Content warning: This article contains sensitive topics that may be disturbing for some readers.
Cults in the Korean society have been a hot topic within the Korean community these days, generally viewed negatively by most of the Korean public. With the release of the 8-episode K-Documentary Series, “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal” last March 3, a lot of news and public opinions tackling controversial religious leaders who were presented in the documentary. MBC produced the documentary about the controversial cults existing in Korea, which was released by Netflix. Being available in one of the biggest OTT platforms to date, the topic also has sparked a discussion among international viewers as well. Big names in entertainment have also fueled the talks about cults, with news (and rumors) about some celebrities being involved in these cults.
One of the figures that was presented in the controversial docuseries was the leader of a Korean cult, Christian Gospel Mission (also called CGM or JMS). 3 episodes of the documentary was dedicated to JMS and showed the cult leader, Jung MyungSeok’s rise as the leader of the said church, and how he was embroiled in controversy years after. The cult leader was sentenced to 10 years prison after being convicted of rape and sexual assault, yet his numerous followers continue to believe that he is innocent. The documentary includes interviews with victims and reveals how Lee was able to commit sexual assault against his followers in Hong Kong and China for several years. Victims described their painful experiences they went through while being part of the said church. The former members, including JMS’ ex-vice president also appeared in the documentary to recount how it was when he was involved in the said church.
Jung MyungSeok and JMS in “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal”
Jung MyungSeok was mostly shown in a negative light in the docuseries, as expected from the title of the series. The documentary showed several aspects of JMS as a church, including how it started attracting a big number of followers in the 80s, the doctrine taught by Jung MyungSeok, and the type of people who were part of his church population. The cult leader was reported to teach in a very unconventional method, which was very different during the time of its rise. Additionally, the way he taught was said to be more of a scientific approach, appealing to young people who thought his teachings “made sense.” In the 80s, JMS’ church population was mostly young, with its attendees as students from the big universities in Korea such as Hongik University, KAIST, Chonnam National University, Kyungpook National University, and others. With the church growing, more people were attracted as it was seen as a way to mingle with other young people as well. Also, there were miracles that the followers claimed to have experienced, including being healed from illnesses that doctors in hospitals couldn’t cure. These types of testimonies were numerous, leading to more and more people believing Jung MyungSeok and his teachings.
It was also shown in the documentary that the cult leader has also prompted his followers to look at him if they wanted to see “God”, which was interpreted by some of his followers as him claiming to be the “Messiah”. A lot of his followers claimed that they followed his teachings and did as he instructed as they believed that he was truly the resurrection of God. It got to a point when they followed all his words, even when they thought it was strange.
The cult leader was implicated in several sexual crimes, both in Korea and internationally. In 2009, Jung MyungSeok was convicted of his crimes and was sentenced to 10 years of prison. This imprisonment did not stop Jung MyungSeok’s followers, and their “evangelization” continued, garnering followers. However, the cult leader was said to have continued his crimes even after his release in 2018. Last year, Jung MyungSeok is once again charged with sexual assault and attempted rape of several of his female followers. Recently, three additional victims filed charges against the cult leader, and the investigation is ongoing. Jung MyungSeok denies that he brainwashed or coerced the victims and claims that he did not use violence or threats.
Jung MyungSeok and JMS on recent news and media
Jung MyungSeok was back on headlines since last year, after being charged another case of sexual assault and rape. However, with the release of the docuseries last week, the cult leader is once again talked about by the the press.
The media portrays Jung MyungSeok mostly in a negative light, mostly focusing on his criminal records and sexual accusations. Also, the news reports on his ongoing legal proceedings related to his sexual assault allegations.
News reports also mentioned that the JMS has made a request to the Seoul Western District Court to ban the release of the Netflix documentary, but the said request was rejected. The court stated that the evidence presented by JMS was not sufficient to prove that the allegations in the documentary were false. Jung MyungSeok’s lawyers have accused the producers of relying on biased information and creating false impressions. This request has only attracted more attention to the documentary even before its release.
Translation: “The Netflix documentary “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal” was attempted to blocked but they couldn’t.”
