Shincheonji cult extends its reach to Palmerston North

South Korea’s Shincheonji cult has made its way to Palmerston North, prompting a warning to tertiary institutes the cult could target highly populated student areas.

Tertiary institutes say they have proper ways to keep an eye on students after fears were raised about the “highly effective cult” by members of Crossroads Church.

They were recently sent a letter of warning about the Shincheonji​ cult, also known as New Heaven and New Earth.

Shincheonji was founded by Lee Man-Hee in South Korea in 1984.

Man-Hee claims to be the second-coming of Jesus Christ and says only he can properly interpret the Bible.

The cult has been active in Wellington.

A senior pastor of The Street Church, Nick Field, says members of the group invited people from his church to Bible studies, which were then used as fronts to isolate people.

While having no confirmed sightings of the cult being active in Palmerston North, the Crossroads Church wants to proactively let people know what is going on.

Massey University issued a statement following the warning saying it takes pastoral care very seriously.

It offers one-on-one welfare checks and monthly group meetings for those living on campus.

UCOL student success senior manager Victoria Blockley-Powell said they would not tolerate any activity which put students at risk.

Staff were especially wary during orientation events for groups which may harass students.

She suggests the best way to combat groups like Sinchenjoi is to make sure students were well supported.

Regular social events, networking groups, counselling, food banks, anxiety support groups and a parenting-at-distance network helped create connections so students could get help if things became tough, she said.

As international students could be particularly susceptible to negative groups, they are being especially well supported, Blockley-Powell said.

As an example of this, she said each new international student is partnered with a returning one to help adjust to life on campus.

A senior lecturer at Massey University who has researched religious groups and unconventional manifestations of spirituality, said Shincheonji had the typical hallmarks of a cult.

Dr Heather Kavan said those hallmarks include a single figure claiming to be God’s mouthpiece and members being pressured to make huge sacrifices to survive the impeding apocalypse.

As Lee’s teachings say only 144,000 people would become immortal on the Day of Judgment and the cult has over 180,000 members, members competed with acts of loyalty and sacrifice to ensure they were in the elect, Kavan said.

“The competition becomes all-consuming, and they often leave their jobs, studies and families, effectively cutting off their support.”

“They reveal their real agenda in such small increments that people don’t notice how bizarre the situation is until they’re in too deep.”


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