Providence (officially Christian Gospel Mission) is a Christian new religious movement founded by Jung Myung-seok in 1980; Jung was formerly a member of the Unification movement and was strongly influenced by it. He founded a church that was formerly associated with Methodism but was expelled from that community. Most of its members live in South Korea. Providence has been widely referred to by the media as a cult.
Following accusations against him by South Korean police of rape, fraud, and embezzlement, Jung fled the country in 1999 and lived as a fugitive in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China before being arrested by Chinese police in May 2007. In April 2009, after being convicted of rape, the Supreme Court of South Korea sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment. Jung was released on 18 February 2018.
The sect has also been called Jesus Morning Star (JMS), Setsuri ("Providence" in Japanese), International Christian Association (ICA), the Morning Star Church (MS Church), the Bright Moon Church, and Ae-chun Church (애천교회).
Jung Myung-seok was born in 1945. He is also known by the names of Joshua Jung, Joshua Lee and Pastor Joshua. In the 1970s he was a member of the Unification Church, whose teachings have been alleged to resemble Jung's "quite closely". In 1980, Jung founded the Ae-chun Church (애천교회), which was affiliated with the Methodist Church. The church was later expelled from the Methodists and he changed its name to the International Christian Association (국제크리스천연합) in the mid 1980s. A rift occurred in the group in 1986, according to the Hyundae Jongyo magazine and publisher, when the vice president of Providence attempted to act on the sex scandals surrounding the group, but he was shut out of the organizational system and Jung consolidated all power around himself.
In October 1999 the organization changed its name to Christian Gospel Mission (기독교복음선교회).
Sexual abuse allegations in the media
The Providence sex scandal received wide public attention following Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS)'s exposé, broadcast on March 20, 1999 on its TV news magazine, The Unanswered. Over 100 alleged victims were contacted for information in the making of this series. JMS (as Providence was known then) countered with lawsuits to suppress the broadcast, libel litigation, and an organized two-month barrage of phone calls, as many as 60,000 calls per day.
The broadcast resulted in Jung fleeing the country one day later. Jung would live freely outside of Korea for the next 7 years, until apprehended by the Chinese authorities in 2006, and repatriated to Korea the following year.
Sexual abuse allegation continued to surface against Jung overseas, in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Japan, and other locations. The news show The Unanswered (Korean: 그것이 알고 싶다, literally: "I Want to Know it") followed with additional episodes covering Jung's activities abroad. In one episode, SBS reported how female members of Providence had been flown to and held against their will at Jung's hideout in Anshan in the Chinese province Liaoning on the border to Korea. One 28-year-old Korean who in April 2005 managed to escape, confided how she was sexually violated multiple times by Jung.
In Japan, there were 2,000 Providence members as of 2006, almost entirely students and graduates of prestigious colleges, and 60% women. During his sojourns in Japan, Jung summoned upwards of 10 women on an almost daily basis, and under the false pretext of running a "health check" would have improper sexual encounters with them. Jung's aides are said to have imposed strict secrecy of these encounters with Jung, threatening the women with condemnation to hell if they told anyone what he had done.
In Taiwan too, similar incidents have been reported, where many female members of his organization were ordered to undress for a "health check", be subjected various forms of sexual abuse, including having sex with him to wipe off their sins.
The anti-Providence group EXODUS (founded in 1999) held a press conference in April 2006, in which four unidentified women wearing bucket hats and surgical masks covering their faces, accused Jung of organized sex crimes against themselves and other women, who required medical treatment.
Jung denied the charges, his followers said. In 2008, in response to the rape allegations, Providence pastor Bae Jae-yong said that it was a "distorted rumor that was created by the people who have slandered [Jung]" and that "all fundamental truth will be clarified by [Jung] at the prosecutor's office".
According to allegations by ex-Providence members, as of 2012, some 500 to over 1,000 women members were still being groomed for future sexual exploitation by Jung. Known internally as the "Evergreens" (Korean: 상록수; Hanja: 常緑樹; RR: sang-rok-su), these female members are said to comprise a "reserve corps" for "sex bribes" (Korean: 성상납; Hanja: 性上納; RR: seong sangnap), a term for sexual favors accorded to those exercising power. The "Evergreens" are educated and handled by 10 women in Providence's leadership. Jo Gyeong-suk, former head of the group's Seoul branch and herself an alleged victim, stated salvation through sexual union with Jung was part of its canon. According to Jo, "not a few of those women committed suicide. They become severely depressed and receive psychiatric treatment, suffer various illnesses and social phobias as a result of the stress, and are unable to marry." The accusers added that Providence leader Jung, even while serving sentence in prison, is supplied with photograph profiles of female members, for him to make selections on which women would be inducted as "Evergreens".
Civil lawsuits and criminal conviction
Providence leader Jung fled Korea after SBS reported the sexual abuse he allegedly committed by Jung. However, he was not officially charged until 2001. At the end of the trial in 2002, a male witness who had testified that there was no sexual exploitation from 1993-4 was found guilty of perjury, and received a 1-year prison sentence.
