from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993, page 5. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
Cults Gaining Ground in Eastern Europe, Former USSR
Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, sects from both West and East are experiencing varying rates of success in their ongoing efforts to proselytize the nations that once made up the Soviet Union and its satellites.
"It seems that the cults come in waves," wrote Levi Romo, an evangelical church-planting missionary in Kiev, Ukraine, in a November 1992 letter to the Christian Research Institute. "In April the Moonies, in May the Mormons, in the summer the New Agers, then the Krishnas, [and then] Osho [Rajneesh].... They were pumping all his books now in Russian. TV is a big tool, and inexpensive."
In May of 1992 the Christian Research Institute conducted an informal survey of more than one hundred pastors and Christian workers from across the former Soviet Union (now the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS) to gauge their perceptions of newly arrived religious movements. When asked, "Which of the sects are creating the greatest problems?" 61 percent of respondents mentioned Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), 35 percent ISKCON (the Hare Krishna movement), and 9 percent the Mormons -- along with a host of other sects and movements ranging from Baha'i to Ukraine's "White Brotherhood." Their responses seem to confirm data from other sources on the relative strengths of the various cults now working in the region.
Jehovah's Witnesses -- The January 1, 1993 Watchtower magazine asks, "Are Jehovah's people making good use of their newfound freedom? Note...the increases for Bulgaria, Romania, and the former Soviet Union in Eastern Europe....During the past European summer, conventions of Jehovah's people held in formerly Communist lands have had astounding attendances. Even more amazing are the numbers being baptized in those lands...."
Indeed, the most recent Watch Tower Society statistics show over 177,000 active Witnesses in eleven former East Bloc nations at the end of 1992. In the former Soviet Union alone, the total number of JWs exceeds 66,000. The Watch Tower further claims to have increased its "Kingdom Publishers" by 35 percent, doubled the number of "home Bible studies," and tripled the placement of brochures and booklets in former Soviet republics from 1991 to 1992 -- with "an amazing 311-percent increase" in newly baptized disciples and a 28.2 percent overall gain in members.
Other nations where the sect is spreading rapidly include Poland (40,510 members), the former Czechoslovakia (25,435), and Romania (24,752) -- which registered 21 percent membership growth in 1992 alone. Watchtower magazines are accompanied by practical assistance; last winter "some 400 tons of foodstuffs and a large amount of clothing for men, women, and children" were "distributed to practically all parts of the former Soviet Union's territory."
ISKCON -- In an article entitled "Maha-Mantra Rocks Moscow," the November/December 1992 issue of the cult's official Back to Godhead magazine boasted that "more than 35,000 people packed Moscow's Olympic Stadium in mid-July for a Hare Krsna music festival, the climax of a week-long tour that had thousands chanting and dancing in St. Petersburg, Riga, and Kiev." Pop singer Boy George headed the Moscow bill, singing "My Sweet Lord" and "Bow Down Mister" and leading the crowd in the familiar Hare Krishna chant, or "maha-mantra." "Hare Krsna leaders in Moscow say there are 15,000 dedicated Hare Krsna people in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltics. Millions more study Krsna conscious books at home. Since 1990, devotees have sold more than five million books in Russian."
Mormonism -- Early Mormon gains in Eastern Europe appear less spectacular than those claimed by other groups. Membership figures released in December 1992 show roughly 2,600 Latter-day Saints in seven Eastern European nations as of December 1991, with fewer than one hundred members each in eight other countries. The sect has won its largest share of converts in Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. While rumors of 20,000 Mormon missionaries assigned to Romania have circulated, the JOURNAL estimates that there are no more than 600--800 full-time missionaries operating in the region's six LDS missions.
Unification Church -- Despite much expensive effort, it appears that the cult of Sun Myung Moon has yet to make the headway it desires in the former USSR. The September 25, 1992 Moscow Times reports that "unlike most groups...the Moon missionaries do not offer leaflets at metro stations -- they offer holidays. Under the guise of International Leadership Seminars, the Unification Church provides leisure weeks at resorts just outside Moscow, in the Baltics and even in the Crimea, for just 100 to 400 rubles" (about U.S. $1 to $4). (According to Newsweek, the sect recently has "entertained some 5,000 educators at a Black Sea Resort.") However, the Times surmises that a majority attend for a cheap vacation and simply ignore the Moonies' message. "This may explain the low success rate of the Unification Church in the former Soviet Union. Church preacher Jack Corley claims that 20,000 Russians attended the trips this summer, but last Sunday only 150 showed up to hear one of Corley's sermons. After two years of preaching and offering seminars, the Unification Church has 400 active members in the former Soviet Union, Corley said." Still, the Times reports, in August of 1992 "50 Russians took part in a mass marriage ceremony conducted by Reverend Moon in Seoul."
Evangelical Concerns -- Widespread Christian evangelism has produced a bumper crop of targets for cultic conversion, according to CRI's survey respondents, who expressed dismay toward the methods and effects of cultic proselytizing in their regions. A pastor from Russia wrote that JW recruiters "secretly attend our evangelistic meetings and, like wolves in sheep's clothing, they become acquainted with new converts and go to their homes." Said a Latvian evangelist of the JWs and Mormons: "Once they have found out about a person's conversion, they come to their home for tea and there at the table they convince people that they haven't converted to the right thing and after their discussion it is difficult to work with the new converts....They often visit large evangelistic meetings, and after people convert they work their way into these peoples' confidence and convince them to join their own sect."
