[Updated 10:40 p.m. August 19, 2012, CT Corrects Conclusion of One Anonymous Source's Confession of Faith]
U.S. and Korean evangelical leaders are rallying around Olivet University and its founder Dr. David Jang in the wake of an article published by Christianity Today (CT) which attempts to rekindle in the U.S. a decade-old Asian controversy over alleged "Second Coming Christ" beliefs regarding Jang. All of the allegations against Jang have been dismissed as false.
The Christian Council of Korea (CCK) has twice cleared Jang of having ties to the Unification Church, and two more times cleared Jang of suspicion of doubts associated with Jang and Second Coming Christ. The allegations were made by Sam Kyung Chae, a former vice chair of CCK's heresy committee who has been discredited by Korean evangelicals.
"We are shocked and appalled that Christianity Today has used this heretic's claims to attack evangelical leaders and institutions around the world," the CCK said in a statement to The Christian Post. "It doesn't make sense that Chae, who is known to fabricate cults and has been declared a heretic, is being used as a source by CT to label other organizations or individuals as a cult."
According to the CCK, Chae falsely accused evangelical leaders and churches of being cults while he was on the organization's heresy committee. Chae asked churches to contribute monthly funds to his "cult prevention research."
An investigation by Christian Today in Korea, a news media organization founded by Jang, discovered that churches were branded as a cult if they failed to pay this fee to Chae. Chae was a former leftist activist who was previously involved in Urban Industrial Mission, which ascribes to Militant Liberation Theology, according to an investigation by Christian Today in Korea.
At the center of the controversy in the U.S. is a pending decision by Lifeway Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, on whether or not to make final an offer to Olivet University to purchase the 2,100-acre Glorieta Conference Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The sale of the property is contingent on a review of "theological compatibility" between Lifeway and Olivet. During this current review, Christianity Today reported on an alleged "Second Coming Christ" controversy surrounding Olivet University and its founder Jang.
CT makes the case in its article that while Jang has become "an increasingly influential figure in Asian and now American evangelicalism," some individuals allege that there are people associated with the "Olivet movement" who believe that Jang is the "Second Coming Christ," 再臨主, a specific heretical term associated with the Unification Church, which asserts that Christ's death on the cross was a failure and there is need of a "Second Coming Christ" to finish the work Jesus began. The Christian Post is among the groups implicated in the allegation because of its connection to Olivet University, rather than directly to Jang himself. Students from Olivet University, as well as Christian students from University of California, Berkeley, and several other universities in California, had founded CP.
In response, Olivet leaders and other evangelical organizations named in the article have denied the allegations and raised questions about the credibility of the sources.
Dr. William Wagner – president and chancellor of Olivet University, a former Southern Baptist missionary for over 30 years, and chairman of The Christian Post – said:
"When I was first asked to come to Olivet University, I made a rather extensive study concerning the theological validity of the university. I read all the articles on the internet at that time that were critical of Olivet University. I even took a trip to Hong Kong to appear before an investigative committee. I wanted to be certain that I would not be associated with a cult or a university that had a false theology. After my extensive study, I am thoroughly convinced that the purpose of Olivet University was to win the world to Christ, that they were missional, they were evangelical and they had a very deep love for Jesus Christ who is the Lord. Because of my conviction I had felt good over the years of being a leader at Olivet University and working together with other groups related to Olivet University."
Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, the CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, issued the following statement:
"I want to state unreservedly after almost seven years of working with Olivet University as one of our members that I fully support their evangelical orthodoxy. In addition, I want to affirm Dr. David Jang's theological orthodoxy. I have spent many hours over the last number of years with Dr. Jang discussing theology. There has never been a doubt in my mind of his deep commitment to Christ and his evangelical understanding of the scriptures."
The Rev. Dr. Paul de Vries – president of New York Divinity School, senior pastor of Immanuel Community Church in New York, and a member of Olivet University faculty – remarked:
"Some people have confused David Jang for Sun Myung Moon and have said that he claims to be the Second Coming of Jesus. Perhaps all Koreans look alike to some people – but that is pathetic jingoism, not good journalism! Why is Rev. Ken Smith [a blogger hired by Christianity Today to co-author the story] so drawn to propagate such ignorance?"
Dr. Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and executive editor of CP, said in response to CT's article:
"Upon meeting with Christian Post leaders I found them to be earnest, sincere followers of Christ who were interested in using new media to reach a new generation with the Gospel. And during the months of relationship with The Christian Post, I had nothing but positive experiences that confirmed their Christian and evangelistic Great Commission emphasis."
