A suspected Korean cult is targeting K-pop fans in London and across Europe
Many a joke has been made about the cult-like nature of K-pop fandom but now it appears an actual cult may be targeting K-pop fans.
A couple of days ago someone sent me a message on Facebook asking if they could post about an event they were involved. After a quick look, I agreed thinking it looked like any other of these harmless Korean culture events that take place a few times a year. But as I looked at it more closely,it became a little suspicious. “That thing I just posted looks bit cult-y” I joked to Sasha.
The event, called Korea Camp, lasts for three days and is being held in London. It features all the hallmarks of one of the kinds of activity days that organisations like the KCC and the KTO often hold with old favourites like K-pop, Korean food, Korean culture classes and a “mind lecture”?
The name struck me as peculiar in its lack in any actual meaning.
International Youth Fellowship.
At first glance, it’s a vaguely religious but harmless sounding NGO that according to its website is “dedicated to the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth of young people around the world.”
It’s also appears to be a front organisation for a group many people consider to be a cult.
The founder of International Youth Fellowship who, according to their US website, wants to give young people “deeper, multidimensional views of the world and clean hearts before God in order to become leaders of the next generation” is also the leader of a church, or “mission organisation” as it sometimes refers to itself, called Good News Mission.
Park Ok-soo started Good News Mission in 1976 after receiving missionary training from an American pastor called Dick York. It’s this part of his history that links Good News Mission to two other Korean sects Life Word Mission and the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea – notable as the group founded by Yoo Byoung-eon, the man believed to have owned the Sewol ferry and had faced various accusations of embezzlement and fraud even spending four years in prison before his death.
Together the 3 factions are commonly referred to in Korea as Gu-Won-Pa, the Salvation Sect or the Saviourist for their shared ideology which focusses on an extreme interpretation of the Evangelical conceptualisation of salvation, although they are completely separate groups. While Evangelicals and Baptists generally believe being “born again” is central to finding salvation from damnation as part of their wider belief system, if you read Park Ock-soo’s writing, Good News Mission seem to solely focus salvation at the expense of all else. He also repeatedly infers that he knows the only right way to god.
“Sadly, many churches in Korea today do not teach about repentance Biblically and precisely. They simply tell people to confess their sins. “God, I have committed such and such sin. Forgive me.” This is how people live their spiritual life. They repent and they sin; they repent again and sin again. No matter how much they repent–even if they do it a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand times–they are still unable to depart from sin.”
– Park Ock-soo, “Repentance and Faith”
Any religious group that constantly emphasises that its is the only true path (particularly while attacking others) should raise a red flag but it’s not just that. It has been condemned as heretical by all the major Protestant denominations in Korea (and anyone who knows much about Korean Christianity knows if these guys are saying something is extreme, it’s time to worry.)
Although finding information about Good News Mission on the internet takes some digging there are accounts that indicate they use tactics like controlling members’ behaviour through things like sleep deprivation and lowering their self-worth through constant negative feedback – after having shown initial intense attention towards that person (referred to by cult experts as “love bombing”). Here’s one former member’s experience:
” I would like to state that this cult is some respect more dangerous than the Moonies or Jehoviah Witness [sic], because they do rely on the Bible and there are some truth to the things they teach. However they often do speak out of context from the true meaning of the Bible and use cleverly phrases like “break your heart”, “change your heart”, “or that you are evil”. Basicly these words are used to make the victim feel guilty and destroyed so that they are left in a weak state where they have no choice but to accept what the pastor says. IN GNM whatever the pastor says comes direc.tly from God so disagreeing with them and they will immediately starting attacking you and claim that “you haven’t received salvation”, just because you happen to disagree.”
According to some, they also seem to try to isolate members from family and friends – at least if this blogger’s experience of leaving the church and trying to contact people still inside is anything to go by.
Arguably the thing that most marks Good News Mission 0ut as a questionable organisation is the fact the leader is held up as “closer to God” than anyone else. He’s even been quoted as saying he met Jesus. Anyone who has read the New Testament (and I grew up a good Catholic girl – that one didn’t last – so I have) knows the overarching theme is that there is God, and that includes Jesus, and then there are (sinful) people. Humility is also one of the biggest themes of Jesus’ speech in the gospels. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”, as they say. So any Christian-based religion that holds up one person’s interpretations of Christian doctrine as more valid and more important than anything else should cause a major red flag. That pretty fundamentally goes against the basic universal values of mainstream Christianity and should make you seriously question the goodness of their intentions.
And just in case you’re still on the fence about the leadership of this group, it’s worth noting Park Ock-soo also claims to have met Jesus.
But maybe you’re still thinking, “So what? Okay, maybe they have some slightly questionable ideas but I just want to meet new people and do Korean things. I don’t have to join their religion.” “It’s not bad just because the person running it is a pastor and anyway I’m Hindu” to paraphrase the discussion I had with the person who initially asked us to publicise this event. And yes maybe you will go to this, meet some new people and all will be just fine. But be aware that this organisation may be primarily set up to draw people in.
The New York Times published an article in 2012 about the International Youth Fellowship’s “English Camps” where American students are brought in to teach English in South America… but end up getting preached at instead.
In fact, they said, the volunteer teaching was tucked into a much different and larger agenda centered on the religious theories of Ock Soo Park, a Korean preacher and founder of Good News Corps, the sponsor of the “English Camp.” Mr. Park also founded the Good News Mission, which its Web site says consists of 300 churches in Korea and 120 churches in 43 other countries, and Mahanaim, a theology and music school in Huntington, N.Y.
Speaking in Korean, Mr. Park delivered talks that often ran two hours or more, to a group of 1,600 people, about 400 of whom were connected with the camp and had traveled from as far as Alaska to volunteer. Associates gave supplementary “Mind Lectures” on biblical passages as interpreted by Mr. Park, who asserts that the human heart is lodged with “filth and evil.”
Security guards at the doors to the ballroom of the hotel, the Intercontinental in Dallas, discouraged anyone tempted to skip out, Mr. Scherer, 18, said. Volunteers who turned up late for 6 a.m. sessions of calisthenics and group massage were ordered to perform squat thrust exercises, said Seda Oral, a junior at Hunter. Those who skipped sessions were tracked down by teachers and ordered to explain their absences.
Every indication is that this group is involved in recruiting young people into a religion classified by many as a cult. The fact these Korea Camps look so like similar events held by government-backed organisations like the KCC and KTO only make it scarier. There are a lot of young and potentially vulnerable people in the K-pop fandom so it’s important to have all the information.