"Worried Parents" -- Evangelicals aren't the only ones concerned about the wave of unconventional religions. In an October 1992 article entitled "Worried Parents Raise Alarm," the English-language Budapest newspaper Daily News reported that "Hare Krishna, Moon, Scientology and other sects deviating from organized society are gaining ground in Hungary. According to the latest figures, their members may total around 10,000. For a while the public gave little attention to their activities, but now worried parents whose children have come under the absorbing influence of certain sects are raising the alarm. At a conference organized by a parents' action group the authorities have been called upon to take legal action against the more dubious communities." One Hungarian observer noted that, as a "registered denomination," ISKCON has "received financial support of more than one million forints from the public purse," adding: "It's quite obvious that Hare Krishna, the Moon sect and others are increasing their efforts in this region because they find a low level of information and inexperienced authorities."
One More End-Time Scare Ends with a Whimper
OCTOBER 28, 1992
JESUS IS COMING IN THE AIR
So read a full-page ad in the October 20, 1991 USA Today -- one of many warnings financed by the frantic followers of yet another modern movement based on prophetic speculation. One fearful sect predicted that beginning on October 28, "50 million people will die in earthquakes, 50 million in traffic accidents, 50 million from fire, 50 million from collapsed buildings, 1.4 billion from World War III and 1.4 billion from a separate Armageddon" (EP News Service, 9 Oct. 1992).
The source of the hysteria was the worldwide Hyoo-go ("Rapture") or Jong Mal Ron ("end-time theory") movement, a loose collection of Korean sects mixing fanaticism, mysticism, and apocalyptic zeal. According to former adherent John Kim, the movement started in 1987 with the publication of Getting Close to the End, a book in which Korean author Jang Rim Lee claimed that the Rapture would take place on October 28, 1992. Lee was an associate minister at a conventional Protestant church who had interviewed Korean children and adults claiming to have had visions of a 1992 Rapture. Some who had been excommunicated from their churches because of such visions asked Lee to start a church, so he founded the Dami (or "Tami") Mission -- known in the U.S. as the Mission for the Coming Days (MCD) -- the largest of the Hyoo-go sects.
Other Hyoo-go churches included the Taberah World Mission of boy prophet Bang Ik Ha, the COC Mission, Shalom, Sung Hwa, and the Maranatha Mission. Press estimates of the movement's size have placed its active, worldwide following at between 20,000 and 100,000.
Disaffected Hyoo-go adherents and other critics have charged various leaders in the movement with promoting false doctrine and false prophecies, and with using mind control, physical abuse, and fraud. Maranatha Mission members pray aloud nightly until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., their voices becoming so hoarse that some begin to spit blood (said to be a sign of being purged from uncleanness or sins). In September one Maranatha member died of starvation after a 40-day fast. In some cases, Hyoo-go adherents were persuaded to turn over their savings and possessions to their spiritual leaders.
As the predicted doomsday drew near, the Hyoo-go adherents provoked social upheaval in Korea. According to press reports, in the northern city of Wonju members of one sect burned their furniture and donned white clothing to await the Rapture, and over 5,000 followers left their jobs in Seoul. At least four suicides and several abortions were linked with the movement -- the latter because some women were afraid of being "too heavy" to be caught up to heaven. Numerous secondary and elementary school students abandoned classes. Parents and families of the movement's followers feared that if the Rapture did not take place as predicted there would be a mass suicide.
Finally, on October 28 about 1,000 "faithfuls" assembled in the Dami Mission's church in Seoul to await the Rapture. Some 1,500 police officers and 200 detectives were posted outside and inside the church in case anyone became violent or attempted suicide. Yet when the appointed hour passed uneventfully, many of the people simply wept. Said one devastated member: "God lied to us."
Its credibility destroyed, the Dami Mission disbanded and formally apologized for its false prediction. Its leader, Jang Rim Lee, was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud and illegal possession of foreign currency. Korean police said that he had over $4 million in followers' money and had invested some of the funds in bonds maturing in May 1993.
Nevertheless, the movement lives on elsewhere, as other Hyoo-go churches continue to warn of impending doom, although no new dates have been set. When the JOURNAL asked Taberah World Mission spokeswoman Diane Kim how she could justify Bang Ik Ha's false prophecies, she said that although the Lord is delaying His coming in order to "test" them, no one must question Bang Ik Ha.
About the Author
Oropeza is a Research Assistant at Christian Research Institute.
Longtime Watch Tower President Dies
Frederick W. Franz, president of the worldwide Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, died at age 99 on December 22, 1992.
Franz had been a minister in the Jehovah's Witness movement since 1913 and its top officer since 1977. According to Watch Tower spokesman Robert Johnson, Franz was the last remaining member of the sect's hierarchy to have personally associated and worked with the movement's founder, Charles Taze Russell. He had no survivors. Franz was replaced as Watch Tower president on December 30 by Milton G. Henschel, 72, a third-generation Witness who had been one of the Society's vice presidents since 1977. Both Franz and Henschel are said to be among the anonymous five-member committee that produced the Society's controversial Bible version, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
In his various leadership roles, Franz guided the Witness movement through many moments of controversy, including a failed 1975 prediction of the end of the world as we know it and the defection of key Witnesses at the Society's headquarters in the spring of 1980 (one of whom was Raymond Franz, his nephew and fellow governing body member).
An assessment of Franz's impact on the Witness movement, along with expert forecasts on the cult's future, will appear in the Spring 1993 issue of the JOURNAL.
End of document, CRJ0122A.TXT (original CRI file name),
release A, June 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
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