By Mallory Miller
Austin, Texas — Sophomore college student Sabrina Smith was recruited at University of Texas to join a Korean Christian group often called a “cult” under the impression it was just an innocent bible study. Stephanie Hsu, a member of the group, ‘Jesus Morning Star,’ grabbed Smith’s attention as she was walking across campus to class in April 2013. Hsu asked her if she’d be interested in doing a one-on-one bible study.
“I was already a part of a group bible study, but I thought it would be cool to learn the bible more closely one-on-one,” said Smith. “She got my information, emailed me and then we got started.”
Smith, who joined the bible study in April 2013, was simply trying to find a new way to seek God. However, she quit five months later after discovering she was being indoctrinated to believe that ex-fugitive criminal Jeong Myung-seok (aka Joshua Jung, Joshua Lee and Pastor Joshua), who’s also portrayed in the media as “heaven’s rapist,” is the second living messiah on Earth.
Jeong Myeong-seok is the founder of Jesus Morning Star religious organization, also known as Global Association of Culture and Peace, JMS, Setsuri, the Bright Smile Movement, and Providence Gospel. His followers call him “Seonseng Nim,” the Korean word for “teacher.” Jesus Morning Star has spread globally, predominantly through university recruitment at campuses such as the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Osaka University, and National Taiwan University. There are 240 branches of the church in Korea alone with over 150,000 followers.
Myeong-seok, a former member of the Unification Church founded by now deceased Rev. Sun Myung Moon, started the JMS group in the 1970s based upon some of the teachings of the Unification Church, such as its purification rituals. However, in JMS the purification rituals require women to have sex with the “second messiah,” whom Myeong-seok claims to be, in order to enter heaven and to purify themselves from the original sin which cast Eve out from the Garden of Paradise
“They don’t make those teachings public of course, but the signs are all there,” said Peter Daley, a cult watcher, who spends time spreading awareness about JMS and other controversial Asian groups called “cults” through the Internet.
Myeong-seok was officially charged with rape in 2001, after leaving South Korea in 1999. He left South Korea after it was broadcast on national television that he had committed the crime of rape. This was also reported by newspapers in Asia. He was arrested in Hong Kong in 2003, but fled again after an extradition hearing. Myeong-seok was finally caught and jailed with a 10-year sentence in February 2009. He is still serving his sentence currently in South Korea. Since his arrest was publicized more than 100 women have claimed they were raped or sexually abused by Myeong-seok during purification rituals.
JMS was particularly mindful of the way they lured Smith into the bible study. They started it out by teaching her interpretations of parables in the bible.
“It was something I was used to because I am a member of a Christian nondenominational church,” said Smith. “Each bible lesson was really insightful. They explained parables with logical interpretations.”
In Texas as Sabrina Smith advanced deeper into the bible study, her JMS teacher Stephanie Hsu discretely introduced the JMS peculiar practices to Smith. She convinced Smith to wake up to pray and listen to proverbs written by Myeong-seok every morning at 4:00 AM, referred to as the “spiritual hour.” Hsu also used guilt as a tool to get Smith to follow JMS. According to Smith, Hsu would say things like, “God will not listen to you if you don’t pray at this hour.”
Smith did wake up and pray as Hsu instructed, but she didn’t stay with the practice long because “towards the end it all started getting really fishy,” she said.
There were indicators that convinced Smith that JMS was a “cult” organization. Hsu instructed Smith that she must keep the early Morning Prayer practice a secret. Hsu invited Smith to model in JMS fashion shows, also telling the young woman that she could write personal letters to their “teacher” and offered to bring Smith to Asia as long as she didn’t tell her parents.
Smith’s gut instinct told her something wasn’t right, so she began to research on the organization. Soon she came across Daley’s website jmscult.com and contacted him for more information about the cult. Shortly after finding that site, she told Hsu she would not continue the bible study.
Daley recalled his first introduction to the JMS cult when he was living in South Korea. One of his friends invited him to go hiking in Wolmyong Dong, the “spiritual” base of the JMS cult.
Daley accepted the invitation only to find himself stuck at an all-night festival at Wolmyong Dong.
“I remember being struck by the fact that well over 80 percent of the 2,000 strong crowd were female university students,” said Daley. “Furthermore, the leader’s brother was constantly surrounded by an entourage of women that looked like they had just stepped out of a fashion magazine.”
Followers at the festival asked Daley throughout the night if he was studying the bible and if he knew “Seonseng Nim.” Daley, assuming this character would be present at the festival, asked around to get more information about him. He received replies like “he’s evangelizing in America” and “God called him to preach to the world and he’s in Asia spreading the Gospel.”
“The Beatlemania-like response from all those young girls and models when the face of the absent Jeong was shown on a giant screen at 1:00 AM was proof enough to me that this was at the very least some kind of personality cult,” said Daley.
Many followers to this day refuse to admit Myeong-seok committed the crimes he is in jail for or try to somehow justify his conviction and incarceration.
“Jesus was persecuted too,” said Karen Liu, a current member of the JMS cult who has been seen recruiting at Santa Clara University campus.
“If Jeong isn’t a serial rapist who is using religion as a tool and cloak to rape, then he sure created an organization that makes him look like one,” says Peter Daley.
With Myeong-seok in jail, female members are safe for now from potential rape by “the teacher;” however, “the emotional damage involvement in such a high-pressure group even for a short time should not be ignored or underestimated,” Daley said.
Update: SBS2 Australia recently broadcast a report about the Jeong group featuring former members, which is now online at YouTube.