Biblical Answers to the World Mission Society Church of God

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.--1 John 4:1

Are you or a loved one struggling with this group? Do you need Biblical answers about the World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCoG or CoGWMS), their founder Ahnsahnghong (Ahn Sahng/Sang-Hong) or their current leader "Mother Jerusalem" (a.k.a. "Heavenly Mother God," Zang/Zahng Gil-Jah, or Chung Gil Cha)? Thank you for coming here. I hope my blog helps you. Questions and comments are always welcome.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Queen's Award and the WMSCOG -- Fact and Fiction

Foreword...
The World Mission Society Church of God has been pursuing a reputation for volunteer activity and community service in the locations of its various branches. Members participate in events such as blood drives, community clean up, family events, and the like. (See examples here.)

Community service itself is wonderful. It is admirable for people to invest their time and effort to improve the world around us and to help people in need. My family and I have done it. Most people who do this are sincere and loving about it, and I believe that most members of the WMSCOG who participate in these activities do so genuinely.

Because volunteer community services are so commendable, it's a very unpleasant and sensitive thing to have to criticize any part of it, and I do so reluctantly. My message here is in no way intended to denigrate the volunteers or detract from the valuable work they have done in their communities. Please know that the following criticisms are not directed at the members who do the volunteer work, but at the leaders who use the results of this work to make misrepresentations about the WMSCOG.
______________________________

Last summer the WMSCOG was awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Services. The WMSCOG and its members have been very excited and have published articles, videos, and comments about it around the web. If you have had anything to do with the WMSCOG, surely you have already heard about it. After all, it is prominently displayed on their main website's front page. Here's a screen shot...

I greatly admire Queen Elizabeth II, and so this interested me a lot. Over the last months I've been researching and watching -- What is this award? How is it earned? Is it everything the WMSCOG says? Are they representing it correctly to their members and the public?
Here is what I discovered...

The United Kingdom's government sites will tell you all about this award and how groups are nominated and selected and also a list of recipients. There is contact information available as well, for those of us who want more information about the award.

This is a legitimate and prestigious award. It is well-earned and an honor for those groups who receive it. However, there are numerous problems with the way the WMSCOG has represented this award.

Did the WMSCOG earn this award?
The award was earned by the "UK Zion," which is the specific local branch of the WMSCOG in Manchester, UK. This award was NOT given to the larger, corporate WMSCOG or any of their other local branches. For that to be stated or implied is inappropriate and against the nature of the award.

Think of Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year for his songwriting. It would be improper for his record label to claim that they won the prize, or for other artists sharing that record label or singing with Bob Dylan to claim that they also won the prize.

This was clarified for me by a representative of the Queen's Award who told me, "It is possible for a group affiliated to a wider group to be given the award, however, it only applies to the local group." She went on to say that it "does not apply to the wider organisation and any mention of the Award on websites or marketing information should reflect this."

Do their websites reflect this? Well, read for yourself...
This article at award.watv.org,
This article at english.watv.org,
An article about their celebration event in Korea,
This video from the WMSCOG,
Another video from the WMSCOG.

How about these news articles that show local branches in the USA appropriating this award for themselves (see screen shot)? All of these articles (like this one) state "News provided by World Mission Society Church of God."

Even if they have not directly applied the award to "the wider organisation," they have implied it to enough of an extent that the casual reader would easily think that the entire worldwide church earned the award. Even their own members can easily misunderstand this if the WMSCOG does not specifically clarify it.

Are WMSCOG members now MBEs?
No. I wondered this because of the WMSCOG's statement:
"The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service recipients are made the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire [MBE]. Just like individuals, groups that were recognized with an MBE can use this British honor with their names. They are also entitled to use the Queen's Award emblem on their website, stationery, and other printed material."
I was confused because I couldn't quite tell if the WMSCOG was saying that individual members could now use MBE with their names. Also, the UK's official information online did not explain for me if that was how this honor worked, so I asked the Queen's Award for more information.

The representative answered that although the award is equivalent in status for a group as an MBE is for an individual, "The Award is given to the overall group and it does not apply to individuals and therefore, it is not possible for individuals to use the title behind their name."

She also clarified for me the meaning of "MBE." She said, "The MBE title you have used 'Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire' is not recognised by us and the correct title is 'Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).'" There is more information about the honors system online.

