A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes – Mark Twain

The Crusades. The Thirty Years War. Endless bloodshed and violence over conflicting religious views have endured thousands of years, between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Muslims. While in the past such conflicts were resolved with swords and guns, how are such wars carried out today in the modern world? Through argumentative and slanderous posts online, infighting between denominations of the Christian religion permeate social media, such as Reddit and Instagram. People often share their opinions and interpretations freely on these platforms leading to discussions and arguments regarding what is the “true” interpretation and how to carry out their beliefs. Despite disagreements, such conversations eventually resolve themselves as individuals come to the conclusions to either respect the other’s perspective or simply ignore further responses. However, these interactions are capable of escalating to conflicts between family members and friends, splitting up spouses and damaging familial relations.

Particularly in South Korea, conflicts between Christian denominations resulted in the violent and unethical methods of deprogramming, which utilizes psychotherapy and confrontation to motivate and encourage the individual to follow a different teaching. Yet, such practices are considered a crime in countries like the United States, Europe, and Japan, and individuals accused of enforcing deprogramming were then sentenced and jailed. Pastors of the Christian Counsel of Korea (CCK) and their “cult counselors” promote deprogramming in the form of coercive conversion under the guise that their efforts are “saving” believers from a cult. By their own standards, they judge other denominations and religions claiming their “cult counseling” is reversing brainwashing in believers, yet if these methods are deemed criminal and unethical by both the United Nations and other countries, then how can these religious leaders call their own actions “heroic”? Furthermore, the CCK pastors claim that members of Shincheonji are brainwashed without interviewing the member before abduction, they simply act on the assumption that is a person is a member then they are immediately classified as having lost their free will. Risking a person’s mental and physical health on the basis of an assumption plainly reveals the deprogrammer businesses true intention of persecuting for the purpose of gaining popularity and power and not bettering the actual person.

According to LeMoult’s Law Review of Deprogramming Members of Religious Sects, deprogramming is considered a form of persecution in modern society as it involves kidnapping individuals against their own will and subject them to harsh and intense mental and physical practices until they accept the desired teachings. LeMoult equates deprogramming practices similar to how heretics were burned alive at the stake or how the punishment of crucifixion was applied to the early Christians in Rome, therefore, deprogramming is not only inhumane and barbaric but also violates the basic human right of religious freedom. The most notable origin of deprogramming originated in the 1970s with a man named Ted Patrick who targeted members of the Unification Church (Fleming). His aggressive tactics of kidnapping and holding people against their will resulted in his imprisonment as such deprogramming methods clearly violated human rights and initiated political and legal issues between political and religious leaders. However, for the Church members of Shincheonji in South Korea, they unjustly endure the slander and mistreatment of these Presbyterian pastors, who lie and encourage parents to kidnap their own children by sedating them and moving them to a remote location where they can be met by a “cult counselor” where they are then forced to endure days of mental and emotional abuse. Is this an accurate reflection of the God they serve? Will their hateful words and actions go unpunished?

In 2007 and in 2017, two members of Shincheonji, Ms. Sun Hwa-Kim and Ms. Gu Ji-in, died from the deprogramming process, yet the Christian Council of Korea justifies these deaths saying they were results of “natural causes” (HRC 41). What is “natural” about a woman being suffocated until she dies? Is it “natural” to be beaten by until the need of hospitalization? Family members are blinded by the lies advertised at Cult Seminars and Cult Counseling Offices as they are persuaded by these conversion pastors and counselors to think their daughters, sons, or spouses are in danger. To avoid legal repercussions, the deprogrammers require the family to carry out the kidnapping and confinement of their loved ones. How are these malicious deprogramming practices supported and justified in the free democratic country of South Korea?

