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.
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,
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."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, toUK 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...
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
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.