I can see how the WMSCOG might be confused about the title since I have seen it used with "the Most Excellent" phrase elsewhere online. Perhaps it is an outdated phrase, but in any case it is not used on the official government websites.

What about the wording on the certificate?
The certificate, signed by the Queen, says,
Elizabeth the Second,
By the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
and of Our other Realms and Territories, Queen, Defender of the Faith, to
UK ZION,
a group of volunteers from the World Mission Society Church of God,
share Mother's love through a range of initiatives.
Greeting!
We being cognisant of the said group's voluntary work in the community,
and being desirous of showing Our Royal Favour do hereby confer upon it:
The Queen's Golden Jubilee Award...
When the WMSCOG states, "The Queen praises the Church of God for performing the role of salt and light" (in this article), and "The award certificate signed by Queen Elizabeth II herself states its purpose and meaning clearly" (in this article, and similarly in this video), it gave me the impression that the Queen knows and approves of the message of "Mother God."

However, the phrase "UK ZION, a group of volunteers from the World Mission Society Church of God, share Mother's love through a range of initiatives" did not come from the Queen or the award committee. That "citation" part of the certificate is provided by either the organisation itself or the person nominating it. We can tell this because of the guidance notes for the award.

How long did it take for the UK Zion to be approved for this award?
According to a WMSCOG article and two videos (this one and this one, see screen shot), the local branch "has carried out volunteer services constantly for four years" and has been through a "rigorous assessment procedure for three years."

I understand those statements to mean that the Manchester branch did such a wonderful job of community work the first year that they were then nominated for the award and spent the next three years continuing their work while the "rigorous assessment procedure" was taking place. (If that's not what was meant, they might want to reword it.)

Well, the assessment is "thorough and rigorous" as described on the Queen's Award website, but it seems the WMSCOG's timeline is a bit off.

A group must have been doing their volunteer work for at least three years in order to be nominated, and it can be approved for the award in as quickly as one year (or less--nominations close in September for awards given the following June, see here for more information), or it may take as long as three years for a group to be approved for the award (info here).

The dates were also off on the Manchester branch's annual report submitted to the Charity Commission of the UK. The report was to cover the time period from August 2014 to August 2015, yet in Section D when it asks for a "summary of the main achievements of the charity during the year," they wrote "Queen's Award for Voluntary Service," even though they did not get the award until June 2016.

Was Kim Joo-cheol invited to Buckingham Palace by the Queen?
There is a picture of Kim Joo-cheol receiving the award, and the WMSCOG article says, "Before the award ceremony was held, General Pastor Kim Joo-cheol was invited by the [sic] Queen Elizabeth II as the representative of the Church of God to Buckingham Palace." I wondered if the General Pastor from Korea was actually personally invited by the Queen. That would be a prestigious invitation indeed.

The answer is no. The award notes tell us that each successful group is "allocated 2 places at the annual royal garden party at Buckingham Palace in London or the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh." It was the WMSCOG who chose to send Kim Joo-cheol, not the Queen.

Was the WMSCOG the only religious organization to receive the award this year?
In this article and this video (see screen shot), the WMSCOG states, "among a total of 193 invited charities, social enterprises, and voluntary groups, the only religious organization is the World Mission Society Church of God."

That is false. The UK has published a list of award recipients for 2016. I did not look up all 193 of them, but here are some of the ones that are definitely religion-based:
Open Hands Trust, Christian
Federation of Jewish Services, Jewish
Urban Outreach, Christian
Inter Madrassah Organisation, Muslim
The Boy's Brigade, Christian
Mary's Meals, Catholic
Paisley Wynd Centre, Christian
Southend-on-Sea Street Pastors, Christian
Masjid-E-Zeenat-Ul-Islam, Muslim
Salisbury Cathedral Volunteers, Christian
Manna House, Christian
Carriers of Hope, Christian
Good Shepherd Ministry, Catholic
Radio Plus, Christian
Sikh Union Coventry, Sikh

The value of fact-checking
How many times after a presidential speech or debate between candidates have you seen the media fact-checking? It's an important part of keeping our leaders accountable to speak the truth and avoid misrepresentations.

Fact-checking the WMSCOG's publicity of the Queen's Award has revealed several areas where they have made mistakes.

This is an esteemed award, and those who do the work to earn it deserve the honor of being recognized by the Queen. When it is misrepresented, as the WMSCOG leadership has done, it detracts from the honor.

