By late February 2020, the name Shinchonji was surfacing in the media, both in the Korean media (where it would very occasionally make an appearance anyway) and for the first time ever in the world media. The reason was the Virus Panic (so-called COVID19 disease; caused by a “coronavirus”) was tied to a returning Shinchonji missionary in China who ignored self-quarantine orders; most of the Korean cases seem tied to this incident. I am not surprised that it was them because of what kind of group it is.
Shinchonji [신천지] is a religious cult which I had many experiences with, directly and indirectly, in the 2010s, some of which I caught onto at the time and others I reconstructed later as certain, likely, or possible cases. Because generally you don’t know what’s going on. They don’t tell who they are. They use deception. As a result, I can say I have hated Shinchonji for years. I can equally say that few have ever actually taken me seriously when I talk about this, because it seems too bizarre; I wouldn’t take someone who talked about it as I do either, had I not seen it. I will record a few things here.
The best analogy to what this group is, I think, is to say they operate like an intelligence agency. They target assets actively and try to entrap them, or rope them into situations that it is awkward to get out of. They do this to their Korean members (who are largely young people; targeting at college age seems most common) and also to foreigners. The group is notorious among long-time foreigners in Korea, but because so many foreigners are so transient, they always have a fresh supply to target, and the long-timers advice is either not heeded or one way or another not taken seriously. This is exactly the kind of topic people will write off and not take seriously.
Before the S.Korea outbreak tied to Shinchonji hit the news, I wrote a long post (#387) on the David Koresh cult and Waco, in which I alluded my experiences with cults in Korea. There are at least two major ones I know of with which I had experience, but Shinchonji is the larger, more ambitious, more unethical, and therefore more worrying.
In terms of their religious beliefs, while they claim to be Christian, they are another in the line of South Korean “pseudoreligions” [사이비종교], or sometimes called by the stronger term 이단. When asking South Korean Christians about the Shinchonji group, they will often use that word, which means “heresy.” Shinchonji, like a lot of such groups, believes their leader is god, and base a lot of their dubious teachings on strange interpretations of Revelation; their guy was prophesied in Revelation, and they have the proof; just take their free Bible Study class! I think in a past entry or two on this blog I have alluded to this. Do not trust anyone who bases his entire religion on Revelation.
I guarantee that any foreigner in S.Korea who spends more than a few days/weeks in the country and engages with the outside world has had some sort of interaction, generally unbeknownst to them, with agents of Shinchonji who were using some guise or other and passively or actively ‘targeting’ them, even if most of the interactions don’t ever go anywhere; like a CIA-like intelligence operation, they are always looking for targets of opportunity; I can spot likely cases now better than I could in the first half of the 2010s. And their use of front groups in which all the other people involved are members of the group but do not announce this to the people they are roping in. The first known interaction I had with them was when a few foreigner friends in Incheon in 2012 found out they’d been part of a singing group (this was D.R. of Canada) and a soccer team, respectively, that were fronts for Shinchonji. I attended a concert they set up, and almost none of the people involved knew what was going on; they got a lot of donations from attendees, they claimed was for work in Africa. It may have been for Africa but was probably to sponsor their mission work there.
So that is a little of what I can say about Shinchonji.
I was not surprised to learn that the South Korea outbreak was tied to Shinchonji, because:
(1) Shinchonji ignores social rules and convention, has anti-government tendencies, has a persecution complex. They don’t think rules, social conventions, and laws apply to them, and their entire modus operandi is “operate by deception;”
(2) Shinchonji takes overs its members lives to a great extent, and their socialization is entirely dominated by the group and tasks the group demands of it, largely proselytization. They therefore are often in contact with other members, often operating in groups or cells. The close-quarters contact with these other people is a perfect way to spread a virus.
(3) being that the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, what group is most likely to be active there and to return to a network of people in Korea? A few scattered businessmen, maybe (like the origin of the S.Korea MERS virus outbreak in 2015), but more likely is missionaries. I believe these Shinchonji would be illegal missionaries who were on tourist visas, so they are technically breaking the rules there, too. It’s what they do.