“JMS filed a request to ban broadcasting to the court, but it was rejected. The court stated, “It is related to public understanding… It is produced for the public interest.” The investment was made by Netflix and produced by MBC, dealing with JMS’s sexual crimes, among others.” (Daum Media Today)
Additionally, the director of the program, Cho SeongHyun, claims that he was harassed and hacked during his coverage of the JMS and Jung MyungSeok. There were also news about his statement made in a radio show guesting where he talked about JMS members blocking the entry of a guest witnessing for the documentary (referring to incident with the Hong Kongese victim Maple Yip and her difficulty to enter Korea to testify against Jung MyungSeok). The director also mentioned that there were instance when JMS members also interfered with the interviews to disrupt the production of “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal” He stated that he suspected the existence of JMS members within his team, leading to suspicion and mistrust.
Translation: “Cho PD said “Among our guests was a Hong Kong nationale, and we prepared for her to enter Korea but even if change the time and plane ticket thrice, , whenever she tried to leave, the believers of that cult came out repeatedly and prevented her from boarding the plane.” He continued, “Once, we were filming with the said guest, and it happened to be raining outside, so the guest looked out the window. At that time, a text message came saying, “Are you looking outside too? It’s raining.” It was so scary.” (EDaily)
There were also reports about the Prosecutor General, Lee WonSeok, promising that the investigation for the case will be thorough to ensure appropriate punishment for Jung MyungSeok.
Translation: “Prosecutor General: “We will thoroughly investigate additional victims’ cases related to JMS.”” (Weekly Chosun)
Another news item that has been fervently talked about is about the boy group DKZ’s member KyoungYoon’s family is discovered to be involved with JMS. DONGYO Entertainment, the agency of the group, released a statement through their official fan cafe denying any knowledge of KyoungYoon’s family’s alleged connection to a controversial religious organization. Further, the agency emphasized that KyoungYoon was unaware of the organization’s activities and had never seen or heard anything related to them, and upon learning of the situation, the family decided to cease the operation of the business related to JMS and to disassociate themselves from the organization.
With the anger expressed by the general public, most Korean news seem to show that they are on the opposing side of the religious organization. News articles on the past few days are mostly in an “expository” nature, bring light to Jung MyungSeok and his followers’ actions. Also, celebrities are clearly seen to be avoiding to be associated from cults that the general public hate, which can be seen from the quick statement made by DONGYO Entertainment and DKZ’s KyoungYoon.
Internationally, Jung MyungSeok and JMS was also headlined by some media outlets, talking about the cult being exposed. Variety was seen to be reporting on the said controversy.
Other media sources and blogs (TheCinemaholic, Streamingdue, Digital Mafia Talkies, and more) also wrote about the cult leader, explaining who he is and his current situation at the court.
Internationally, most media are curious about the cult leader. As it is expected that people would looking up about him, news and other media mostly show informative articles which mostly talk about the leader’s background and the issue’s current state.
Public reception and opinion on JMS and “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal”
The interest on JMS’ controversy and people’s strong opinion was once reignited due to the Netflix documentary as it gained popularity. The documentary quickly climbed the TV series category of the Netflix Korea chart, received high social interest in Korea since its release last Friday (March 3), and public opinion against Jung MyungSeok grew even stronger.
In Korean community pages, the documentary has become a topic of discussion.
Translation: “What the father of anti-JMS activist Professor Kim DoHyung said after being attacked.”
In this community post, it showed screenshots of the documentary where anti-JMS activist Kim DoHyung and his father were talking about JMS followers’ attack against the latter. It was recounted that Kim DoHyung’s father said after being attacked, “If I was the one attacked, they could’ve attacked my son like this. In this sense, I am rather relieved.”
This statement by Kim DoHyung’s father has touched the hearts of a lot of Korean viewers, and at the same time ignited anger against the religious organization.
Translation: “4. Crazy
5. I was really upset and scared… Crazy s*** o* * b****.
6. I was teary-eyed at this part.
7. Ha (cries). I am so angry.
8. I was really upset when I saw this part.”
Internationally, the documentary has also caused shock and disgust among viewers of the documentary.
A huge trigger warning for those planning to watch the latest Netflix docuseries In the Name of God about korean cults.