For a previous post about WMSCOG awards, click here.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Rebecca's full interview with Today, Part 2

I'm still grateful to the Today Show for bringing exposure to the World Mission Society Church of God with the segment they broadcast about it earlier this year. And I'm thankful they posted their full interview with Rebecca, the member who was featured in the segment.

Again, for your convenience, you can view the full interview by clicking here.

I've watched the interview several times and found it thought provoking. Last time I wrote about thoughts it brought up regarding mainstream Christianity. Now I'll focus on comments specific to the WMSCOG.

The End of the World?

There has been controversy about if and when the WMSCOG had made predictions about the end of the world. Rebecca was asked about this and responded that she had not been taught a specific date. She said that in fact it would be wrong for the church to teach a specific date because the Bible says no one knows the day. That part is true (see Matthew 24:36), though other ex-members and family of members report that they were indeed taught at least an end year.

Beyond that, I was struck by something she said at about 14:36,
"It could happen whenever. For, individually it could happen tomorrow. We don’t know… I could get in a car accident when I leave this place. No one knows that, that time frame when this is going to happen."
She was talking about how any of us should be ready at any time because we don't know when our time will be up here on this earth. The part that confused me was her implication that she could die in a car accident that day.

The reason this confused me is that the WMSCOG teaches that those members who take the Passover are protected from disasters. They even have a video about it, which shows people claiming they were protected from fire, earthquake, accident, and more, all because they had taken the Passover. Accordingly, I would expect no fear or even thought in a member's mind about dying in a car accident.

Preaching to Your Family

Several times Rebecca made comments like this, at 20:50,
"I never told my family to change their beliefs. I never asked them to believe what I believe."
Perhaps she never phrased it in just that way, but I have a hard time believing that she never preached to her family hoping for them to join the WMSCOG with her. This does not ring true for me for two reasons.

First, if her new faith truly was her "absolute happiness," if she had found her "true purpose" and "all the answers," and if she loved her family, why would she not share with them about it and want them to find all that too? It is only natural to want your family to join you in this new faith.

Second, the WMSCOG teaches that salvation is based on obedience, and obedience includes preaching. If she did not at least try to preach to her family, then she would not be obeying the requirement to preach. I wonder if Rebecca would like to go back and rephrase that.

The Intervention

Apparently Rebecca's family tried an intervention that did not go well, and it seems the effect was more traumatic than helpful.

At about 19:50, she was asked why her family would say that after joining the WMSCOG, she began "slipping away," was "sleep deprived," seemed not herself, and "talked to them less." Rebecca paused for a long time, and then rather than answering the question directly, began to describe what they did to her,
"I want you to imagine being locked in a hotel room against your own free will, and your entire family is there and tells you you cannot leave the hotel room until you see a cult counselor."
She came back to this incident several times during the interview, frequently using the phrase "locked in a hotel room."

I have been in numerous hotel rooms around the world and have never seen one where a person can get locked in. Locked out, yes, but never locked in. The door will always open from the inside. It's a safety measure. I wonder if this is another occasion where Rebecca would like to rephrase herself.

After describing this failed intervention, Rebecca then gave the reason for her pulling away from her family. She said,
"Tell me that it's easy to trust your family after they do that to you.... They have discriminated against me from the beginning.... Every word that comes out of my mouth they consider it a lie.... How can you have a relationship with someone who thinks your brainwashed?... Their intolerance for what I want to believe is what has caused me to step away."
This can be a vicious cycle. Family is concerned by changes in their loved one after they become involved with the WMSCOG. Member perceives this concern as an offense and responds with anger, withdrawal, etc. Family becomes even more concerned....

Later at 25:05, she said about her family, "They don't see how their own actions are affecting me."

It is true that our actions affect others' responses. I remember in the first year of my sister's involvement with the WMSCOG, I was completely unprepared with how to handle the situation. I'm certain I said and did things that were counter-productive because I didn't know the extent of what I was dealing with. But I was motivated out of love for my sister. Perhaps it was that way with Rebecca's family.

But it's important for Rebecca (and other members) to realize the same thing is true for them. Their actions affect their family's responses too.