To forcefully change the minds of their victims, these “cult counselors” and Presbyterian pastors of the CCK show false and slanderous videos and documents repeatedly until the person is forced to acknowledge the lies or continue to suffer. The term “deprogramming”  disguises the horrors of persecution against members of Shincheonji, and while it seemingly conveys a method of helping people escape cults, in reality, it violates basic human rights and gives supporting evidence of the corruption of the Christian Council of Korea. Yet its persistent existence reveals there is something wrong with the enforcement and establishment of religious freedom, if members of Shincheonji willingly choose to attend the sermons and studies then they possess the right to believe these teachings. However, disagreements and an unwillingness to accept another individual’s religious preferences make the family susceptible to the lies of the CCK as they are persuaded to view their loved one’s choice of religion as a form of “brainwashing”. Ironically, the kidnapping and forced confinement of the victim orchestrated by the pastors of the CCK and the cult counselors are not seen as manipulative as they scam families thousands of dollars to endanger their spouse of child’s life. To combat such injustice, fifteen international NGOs wrote and signed an official letter to the South Korean President, President Moon Jae-In, detailing the inhuman and manipulative practices of deprogramming that are still tolerated within the democratic country.

What purpose does deprogramming serve at the risk of committing homicide and ruining families? The CCK pastors would have the public easily accept the reason that they are rescuing people from a “cult,” but is another organization a cult simply because they disagree with the teachings? Or perhaps, is there another reason as to why these deprogrammers consistently harass and slander the members of Shincheonji? These “Cult Counseling Offices” require the families of their victims to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for the deprogramming process and often they bear the burden of blame as the CCK works hard to distance themselves from the violence when in actuality they are those pulling the puppet strings as the plan and inform these families on how to sedate and lock up their own children. Furthermore, tracking the increasing number of members registering to the Shincheonji Church, they are one of the largest growing churches, and loss of congregation members to the surrounding churches translates to loss of income thereby prompting further efforts to “deprogram” Shincheonji members for greedy monetary purposes.

Over the course of 16 years, there were 1,514 reported cases of the Church of Shincheonji victims of deprogramming (Introvigne, CENSUR), thousands traumatized yet where are those who are held responsible? A testimony of a mother, Ms. Mi-Jeong Park, reveals the manipulative influence of the CCK pastors posing as a “cult counselor” who convinced her with malicious slander toward the Shincheonji church that her son was in danger and to “free” him, they required a payment of 1-3 million KRW (770-2310 EUR). Then with careful planning, the “de-conversion business” they told Ms. Mi-Jeong Park to physically kidnap her son, assuring her they would provide assistance if needed, and confine him to a separate location. To ensure they would face legal repercussions, they required her to sign a contract confirming her willingness of their involvement and firmly told her to harden her heart against her son and to not listen to him if he begs and cries to leave, all while reassuring her that it was for his own good. Yet after her son’s successful escape attempt from his kidnappers and a heart-wrenching call to his mother asking why she would believe others rather than listening to her son, she recognized her mistake and instantly regretted her involvement. After visiting the Shincheonji Church again after the turbulent events, she realized the “cult counselors” lied to her and that “[t]hey use religion and their positions as religious leaders for the sole purpose of deceiving people and filling their pockets…They exploit the love parents have for their children” (HRWF). As agonizing as this mother’s testimony against the CCK deprogrammers is, hers is not the last as many others have suffered domestic abuse of their spouses and family who are under the deceptive influence of these “cult counselors”. With many members of Shincheonji Church crying out for justice, their image is vastly tainted by deprogrammers who continue to maintain a false image to profit off slandering and persecuting believers thereby clearly showing they are against religious freedom. How many more must suffer before justice occurs?

Deprogramming thrives off strained parent and child relationships, thereby tearing families apart leading to entire societies entrenched in anger and frustration. If the pastors of the Christian Council of Korea were truly seeking to help parents, then should they not be seeking to resolve such disputes? Instead, these pastors impersonating cult counselors plant lies within the heads of the parents and spouses feeding into the doubt and fear with gossip and slander to help justify their biased perspective rather than encouraging the parents to respect their child or spouse’s own independent religious choices. With emotions running high, victim’s family members are easily influenced by the deceptive words of these persecutors and they obey without fully questioning the legitimacy of the “business”. Utilizing the slanderous words of the CCK pastors to identify which organizations are a “cult” trains the individual to think that any religious teaching other than theirs is unacceptable, which ultimately reinforces religious intolerance. How can a democratic country and its leaders support such biased, anti-nation practices?

