Controversial doomsday cult expands into the Pacific Islands
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A secretive religious group expanding into the Pacific Islands is targeting Pasifika people from differing faith backgrounds, according to a report by Melanie Earley published recently in Stuff New Zealand. A group of former members said there was immediate concern at news of what they describe as a cult and its new outreach programs in Samoa and the Cook Islands.
“We’ve been disappointed and concerned about Shincheonji’s attempts to recruit in Samoa and elsewhere,” said a spokesperson for the group What is Shincheonji, which is a collection of New Zealand-based former members.
“Many from the Pasifika community in New Zealand have suffered spiritual abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress and damaged relationships with family from being involved in the group, and we don’t want to see more of that," former members are quoted saying in the Stuff New Zealand report.
However, a New Zealand-based spokesperson for Shincheonji, who disputes the group is a cult, said the group was “misunderstood” and expanding globally.
Members of Shincheonji’s Aotearoa branch are setting up the new church in Samoa, and have recently been featured as guests on a Cook Islands radio station during its “Godly hour”, according to Stuff NZ.
“In March, Shincheonji, under the name Zion Christian Mission Centre, announced it was holding an ‘exhibition’ in Samoa’s Latopa, and said it was hoping to start a new chapter of the church on the island.”
“I’ve heard it’s going very well in Samoa,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve been growing rapidly globally.”
Speaking with The Samoa Observer, Mareko Taafua, a regional instructor for the group, mentioned Shincheonji was looking to expand into the Pacific, beginning with Samoa.
“Maybe in the next year or so we can reach out to other Pacific countries.”
The spokesperson for What is Shincheonji said they “strongly advised” people in Samoa avoid attending classes belonging to the group, but if they did, they should be mindful of sharing too many personal details.
Reverend James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, said while he was “very aware” of Shincheonji in the Pacific, he wasn’t aware of Shincheonji opening a church in Samoa, but he hoped governments of different islands and churches were aware of Shincheonji and similar groups.
”They speak about world peace and bringing communities together under their beliefs and doctrines, but their type of theology is concerning to us.
“They pull members out of other churches to make their own and while they seem innocuous on the surface, if you look deeper, indoctrination is taking place.”
Shincheonji, also known as Mount Zion, is a controversial South Korean religious group that has been described as a cult by a number of former members.
The sect was founded in 1984 by Lee Man Hee, and is known for infiltrating churches and university groups using deceptive recruitment techniques. It has an established presence in New Zealand.
Ten years ago, Shincheonji started up in Fiji using the name Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light.