Missing the Wedding

At about 30:00, Rebecca was asked about missing her brother's wedding. Arrangements were made, and she was expected to be there, and then she left a message that she would not be attending. The family was under the impression that it was because of the WMSCOG. Rebecca responded,
"“I chose not to go to the wedding based on personal circumstances at that time, having nothing to do with the church."
I know other members have also missed significant family events such as weddings and funerals. These events are extremely important markers in a family's history and identity. They are experiences that connect the family together.

Unless you have a compelling and unavoidable reason, you can't miss these events without causing hurt feelings. And it's not like your nephew's birthday party that happens every year. Weddings, funerals, and that type of event happen just once. Miss it, and you don't get a do-over. Just read the advice columns. Letters about this kind of thing come up regularly.

That one sentence was all the explanation she gave. If it really had nothing to do with the church, she should have just explained the personal circumstances. She says she did visit her brother and his new wife later to offer congratulations, and it was after that that the intervention attempt happened.

Thinking back to how our actions affect others.... Rebecca would be fooling herself if she thought missing her brother's wedding would not cause a rift in the family relationship.

The "Arranged" Marriage

Rebecca's family believed she was part of an arranged marriage. I've heard other families worry about this for their loved one too, so I was very interested to listen to Rebecca's comment about it. It's at about 25:35 when she answered,
"It’s absolutely wrong. I fell in love with James, and people fall out of love. So, it was not a forced marriage by any means at all. We fell in love with each other; we met, and decided not to continue the, our relationship."
That was... confusing. Does that mean they were married and then divorced, or decided to call it off before getting married? If it's not "forced," does that mean it was arranged but she was happy to do it? Her comment leaves me with more questions than answers. I wish she could have another chance to answer that and clarify herself.

Listening to Strangers

At about 23:06, when Rebecca was asked why she thought her family was attacking her faith, she said,
"I think it’s because they’ve talked to outside sources who have a negative view of the church. And they’ve chosen to believe those sources rather than their own daughter, their own flesh and blood."
And later at 29:50, her message to her brother included this,
"I wish that you would believe me and trust me and not listen to complete strangers rather than your own sister."
I've heard this type of comment before from other WMSCOG sources. The idea is that the family should believe their loved one's report and opinion about the WMSCOG, instead of believing information from "strangers"--other sources, such as the website you are currently reading. (However, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if the family listened to "strangers" who supported the WMSCOG, right?)

This works both ways. I hear from many families who are upset that their loved one is refusing to listen to "their own flesh and blood" and instead listening to "strangers"--the WMSCOG evangelists they just recently met. Rebecca's family would probably echo the sentiment back to her.

Conclusion

Once more, I say thank you to Today for bringing attention to this group, and thank you to both Rebecca and her parents for sharing their story. I pray for them and other families in the same struggle that they would find peace and restoration.

Rebecca's full interview with Today, Part 1

Even though Rebecca's own response videos have been removed, the Today Show still has available her full interview, from which they used clips to make the segment that was broadcast. (I don't know how long they keep old videos available online, but I'm sure it's not forever. So if you haven't seen it yet, you should check it out soon.)

Here's the link for Rebecca's full interview. As I watched, it brought many thoughts to my mind.

First, I was very thankful that Rebecca took the time to do the interview and that she was willing to share some of her personal life on national television. It would not be easy to be so exposed, especially knowing that it would likely invite criticism and judgment. Not everyone would be brave enough to do that. Also, I see enough clues in the interview to tell me that Rebecca is hurt by the broken relationship with her family, just as they are. I pray that their relationship can be healed and restored.

Now on to the interview, beginning with thoughts that specifically deal with mainstream Christianity.

Experiences in the Christian Faith

At about 2:17, Rebecca is talking about her experience with mainstream Christianity. She says,
"I had left church because I felt like no church could provide me with answers to questions I had about the Bible. No church was able to provide a community even though my whole life I grew up under my parents’ nurturing and care and love, and they promoted Christianity, but I never felt satisfied in any of the other churches that I attended."
And then a bit later at 3:00, she says,
"The Church of God is what became my home of faith where all the answers to my questions to the Bible were given, and I was able to realize truly my purpose. It was my absolute happiness."
I have heard feelings like this from others who have left the Christian church, and not just World Mission Society Church of God members. Sometimes they find answers in another religion, or sometimes they leave religion entirely.

