Media all around the world are focusing attention on Shincheonji Church, a South Korean Christian new religious movement, after members of the church’s Daegu congregation were infected by the coronavirus.
“As a scholar who has studied Schincheonji, said Prof. Massimo Introvigne, a well-known Italian sociologist of religion and the managing director of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), I am concerned with the fact that international media that obviously know nothing about it have ‘discovered’ this church overnight because of the coronavirus incidents in Korea, and have repeated inaccurate information they found on low-level Internet sources,”
“Even of more concern, added Introvigne, is the fact that Shincheonji members who have contracted the virus, who are the victims in this story, are being treated unfairly by the Korean media and described as “cultists.” Worse still, some Shincheonji members have been insulted, discriminated and forced out of their jobs, as scapegoats for what has become a national and international hysteria about the virus.”
International articles hostile to Shincheonji quoted the English version of a press release dated February 19 of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), an organization under the South Korean Ministry of Welfare and Health, which described the church as a “Korean cult.” The word “cult” is not found in the Korean version of the press release, nor in comments by South Korean president Moon Jae-in, which constantly called Shincheonji a “church.”
Shincheonji is cooperating with the KCDC to contain the coronavirus, and complying with all the indication of the authorities, a press release of the Shincheonji Church indicated. At the same time, it raised questions on the fact that, despite concerns voiced by the Korean Medical Association, South Korea is not prohibiting entry into the country from China. The South Korean public news agency, Yonhap News, mentioned the possible relationship between the arrival of 1,000 Chinese students in school trips to Daegu last month and the outbreak of the epidemics there.
As part of its cooperation with the KCDC, Shincheonji supplied to the authorities a list of all members of its congregation in Daegu. Unfortunately this list was leaked to some media, which leads to Shincheonji members being discriminated, insulted, and in some cases dismissed from their jobs.
The anti-Shincheonji sentiment in South Korea is fueled by conservative and fundamentalist Christian groups, disturbed by Shincheonji’s rapid growth. These groups have a history of vitriolic propaganda and even physical violence against Shincheonji, whose members are routinely kidnapped and confined to be submitted to forced conversion (deprogramming), and now went so far to accuse Shincheonji members to intentionally spread the virus. This propaganda is dangerous and irresponsible, said both Introvigne and Willy Fautré, the head of Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers.
“The fact that South Korean authorities turned a blind eye to the illegal practice of forced conversion and deprogramming against Shincheonji members, said Fautré, resulted in further violence. Now, the same fundamentalist Protestants take advantage of the virus to disseminate hate speech and practices of discrimination that blatantly violate human rights.”
Respected citizens of Korea,
We at Shincheonji Church of Jesus (Shincheonji) find it deeply regrettable that Korean citizens including those who attend Shincheonji have been infected with the novel coronavirus infectious disease (COVID-19), which has caused many to be concerned. Shincheonji is cooperating to the fullest extent with the Korean public health authorities for the prevention of the virus spreading.
It has been announced to all the 245,000 members of Shincheonji including 9,294 of Daegu Church and 201, who visited the Daegu Church, to limit outdoor activities.
The list of those who joined the evening service on 18 February at the very location the 31st confirmed patient took part in has been provided to the city of Daegu on that evening. At 6 a.m. the next day (19th), the final list was handed over to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). As the number of confirmed cases increased, the KCDC requested on the evening of 19 February the full list of the congregation members of the Daegu Church, and Shincheonji responded by providing the list on the following day (20th).
Currently, 9,294 members of the Daegu Church have completed going into self-quarantine, and they are going through COVID-19 check-up. Since 18 February, church-related activities of the members including meetings, worship services, evangelizing, etc. have been halted and Shincheonji is checking for those who exhibit symptoms of the virus daily. In doing so, it is closely communicating with the KCDC.
In addition, on 18 February, when the first case from Daegu Church was confirmed, 1,100 of church and affiliated buildings across the nation were ordered to shut down and they have completed disinfection by 21st. On 22nd, the status of the disinfection was released to the public and it has been shared with the KCDC along with the addresses of all the church buildings and annexes. This information is open to the public at the Shincheonji’s official homepage.
Furthermore, upon identifying the 201 congregation members who visited the Daegu Church between the end of January to 18 February, they were instructed to quarantine themselves promptly and to contact public health facilities. The list of these members has been handed over to the KCDC and relevant local governments such as those of Seoul and Gyeonggi province.
According to the data released from the KCDC as of 9 a.m. today (23 February), out of 556 confirmed patients, 309 are related to Shincheonji. To minimize the virus spreading throughout the local community, Shincheonji is checking the symptoms of the entire congregation of Daegu Church and the 201 visitors to the church while relaying the information to the KCDC for close cooperation.
In the case of 670 members of Daegu Church who could not be reached, Shincheonji is pouring in efforts to reach them together with public health authorities, out of which 417 have been instructed to be tested for infection. All possible measures are being implemented to contact the rest of the 253 who could not be reached due to not having attended the church for a long time.
Shincheonji Church of Jesus is exerting its utmost efforts to prevent further proliferation of the COVID-19 while actively cooperating with the South Korean government and public health authorities. Since early January, the Headquarters of Shincheonji has instructed 74 churches nationwide a total of four times via official notices to restrict entry into church buildings of those who recently traveled to China, had contact with such visitors or displayed symptoms of cold such as fever and coughing for the protection of the congregation. Since 18 February, all meetings have been prohibited.
As Shincheonji understands and shares the citizens’ deep concern and anxiety over the novel coronavirus, it has been struggling to address COVID-19 spreading. However, we cannot help but regret that some media outlets are intentionally abusing the opportunity to slander against Shincheonji by broadcasting as if Shincheonji is purposely covering up the situation.
Shincheonji is maintaining close communication with public health authorities and is going all-out on stemming the outbreak as soon as possible. We ask those broadcasting speculative stories or covering groundless contents on Shincheonji with ill intent to stop.
In order to expedite the process of bringing an end to the outbreak, Shincheonji has handed over the full list of members of Daegu Church to public health authorities. However, the list has been leaked, making members of Shincheonji become the target of undue injustices such as forced leave of absence, discrimination, insults, and even oppression to quit their jobs within the local community.
Those who attend Shincheonji are also citizens of the Republic of Korea, who carried out their daily lives trusting the measures of the quarantine authorities to fight against COVID-19. They are the very victims of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a virus that started in China and spread to Korea. We ask everyone to acknowledge that Shincheonji members are one of the biggest victims of COVID-19, bearing the brunt of the virus spreading. We sincerely ask everyone to cease the groundless slandering and hatred targeted against the members of Shincheonji.
The situation at hand is something we should overcome through the concerted efforts of the government and all citizens including those who are a part of Shincheonji. We promise, once again, to stay fully committed to doing all that we can so that the outbreak can come to an end as soon as possible. Also, we ask members of Shincheonji again to be fully cooperative with the authorities.
We sincerely hope for the outbreak to end swiftly and full recovery of the confirmed patients.
COVID-19 Task Force
Shincheonji Church of Jesus Headquarters