In 2001, Jung was investigated by Taiwanese authorities on charges of sexual assault, but he left the country. Jung, having been wanted by Interpol since 2002, was arrested in Hong Kong in July 2003 for overstaying his visa, but was released three days later on a HK$10,000,000 (US$1,3 million as of July 2003) bail. When Hong Kong authorities approved extradition to Korea, Jung fled the extradition hearing. An Interpol Red Notice was issued on Jung in 2004. In 2006, South Korean authorities put Jung on an international wanted list on rape charges, and after learning that Jung had fled to China, the South Korean government officially asked China in November 2006 to extradite him.
A South Korean woman and a Japanese woman filed a criminal suit in 2003 against Jung for raping them. In January 2008, the Supreme Court of South Korea awarded the two females ₩50,000,000 (US$52000 as of January 2008) and ₩10,000,000 (US$10400) in damages for rape. The court said Jung forced the followers to have sex with him, saying that it is a religious behavior meant to save their souls. Providence followers started riots outside of newspapers that reported the court's verdict, broke into the Seoul office of the leading newspaper The Dong-a Ilbo trashing office furniture, and demanded the removal of articles critical of Jung.
After about 8 years on the run, Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced that Jung had been arrested in Beijing by Chinese police on May 1, 2007. Liaoning Provincial Higher People's Courtruled in September 2007 to extradite Jung, a decision upheld by the Supreme People's Court. He was extradited back to South Korea to stand charges on February 20, 2008. Jung was also charged with fraud and embezzlement of church funds.
In the criminal case heard by the Seoul Central District Court, former members told the court that Jung was provided with female members of his sect as "gifts", and he would then have sex them on a religious pretext. Reportedly Jung would be shown photographs of female members of his church, and once he chooses his "sexual gift", she would be conveyed to his place of stay outside Korea.
In August 2008, Jung was convicted for raping female followers and sentenced by the Seoul Central District court to six years imprisonment. On February 10, 2009, the Seoul High Courtadded four years to the district court's sentence of six years, overturning one of the lower court's acquittals and finding Jung guilty on a total of four counts of rape. Jung appealed his 10 years imprisonment sentence to the Supreme Court of South Korea, but the sentence was upheld in April 2009.
One of the sexually assaulted women subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against Jung. In its verdict in November 2009 Seoul Western District Courtruled that "the plaintiff's right to bodily integrity was violated and she suffered psychological pain as a result of the sexual violence of defendant... The defendant is obligated to compensated plaintiff for her pain." and that Jung should pay ₩50,000,000 in compensation. Since his release, Jung has conducted concerts and produced many artworks. In October 2018, his concert was held with more than 1,000 performers with audiences over 30,000 people.
Providence's core teaching are found in a series of unpublished precepts called the 30 Lessons, which bear considerable resemblance to the "Divine Principle" of the Unification movement. According to Tahk Myeong-hwan, nine of the 30 lessons exhibit a "considerable level of resemblance" with the Divine Principle. The lessons are based on a numerological interpretation which identifies the sect's leader as the Second Coming of Christ.
One lesson implies that those who do not "meet" him will not go to Heaven; another that any who betray him are committing a grave crime. During the instruction of the advanced level of the 30 Lessons, Jung is taught to be the Messiah, proven through the numerological interpretation of prophesied dates and times in the book of Daniel, although more recent statements from a representative seems to contradict this claim.
Like the Unification movement, Providence preaches the advent of the "Completed Testament Era". Providence furthermore allegorize the relationship between God and man to that between the groom and bride, or two lovers. While both Unification movement and Providence teach that Original sin was caused by Eve's intercourse with the fallen angel turned Satan, Providence teaches this can be redeemed by having sex with Jung Myung-seok. Jung was found to have forced female followers to have sex with him "as a religious behavior meant to save their souls" in the Korean Court of Law. Former members have stated or testified that young and attractive women were presented to Jung as "sexual gifts", with whom he coercibly engaged in the sexual act, which was explained to them as a purification rite.
Although some of the teachings are a carefully guarded secret within the sect, scholars such as Yoshihide Sakuraiwho analyzed and summarized the sect's beliefs relied on documented testimonies as well as interviews with ex-members that included victims. He also obtained notes from ex-members which were used in the "bible study", as instructions in the 30 lessons were conventionally called within the sect.
Initiates into the sect are initially approached by being invited into an "activity circle", i.e., sports or music clubs in school; the inductees learn only later when taken to "bible study" that religion constitutes part of the "circle" activity. In this manner, Providence forms non-religious organisations for the purpose of attracting young people without initially revealing the religious nature of the group or their real motives, a practice ruled "fraudulent" under law by the Japanese Supreme Court.
Outside of Korea
Christian Gospel Mission is proselytizing under different names in different regions. Providence or Providence Church in Europe and the US, Setsuri (摂理, Japanese for "providence") in Japan, the Bright Moon Church, the Morning Star Church, and Jesus Morning Star (JMS). Each church branch that follows Jung's teaching keeps its own name (e.g. Nak-seong-dae Church, Seoul Church, etc.).