I did not grow up in a church environment, but I have visited a great many churches as an adult Christian. Denominations and particular congregations have personalities, like people do. Some focus on heavily on Bible study and application, others not so much. Some are good at fostering community and connections, others not so much. Some have approachable leadership, others not so much. There are fantastic Christian churches out there who will answer your questions and provide a community. You only have to find them.

It's also up to the individual to do their part. I love the church I'm at now where there are available in-depth Bible studies and activities that help us feel connected to each other and the larger community. However, if a person did not make the effort to get involved, but just showed up to service once a week, they might not feel spiritually satisfied. They should step up and take responsibility for their walk of faith.

Comments like Rebecca's should also make us Christians examine our own church congregations. Is your church a "not so much" church? If so, help fix it. Is there someone at your church who seems to need a deeper connection to God and the church community? Encourage them and show them how they can get involved. Don't wait for them to find community and "answers" (false ones) at a place like the WMSCOG.

Raising Children in the Christian Faith

Related to experiences in the Christian faith, I was interested in Rebecca's response to the question about if she had "a religious childhood" at about 15:58,
"They took us to church. They, my parents they took me and my brothers to church. I know for my mom, she grew up Catholic but decided not to follow that as she became an adult even though her parents continued in Catholicism. And I’m not sure my dad’s upbringing, but they decided to bring us up together just going to the community church. I don’t, I don’t think it really had a denomination. It was just a Christian church that worshiped on Sunday."
I don't know Rebecca's family personally, so I am not placing any judgment or blame on them with the following comments. I only know that these few words sparked thoughts in me about my own family. I took this as a warning to myself as a Christian parent. I want to raise my children to have a deep and meaningful relationship with God. To do that takes purposeful communication and action.

If my children grow up and don't know the denomination of the church they have been attending all their young lives (even if it is "non-denominational"), something is wrong. Deuteronomy 11:19 tells us to teach our children and make our faith an everyday part of our conversations. If we consider our faith important, we should be teaching it to our children. Granted the teachings of Christianity are more important than the specific denomination name, but they should still know it.

If they grow up not knowing the faith history of their own mom and dad, whom they have lived with all their young lives, something is wrong. Good communication in our family includes sharing our family history because that is important to our identity. I know about my parents' faith histories because it is part of my own faith history. My children are learning the faith histories of their parents and their grandparents. If they grow up and aren't sure about it or can't remember, I hope they ask.

If they grow up only being "taken" to church on Sundays (or even less, on occasional Sundays like for Easter and Christmas), something is wrong. How will they feel connected to God and to the family of Christian believers unless they get involved enough to feel comfortable and familiar there? I want church to be an integral part of my children's lives, not just a place they are "taken" sometimes. Even better is for them to understand that the church is who we are, not just a place we go.

Parent Reaction to a Child's Change of Faith

When asked what her parents' reaction was to Rebecca joining the WMSCOG, she described it like this, at about 19:00,
"They were not supportive of my own choice of faith. They were actually upset and seemed angry because I wasn’t going along with what they had raised me to believe. So I can assure you that that was not easy, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one in this world that has a difference of belief as she gets older and decides for herself as an adult to believe something different. I’m sure there’s many similar situations and maybe someone watching now that also has a disagreement with their parents based on their choice of faith."
I realize that as a parent, I can only do so much to raise my children to have that deep and meaningful relationship with God. Eventually they must choose to continue that walk of faith on their own or not. I've known wonderful Christian parents whose children grew up and still decided not to follow. It is their own freedom and responsibility to choose their faith.

My experience with the WMSCOG has shown me the anguish that a parent (or family or loved one) can go through when that choice is made. And Rebecca is true that it happens to many people. Sometimes the parent's anguish comes when the child choose (mainstream) Christianity rather than the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., faith that they grew up with.

One thing I've learned is to have compassion, especially on the parent, in that situation, whichever the direction of change. It's understandable for the parent to be upset. If a parent is very connected to their faith, if it is an integral part of them (like my Christianity is with me), then having a child reject that can be heartbreaking.

And if you are part of that equation (as either the parent or the child), it's important to be compassionate and patient, and to ask for and offer forgiveness for the inevitable emotional outbursts. Even though it can be extremely hard to do!

(It might even be the parent who makes the choice to change after raising their child in their original faith! Then the roles are reversed.)

I didn't expect to write so much, but there's been a lot on my mind. Next time I'll focus on WMSCOG specific thoughts from the interview.

Click here to go on to Part 2.