Concerning the law, deprogrammers often justify their own forceful actions by describing them as “the ends justify the means” because initially the kidnapping and physical and mental abuse seem inhumane, but they claim the result will give a justification for the possible trauma. The issue with these “vigilante actions” is they rely upon the deprogrammer’s own judgement rather than the law and they are run as businesses, therefore, they exploit and profit from peoples’ pain and grief while spreading malicious lies to degrade the credibility of other organizations they judge as unworthy. As the victim’s family is so heavily involved with the majority of the deprogramming process by manipulation of the CCK “cult counselors”, the victim’s ability to charge or sue the business becomes intertangled with family relations further complicating the legal process and prolonging the emotional torment. Intense psychological pressures combined with invasion of privacy contribute strongly to trust issues within the victim’s family, however the “cult counselors” merely sit on the sidelines profiting from the abuse and trauma while appearing justified. Some legislators may hesitate to involve themselves in religious affairs as interfering with peoples’ beliefs can become complex and tedious, however with over a thousand lives at risk, how can justice be withheld so easily? How do these deprogrammer businesses hold such strong influence over political figures?

Through South Korean news outlets and social media, deprogrammers have gained popularity which increases the spread of rumors and gossip about the false accusations against the members of Shincheonji. For one woman, Ms. So-yeong Jung, her husband received slander about the Shinchoenji via social media and with prior knowledge of knowing she was a member of this church, he then collaborated with deprogrammers linked to the Presbyterian Church to forcefully restrain his own wife and coerce her into the deprogramming process. Despite the betrayal of her own spouse, she struggled and attempted to escape, but her attempts were met with physical violence by her husband’s own hands, in which he hit her multiple times causing her to bleed. During her confinement period she experienced severe stomach cramps and chest pain, but he refused to bring her to the hospital and allowed her to fall dangerously in and out of conscious as she struggled to breathe. After 12 days of domestic abuse, Ms. So-yeong Jung received help from the police and the husband and mother-in-law were arrested, however, the Presbyterian pastors involved with the abuse escaped prosecution because of their indirect influence. The beginning of these events were sparked by slanderous online posts of deprogrammers yet these gossiping and lying individuals only reap the benefits of these situations. If these CCK pastors truly meant to help then they would encourage the engagement of a healthy discussion between family members to reason with the differences and accusations and allow the member of Shincheonji to speak their mind.

While modern day practices of deprogramming involve more passive methods of counseling and and psychotherapy, the Presbyterian pastors of the CCK invoke the traditional methods involving coercion and violation of human rights. The lack of concern for their victim’s health throughout the deprogramming process increases the risk and ineffectiveness of the methods as it emotionally pushes the victim further away from the family. Traditional deprogramming encourages the over extension of parental control into the child’s life Ultimately, the Christian Council of Korea utilizes their deprogramming process as a business to profit off the fear and divisions of families by defaming and slandering the Shincheonji Church. Although advertised as an “exit counseling center,” the Presbyterian pastors of the CCK run it like a business boasting that they have received 5-20 million KRW over the years and even how their “good friends” in the police force allow them to avoid being sued by parents in the past. While they claim their methods are to “free people from brainwashing,” their deceptive influence actively violates these individuals religious freedom as they are kidnapped and forced to listen to the false accusations for days until they acknowledge a teaching that is contrary to their beliefs. Despite the growing evidence against the “cult counselors” and their traditional deprogramming methods, many are still not held accountable for their actions, how much longer will injustice reign? When will the abuse and violation of human rights in the free democratic country of South Korea occur?

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