Providence began operating in Australia during 1997. Members of Providence have reported to been actively recruiting for new members at the Australian National University. On April 9, 2014, the Australian government-funded television network Special Broadcasting Service reported on their activities in Australia, including statements by former members that they sought young attractive women. Providence refused numerous requests for a spokesperson to be interviewed for the program in Australia and Korea. The organization's Chief of External Affairs denied in writing to answer specific questions about the group's Australian activities; however, he did disclose that it had charitable status for tax purposes.
In May 2016, Australian magazine Crikey revealed that an Australian Taxation Office (ATO) employee had been whitewashing the Wikipedia article on Providence. Operating from a work computer since August 2015, the lawyer had removed negative press coverage from the article and inserted glowing praise of Jung, while casting doubt on Jung's prison conviction. The woman, who denied it at first, eventually admitted that she had made the edits. The ATO's Fraud Prevention and Internal Investigations Unit declined to take any action.
Providence has been reported about in Hong Kong, known as The Bright Moon Church there (月明教會). In October 2006 a former member told Oriental Daily News that it has about 100 core members in Hong Kong, including many medical graduates and some assistant professors. Though it has been in Hong Kong for years, its slow development kept it fairly unknown until its media exposure. Providence temporarily created an organization to run various community activities, known as the United Culture and Arts Network (UCAN).
Providence became active in Japan around 1985 or 1987. In 2006 the national newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that Providence is "causing serious social problems in Japan", labeling it as a "cult" and "sect". It also reported that the organization was pressuring members to live together, make regular donations, marry within the organization, and follow the strict guidance of its founder.
The group's church usually consisted of a single apartment room, where their religious studies occurred. Sometimes the church was where some of the faithful cohabitated. There were some 40 such churches across Japanese cities as of 2006. Members as students working part-time jobs were expected to contribute a minimum of ¥1,000 at weekly church service, and as full-salaried wage-earners, monthly tithes and bonus-time donations. Believers were instructed to live frugally on cheap food and never indulge in alcohol. They were forbidden from dating, but at a suitable time married within the group in mass ceremonies. Although the Supreme Court of Japan in 1996 ruled mass weddings performed by the Unification Church were invalid, more than 300 Japanese members of Providence were wed in six mass ceremonies held between 1996 and 2006 modeled on the Unification Church. While being wanted on rape charges, Jung at a July 2003 mass wedding urged the couples via a big-screen Internet connection to have babies to increase the number of Providence members.
Police raided eight Providence facilities in Chiba on suspicion a senior member illegally obtained residence status. They also searched a facility in the city's Chuo Ward. The senior member, a Korean, was arrested for overstaying her visa. It was learned that Providence recruited "high class, high income" men and selected women for "style and looks".
It has been said that over 100 women have fallen victim of Jung's sexual transgressions in Japan alone.
The New Zealand Herald reported that Providence is recruiting young women in universities, shopping centres and churches. The University of Auckland issued a warning to student groups, and a parent support group for those whose children have been recruited or impacted was established. The Presbyterian Church of Auckland stated that its members are also being targeted. A 22-year-old University of Auckland student said that while a member she participated in photoshoots, fashion shows, and a Bible study course which introduced Jeong as the new messiah. A Providence leader was approached for comment, but failed to turn up to a meeting with Herald staff.
Providence's earliest activity in Taiwan was in 1988. It is commonly known as Jesus Morning Star Church (JMS), (Chinese: 晨星會; Hanyu Pinyin: chéngxīng huì; Tongyong Pinyin: chéeng sīn hùei; literally: 'Jesus Morning Star Church', 攝理教 or 攝禮教 (shè lǐ jìao)). Providence itself rejects these common names, officially registered as 中華基督教新時代青年會 (China Christian Youth Association, CCYA), and sometimes calls itself 攝理教會 (Providence Church).
In November 2001 the Taiwanese version of Next Magazine published the article "Korean cult leader raped over one hundred Taiwanese female college students". Allegedly involved National Taiwan University, Fu Jen Catholic University, and National Chengchi University all denied the report, stated that there were no cult activities in their campuses at the time. NCCU acknowledged that there had been such activities many years ago. There had been similar reports in 1997. Taiwanese authorities investigated Jung for raping women, but he fled the country. Members of EXODUS soon came to Taiwan and held a press conference with an involved woman.
In October 2005 Apple Daily reported that many student clubs in National Central University and other campuses are recruiting for Providence Church. These clubs hold a wide variety of activities including the "Eagle Cup" soccer tournament in Taipei city and regular model training. The paper quoted an undisclosed former church member, that the church's "modeling department" is in fact a channel of recruiting sexual partners for Jung. The paper obtained three audio recordings of dialogs of some female members, which say that Jung have had sex with ten female members by mutual consent, most of them college students from the modeling department.