I usually love watching true crime documentaries but gosh this is just toooo much 😩😦 even the first 5 min was so disturbing 💀 pic.twitter.com/Zb4k3DPRQ1
— 소원있는별사탕 (@starcandy_ss) March 5, 2023
a HUGE trigger warning for those planning to watch the latest Netflix docuseries “In the Name of God”. it’s really horrific, disgusting and disturbing. so, if you got triggered easily, do not watch and for everyone who’s currently watching this, be aware and don’t force yourself pic.twitter.com/kGI3KeJAXV
— ge. (@gyjcults) March 8, 2023
International viewers warn others who are planning to watch the documentary as the content may be triggering for some people.
Another post also tackles DKZ KyoungYoon’s family’s involvement in JMS.
Translation: “DKZ KyoungYoon’s Official Position (JMS-related).”
This community post was up when DONGYO entertainment released a statement about KyoungYoon.
Korean netizens, of course, had opinions about the agency’s statement.
Translation: “1307. Crazy, crazy. What exactly am I reading right now? Hahahaha. F****** crazy. Hahahaha. Cult idol. Hahahaha.
1308. I don’t think that’s something that can be sorted out that easily…
1309. This is scary. What is this, really..
1310. Seeing the documentary, even if you leave that church, they continue to harrass you. I hope he leaves safely.
1311. What is leaving the church even? Hahahaha. Is religion that easy?”
Some Korean netizens were still suspicious even after the statement released by DONGYO Entertainment. A particiular post in the TheQoo community page showed how KyoungYoon’s drawing in the past, which shows a tree growing on a rock. Netizens compared it to an actual existing scenery similar to the drawing, which was supposedly in Wolmyeong-dong, Jung MyungSeok’s drawing. It is said that the tree growing on the rock was the cult leader’s miracles.
Translation: “A tree that grew on the rock.
There’s a rock like this in Jung MyungSeok’s hometown Wolmyeong-dong.
It was said to be JMS’ Jung MyungSeok’s miracle.“
However, fans continue to support the idol and have been defending him online as well.
I hope you and your family could safely leave and cut ties with that cult, Yoon. And I hope and pray for your safety more than anything else. I would still be here to support you always. Stay strong. Fighting!#DKZ #디케이지#경윤 #KYOUNGYOON
— Elle |🧸🐰| #THANKYOUMUNIK✨ (@spcygomtokki) March 8, 2023
And I’m worried for him and his family I watched the documentary on netflix everyone who left all were harmed and so I’m praying kyoungyoon and his family will be okay because that church well that cult is freaking crazy idk how the government hasn’t done anything about them
— ✨KOKO✨ (@sunny_nonie) March 8, 2023
Whatever the internet said bad things about Kyoungyoon, I hope Dongaris will continue protect and defend our sunshine boy until the truth finally reveal.
— lily | jaechan’s | PROTECT KYOUNGYOON (@jaejjangie_gf) March 9, 2023
Some fans even cited that KyoungYoon was too busy with his trainee activities before debut and his promotion schedules after debut, for him to be actually be aware of JMS and how it is related to the church his parents were attending.
somewhere else and training to be a kpop idol when he was still a minor too. Why is it so hard for people to believe that he had no idea of these things happening? Why is it so hard to leave him out of this? Focus on the real issue and not on some kid that happened to be born at+
— ren 🌸 protect kyoungyoon (@Bebi__Munik) March 8, 2023
Fans also used KyoungYoon’s drawing to make the atmosphere lighter online.
Explaining the paint to those people who doesn’t know#경윤 #KYOUNGYOON#DKZ #디케이지 pic.twitter.com/hR2tCuEKnq
— Jerry The Mouse 🐭 – VAV is BACK (@jerrythemous3) March 9, 2023
With the documentary shedding light on the inner workings of cults and the dangers of blindly following a charismatic leader, it cannot be emphasized further the need to be skeptical about everything one is taught. It also highlights the need for proper investigation and justice for victims of sexual assault and abuse within religious organizations.
Have you watched the controversial documentary series “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal”? Let us know your thoughts through the comment section!