By Ana Perez, 10th Grade
Jesus Morning Star, also known as Providence Church, was a Christian religious movement founded by Jung Myung-Seok in the 1970s. The movement grew in popularity in the 1980s, especially among university students in Seoul, and has even expanded to other countries – about 70 according to the Korea Post. However, the church has been called a “sex cult” in the media due to the numerous allegations of sexual assaults made towards their leader and founder, Jung Myung-Seok. While the cult vehemently denies these allegations, Myung-Seok was convicted of rape by the Supreme Court of Korea and sentenced to a decade of imprisonment in 2009. However, despite his guilt, he was released in 2018. More allegations about the cult have come out through the Netflix series “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal,” showing the tactics the cult used to recruit members and silence them.
Jung Myung-Seok founded Jesus Morning Star in 1974. The cult criticized Christian teachings, claiming that other Christian groups took messages from the bible too literally. The cult claimed that Myung-Seok was the “Messiah” and used various cult tactics to brainwash members into believing whatever he said. Some teachings from the church implied that people who did not “meet” Myung-Seok would not be able to go to Heaven; this might have been a tactic for members to recruit their loved ones into the cult. Other teachings implied that the Original Sin occurred because Eve had intercourse with Satan. Myung-Seok claimed that for women to rid themselves from the Original Sin was not through baptism, but by having intercourse with him; this was a tactic for Myung-Seok to obtain new victims.
Something else that was unique about the cult was that Myung-Seok was often surrounded by young women. He would use his power to lure young tall women into the cult to sexually assault them, often under the guise of “giving them a blessing” or “offering health checks.” In 1999, an exposé on Jesus Morning Star and Myung-Seok’s crimes was released. Following the release of this report, Myung-Seok fled South Korea and traveled around East Asian countries (China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan) where he continued to assault women, until he was extradited back to South Korea in 2008 to face his charges.
The Supreme Court of Korea convicted him on four counts of rape and sentenced him to a decade in prison. During this time, the cult continued to profess his innocence and even recruited more women to become his “spiritual wives” while he was in prison. Even after Myung-Seok was released in 2018, the cult continued to profess his innocence. Current and former members of the cult are constantly told that Myung-Seok is innocent and that whoever attempts to speak out is silent. In the Netflix documentary, former member Maple Yip was followed by various members as she tried to film the documentary, in an effort to silence her.
Yet, these efforts resulted in failure. Following a press conference held by Yip where she described his crimes, Myung-Seok was indicted in October 2022 for her sexual assault and the assault of an Australian follower. Myung-Seok is currently in prison waiting for his trial, while the cult continues to support their leader and profess his innocence. Even now, the cult continues to share sermons that support the leader.
The cult was able to recruit a large number of members by posing as a normal university faith group. They would recruit members on university campuses and shopping centers, encouraging them to join prayer groups and bible study meetings (although some of these bible meetings included excerpts from figures like Hitler). These cults often use tactics such as love-bombing, where a recruiter approaches the student and does everything in their power to make the student feel special and unique in order to convey the message “I am your new best friend.” They will also fake mutual interests in order to give the impression that they share many things in common to convince the prospective member to join the cult to “support their friend.” Other tactics include isolating the recruit to immerse them in the cult’s philosophy; isolating them to do this means that the recruit is away from anyone able to provide a reality check. Another tactic includes keeping control of the recruit through various means, like threatening them or gaslighting them; this means the recruit will do anything the cult wants.
It is important to know these tactics to be able to identify and recognize them. Stories like that of Jesus Morning Star are common, which is why people need to know and identify these tactics to not become part of these stories.
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, May 14). Providence (religious movement). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Providence_(religious_movement)
- Where is Jung Myeong Seok? the convicted rapist at the head of the JMS Church cult. Koreaboo. (2023, March 16). https://www.koreaboo.com/stories/jung-myeong-seok-convicted-rapist-head-jms-church-cult-in-name-god-holy-betrayal/
- Cult members who are they?. California State University, East Bay. (n.d.). https://www.csueastbay.edu/philosophy/reflections/2010/contents/kayl-teix.html