SEOUL, South Korea — To his followers, he is a descendant of the historic kings who ruled Korea generations ago, “the angel” Jesus despatched for mankind, and the a single and only “counselor” who can interpret the symbols and key codes concealed in the Bible’s E book of Revelation.
To officials and politicians, he is a villain, the leader of a spiritual cult who is thwarting the government’s endeavours to incorporate the exploding coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.
Lee Gentleman-hee, the 88-yr-previous enigmatic founder of the Shincheonji church, is now making an attempt to defend his group, whilst tough the accusations from it.
South Korea has 4,335 cases of the coronavirus, with at minimum 60 p.c linked to Shincheonji’s branch in Daegu, a town in the southeast. As the federal government scrambles to consist of the epidemic, Mr. Lee and the church have been blamed for contributing to the unfold, by failing to deliver a total record of its associates to the govt.
In the past week, hundreds of church customers have remained incommunicado, baffling well being officers hoping to keep track of them down for tests. Important towns, which includes the money town of Seoul, have requested nationwide prosecutors to look into Mr. Lee for possible felony expenses, such as “murder as a result of willful carelessness.”
On Monday, Mr. Lee, wearing a surgical mask and speaking in a choking voice, stated he was remorseful that so many patients ended up tied to his church. But he denied the claims that its steps contributed to the epidemic, indicating that the church has been cooperating with the governing administration the best as doable.
“I present my term of deep apology to the people,” Mr. Lee stated on Monday during a nationally televised information conference, during which he knelt and bowed.
His tone marked a change from the information he despatched to his church customers final 7 days, in which he blamed the epidemic on “the evil who acquired jealous of Shincheonji’s quick development.”
“When night passes, dawn will get there,” he claimed then.
Mr. Lee has very long courted controversy. He has been dogged by lawsuits, protest rallies and allegations of preaching heresy, splitting aside family members, as perfectly as likely just after rival churches. He has survived them all, commanding a messianic charisma over the 245,000 followers who he states the church has in South Korea and overseas.
Right until now, Mr. Lee’s Shincheonji has been one particular of the fastest-rising spiritual sects in South Korea. He has utilized an intense proselytizing method that has unnerved mainstream Christian religions who liken the church to a cult. He has typically staged significant-scale outdoor events that remind critics of huge propaganda rallies in North Korea.
Like North Korea, the church has its own calendar, counting the decades from the working day Mr. Lee launched it in 1984. It hosts its own “Olympiad,” filling a stadium with worshipers from around the earth. It features navy-type honor guards, taekwondo exhibitions and other team performances similar to North Korea’s Mass Game titles. Frequently dressed in snow white and carrying his trademark hand-held folding supporter, Mr. Lee likes to snap a armed service salute to his adoring crowds.
“Shincheonji has been escalating promptly inspite of the persecutions” from the mainstream Christian church buildings, Mr. Lee reported in an job interview with the newspaper Kyeonggi Ilbo previous June. “Why? Mainly because we have a doctrine. We are not a common church.”
Mr. Lee was born on Sept. 15, 1931, in a weak faming loved ones in Cheongdo, a county in close proximity to Daegu. He claims he started praying with his grandfather at a young age whilst he didn’t go to a church. He fought in the Korean War in the 1950s as an army sergeant.
He worked for another spiritual group deemed a cult by mainstream churches before setting up his have Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in 1984. Shincheonji signifies “new heaven and new earth” in Korean. In his sermons, he promises “an finish to the criminal offense- and corruption-ridden environment and a new era.”
“Shincheonji only takes advantage of Jesus as a entrance and what its associates worship is Lee Guy-hee,” reported Hwang Eui-jong, a Christian pastor who has been preventing in opposition to groups like Shincheonji.
Due to the fact the outbreak, users of Shincheonji have turn into the target of ailment-control officers operating versus time to tame the outbreak.
Law enforcement detectives and anti-ailment officers have been tracking them by their smartphone spots or credit history-card knowledge. They have visited their households, knocking on their doors or seeing from outside to see if there were signs of everyday living inside. Just one provincial governing administration despatched an urgent concept to citizens by way of smartphone messages inquiring them to report Shincheonji associates.
If Shincheonji officials took these kinds of a message as a kind of “witch hunting,” it was also a testimony to the problem disorder-manage officials have faced. An official at a government well being clinic in Daegu that managed coronavirus screening did not expose that he was a church member until finally he himself examined positive.
“Many church customers have been afraid to come out and expose their church associates, offered the overpowering blaming coming from politicians and information media that referred to as Shincheonji the originator of the virus outbreak,” stated Kim Si-mon, the church’s spokesman.
He claimed that church users have been uncovered to common discrimination, taunting and even violence because the outbreak. Mr. Kim stated considerably of the lousy publicity was fueled by the prejudices mainstream churches have established in opposition to Shincheonji.
“Please prevent blaming and hating us,” he explained. “In a nation like South Korea that has flexibility of religion, do we have to die mainly because we really don’t belong to the set up church? Shincheonji did not make the coronavirus.”
It is not the very first time that a spiritual sect shunned by mainstream churches was related to a national disaster in South Korea. Immediately after an overloaded ferry sank in 2014, killing much more than 300 people today, South Koreans were shocked to master that the ferry business was managed by a spiritual leader often condemned as heretical like Mr. Lee.
On Monday, Mr. Lee appeared repentant during his news meeting. But a flash of his common charisma appeared at the end when journalists tried out to ask thoughts at the same time though his critics hurled him insults from the sidelines.
“Be peaceful! Get!” he shouted in advance of his underlings hurried to usher him out. “We are all grown-ups!”