the usual chatter from the World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCOG, though you might know them as the Church of the Heavenly Ajumma) and JMS, the cult of imprisoned serial rapist Jeong Myeong-seok. Then, they came back seemingly out of nowhere, advertising another peace walk on the anniversary of that last one. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but I can pretty much picture exactly what happened. I also heard they were luring more unsuspecting foreigners there, including one unfortunate who was only responding to a comely lass on Skout, a popular dating app.
Whats more, Lee Man-hee has continued doing his world tours under the new name Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL)because they seemingly cant give up on the whole Heavenly Culture thing. Under this name, Lee has visited the Philippines where he signed a redundant peace agreement in the Philippines on Mindanao Island where strife is ongoing between Muslims and Catholics. He became the worlds first Romani (Gypsies) peoples ambassador at the Romani Assembly. And according to this article, he has met with Perus vice president, former presidents of Guatemala, a former president of Chile, and the president of Uruguay. He presented a peace award to the president and king of Uganda, two people who the commenters in that article agree havent done anything to contribute to world peace. Whats more, one commenter recalls when an earlier Ugandan president was tricked by the Moonies, almost giving up land to the cult. Lee has also suckered Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the photographer behind the book Korea from Above, into including footage from SCJs 9th World Peace Tour in his upcoming film Human,which will screen at the UN General Assembly next year. A suitable honour for someone who signed a world peace treaty, wouldnt you say? Why didnt anyone else think of signing a world peace treaty centuries ago?
Also, Kim Nam-hee has her own International Womens Peace Group (IWPG) because why not at this point? And while were on that topic, heres another womens group called She Can that has the familiar face of Kim Nam-hee.
That’s another sign that SCJ and whatever this week’s front group is has something to hide, says Peter Daley. Legitimate organizations don’t rebrand themselves every other week and then try to hide ties to last week’s incarnation. It’s also a sign that there are large and important events planned, events worthy of new names, new websites, and new T-shirts. I’ve witnessed a more recent front group taking credit for a previous event at which there was no mention of the newer front group because it hadn’t been created yet. Such changes also serve to keep members busy with a constant series of changing We can save the world projects and events. I think the keeping members busy aspect is one of the major reasons for all these groups and events/rallies.
As of Monday, June 16, it appears the websites for IPYG, HWPL, and IWPG are down. That probably means theyre going into hiding, Mannam-style, but Im certain theyll be back even if its under completely new names. Update (17 July 2014): it appears now that the IPYG, HWPL, and IWPG websites are blocked domestically but are viewable from anywhere else in the world. The reasons for this strategy should be apparent as laid out in this article.
What can you do to not get fooled by another SCJ front? If youre approached by someone offering a lot of free stuff, look the gift horse in the mouth. Ask if the group is connected to a church. Drop the name Lee Man-hee and see how they respond. If they are a SCJ front, their responses are coached and will be instant denial, rather than confusion or ignorance. Study their literature carefully for anything mentioning light especially lights meeting or being restored. Check their photos for people doing the SCJ salute (as demonstrated here by either the tribe of Philip or Thomas, cant tell).
We have two more years until the next SCJ Olympiad, so who knows how many front organisations they will take on before then. In the interest of honesty and truth, you can expect there to be people out there keeping an eye on them.