SEOUL, South Korea — To his followers, he is a descendant of the historic kings who dominated Korea hundreds of years in the past, “the angel” Jesus despatched for mankind, and the one and only “counselor” who can interpret the symbols and top secret codes hidden in the Bible’s E book of Revelation.
To officers and politicians, he is a villain, the leader of a religious cult who is thwarting the government’s endeavours to include the exploding coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.
Lee Guy-hee, the 88-calendar year-previous enigmatic founder of the Shincheonji church, is now trying to protect his team, whilst complicated the accusations towards it.
South Korea has 4,335 circumstances of the coronavirus, with at minimum 60 percent related to Shincheonji’s branch in Daegu, a metropolis in the southeast. As the govt scrambles to comprise the epidemic, Mr. Lee and the church have been blamed for contributing to the distribute, by failing to provide a whole record of its associates to the governing administration.
In the past 7 days, hundreds of church users have remained incommunicado, baffling health officers trying to observe them down for screening. Significant cities, like the funds metropolis of Seoul, have requested countrywide prosecutors to investigate Mr. Lee for potential prison fees, which includes “murder by way of willful negligence.”
On Monday, Mr. Lee, carrying a surgical mask and speaking in a choking voice, claimed he was remorseful that so several people were being tied to his church. But he denied the claims that its steps contributed to the epidemic, declaring that the church has been cooperating with the authorities the most effective as probable.
“I present my term of deep apology to the folks,” Mr. Lee mentioned on Monday all through a nationally televised news conference, during which he knelt and bowed.
His tone marked a change from the concept he sent to his church associates last week, in which he blamed the epidemic on “the evil who acquired jealous of Shincheonji’s immediate development.”
“When evening passes, dawn will get there,” he reported then.
Mr. Lee has extensive courted controversy. He has been dogged by lawsuits, protest rallies and allegations of preaching heresy, splitting aside households, as well as likely after rival church buildings. He has survived them all, commanding a messianic charisma around the 245,000 followers who he states the church has in South Korea and overseas.
Until now, Mr. Lee’s Shincheonji has been a single of the quickest-rising spiritual sects in South Korea. He has employed an aggressive proselytizing application that has unnerved mainstream Christian religions who liken the church to a cult. He has generally staged substantial-scale out of doors activities that remind critics of huge propaganda rallies in North Korea.
Like North Korea, the church has its personal calendar, counting the years from the day Mr. Lee established it in 1984. It hosts its own “Olympiad,” filling a stadium with worshipers from about the earth. It capabilities military-design honor guards, taekwondo exhibitions and other group performances identical to North Korea’s Mass Games. Often dressed in snow white and carrying his trademark hand-held folding fan, Mr. Lee likes to snap a armed forces salute to his adoring crowds.
[Update: The impact of the coronavirus on sports.]
“Shincheonji has been expanding speedily inspite of the persecutions” from the mainstream Christian church buildings, Mr. Lee explained in an job interview with the newspaper Kyeonggi Ilbo final June. “Why? Mainly because we have a doctrine. We are not a regular church.”
Mr. Lee was born on Sept. 15, 1931, in a lousy farming spouse and children in Cheongdo, a county near Daegu. He says he started praying with his grandfather at a youthful age though he didn’t go to a church. He fought in the Korean War in the 1950s as an military sergeant.
He labored for a further spiritual team deemed a cult by mainstream churches ahead of starting up his have Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in 1984. Shincheonji means “new heaven and new earth” in Korean. In his sermons, he claims “an conclusion to the criminal offense- and corruption-ridden earth and a new period.”
“Shincheonji only takes advantage of Jesus as a front and what its customers worship is Lee Person-hee,” reported Hwang Eui-jong, a Christian pastor who has been battling against teams like Shincheonji.
Considering the fact that the outbreak, associates of Shincheonji have turn into the concentrate on of sickness-command officers operating versus time to tame the outbreak.
Police detectives and anti-ailment officers have been monitoring them as a result of their smartphone spots or credit history-card details. They have frequented their properties, knocking on their doors or observing from outside the house to see if there were signs of life inside. One particular provincial federal government despatched an urgent information to citizens by means of smartphone messages inquiring them to report Shincheonji users.
If Shincheonji officers took these a information as a form of “witch hunting,” it was also a testimony to the problems illness-command officials have faced. An formal at a government well being clinic in Daegu that dealt with coronavirus screening did not expose that he was a church member right until he himself analyzed constructive.
“Many church associates have been worried to come out and reveal their church associates, specified the overwhelming blaming coming from politicians and information media that called Shincheonji the originator of the virus outbreak,” stated Kim Si-mon, the church’s spokesman.
He reported that church members have been exposed to widespread discrimination, taunting and even violence considering the fact that the outbreak. Mr. Kim stated considerably of the terrible publicity was fueled by the prejudices mainstream churches have developed versus Shincheonji.
“Please prevent blaming and hating us,” he reported. “In a state like South Korea that has freedom of faith, do we have to die for the reason that we don’t belong to the recognized church? Shincheonji did not make the coronavirus.”
It is not the 1st time that a religious sect shunned by mainstream churches was related to a nationwide disaster in South Korea. Soon after an overloaded ferry sank in 2014, killing additional than 300 folks, South Koreans ended up stunned to understand that the ferry enterprise was controlled by a religious chief normally condemned as heretical like Mr. Lee.
On Monday, Mr. Lee appeared repentant all through his news meeting. But a flash of his typical charisma appeared at the stop when journalists tried to request questions at the exact same time whilst his critics hurled him insults from the sidelines.
“Be silent! Get!” he shouted prior to his underlings hurried to usher him out. “We are all grown-ups!”