Newly elected United States Congressman Hank Johnson from Georgia’s 4th District is being touted as ”one of the first Buddhists ever elected to Congress” by Religion News Service. 

Rep. Hank JohnsonHowever, Johnson is actually a member of a very controversial fringe group of that religion called Soka Gakkai International (SGI), which has often been called a “cult.”

The 52-year-old Democratic House of Representatives member has reportedly been a member of the group for 30 years.

SGI is essentially a totalitarian organization ruled by its perpetual leader Daisaku Ikeda, a wealthy and powerful Japanese businessman who also largely runs the often equally controversial New Komeito political party in Japan.

The Japanese press has repeatedly questioned the loyalties of New Komeito and if the political party is truly independent of SGI and/or Ikeda’s interests.

Will SGI and Ikeda’s interests affect the new congressman from Georgia?

Soka Gakkai launched a university in California that soon came under fire regarding the way religion took precedence over education. Some prominent faculty members ultimately left claiming that it was virtually impossible to maintain academic integrity within the SGI campus.

Will SGI’s political influence now travel from Tokyo to Capital Hill?

SGI, much like Scientology, has also exerted cultural influence through celebrity boosters like Tina Turner, Patrick Duffy and most recently Orlando Bloom.

Scientology also once exercised some political influence through a congressman. California Republican Sonny Bono helped the church concerning issues such as copyright protection and its human rights claims.

What would Congressman Hank Johnson be willing to do for SGI?

Religion News Service reported that “fellow Buddhists viewed Soka Gakkai skeptically when it took root in America in the 1960s and ’70s” because it ”seemed to be peddling a kind of ‘prosperity dharma’…chanting a phrase was presumed to lead to material benefits.”

Well, nothing much has changed since then. 

SGI still teaches that chanting can pave the way to success and Ikeda remains its dominate figure man and source of influence, much like Rev. Moon is for his Unification Church.

Japanese voters have historically been wary of the sect “because of its history of aggressive proselytizing, its reverence for the sect’s leader, Daisaku Ikeda” as reported by the Washington Post.

Daisaku IkedaPerhaps American voters should be wary too.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times  Daisaku Ikeda, the driving personality behind SGI, “has been condemned and praised as a devil and an angel, a Hitler and a Gandhi, a despot and a democrat.”

The newspaper questioned whether he is a “crusader or corrupter.”

Considering the controversy and concern surrounding SGI and Ikeda why hasn’t there been more probing in-depth reporting about the group and its supporters in positions of power within the US?

In a recent column Billy Graham may have explained this.

A reader asked Rev. Graham, “Are cults still popular? It seems like we used to hear about them a lot more than we do today. Are people more on guard against them than they used to be, or is there some other explanation?”

The evangelist answered, “One reason we may not hear as much about cults today is because many people are now reluctant to label anything as ‘wrong’ or ‘unacceptable’ — even extreme new religious ideas or practices.”

What Billy Graham seems to be saying is that there are those that believe it is “politically incorrect” to use the word ”cult” and that criticism of such groups is often labeled “persecution” and/or ”bigotry.” 

But as Graham told his reader, “this overlooks the emotional and social harm that cults often inflict on those who follow them.” 

Billy Graham also cited the one salient and defining feature that critics of destructive cults most often agree upon, whether they come at the subject from a sociological, psychological or religious perspective.

“One characteristic of many cults is that they are led by a strong leader who demands total and absolute obedience from his followers,” Graham said.

Rep. Johnson’s constituents might just want to consider what “obedience” SGI and Ikeda may expect from the newly elected congressman.