Land went on to address CP's close relationship with Southern Baptist leaders, several of which are senior advisors and columnists, by saying: "It would be odd for The Christian Post to be a significant news organization in North America and not be involved with the largest Protestant denomination in the United States – the Southern Baptist Convention. That would be an odd strategy indeed."
Sources Cited By Christianity Today Widely Discredited in Asia
Evangelical leaders and officials asserted that notably missing from the CT article is publicly accessible information that calls into question the sources' testimonies, including their ties to a notorious cult, heresy beliefs, political and market share motivations, and a refutation of a key source's allegations by a family member.
'Everything She Testified Was a Lie'
CT's article cites as a main support the claims of a woman named Ma Li as a "former member" of the Olivet movement in China, claiming she was taught to believe that David Jang is the "Second Coming Christ."
YD spokesperson Rachel Cheung responded to Ma's claims in a statement to The Christian Post, calling her account an "outright lie." During an investigation of YD by a Hong Kong-based Enquiry Committee, Ma claimed that she was a former member of YD and that she and other YD members were taught to believe that Jesus failed, the cross was a failure, and that Jang is the "Second Coming Christ" who would complete Jesus' mission. In response to her testimony, her ex-husband Shuang Hao Yang spoke out at the time saying, "everything she testified was a lie."
In Yang's testimony, he pointed out that Ma lied about being a member of YD. "I am certain that she was not a YD China member," Yang said. The Christian Post also confirmed with YD that Ma was never a member of the fellowship. Based on his knowledge, what her house church in Shanghai taught Ma did not support the testimony that she gave in the press conference coordinated by the Enquiry Committee in Hong Kong. "I have been to her house church. There was no such teaching that referred to someone as 'the second coming Christ,'" said Yang. "[That] church taught me that we sinful people can only be cleansed through the redemption of the cross of Jesus, so that we come before God. How can we say the cross is a failure then?"
According to Cheung, Ma was coaxed into testifying against YD by Tze Chung Yeung, a former key member of a cult group in China called Zion Church, whose members drink hydrogen peroxide as a way to cleanse their sins. Yeung, who formerly served as a bodyguard to the sect's religious leader, approached Ma while she was attending a house church in Shanghai, according to YD.
Cheung said that Yeung convinced Ma to give false testimony against the Young Disciples by saying she was formerly a member, and that the fellowship was similar to the Unification Church. In his testimony, Yang said it appeared that Ma was bitter about her house church and was acting out of unresolved "hatred." The YD spokesperson also pointed out that Yeung lifted his accusations from those made by a Japanese blogger named Yamaya Makoto who runs a blog critical of Jang. Many of Yamaya's materials are translated into Chinese on Yeung's blog.
According to several testimonies by YD members in Hong Kong and China, Yeung went to great lengths to paint YD as a cult. They said that Yeung fabricated materials and produced false witnesses as part of his efforts to destroy YD. "I am worried that Ma Li is being used by those who have a malicious agenda," Yang had said. "So as she gives this kind of testimony, I am worried that she is being used by someone, and that would even bring greater harm to her. I can only pray to God that His mighty hands would guide her, heal her broken heart, and those who used her would leave her alone."
Furthermore, credible sources have told CP that Yeung's attack against YD was part of a bigger plot to destroy The Gospel Herald, the largest Christian publication in Hong Kong, which employed members of YD. Yeung was supplied by materials from the Rev. Thomas Wang, president of the Great Commission Center International, these sources say. Wang, a staunch advocate of the house churches in Mainland China, had served as the honorary advisor of GH but severed ties with the newspaper after GH gave news coverage to a Bible exhibition sponsored by China's government-sanctioned Three-Self Church.
Yeung drew on the materials from Yamaya's blog to sensationalize the accusations against YD, said Cheung. The materials compiled by Yeung were then published repeatedly in the Korean newspaper Deulsori Times that had aligned itself with Chae, the former CCK heresy committee vice chair, who spearheaded the investigations into Jang in South Korea. The allegations levied against these organizations by the information published in Deulsori were cleared after Christian Today in Korea sued the Deulsori Times and won.
Deulsori published statements from the Enquiry panel that it "could not exclude...the strong probabilities" that the Young Disciples of Jesus "promoted doctrines similar to that of Unification Church, including (1) the first coming of Jesus to the earth was a failure and (2) their pastor is the 'Second Coming Lord' or 'Second Coming Christ.'"
A criminal court in Korea ruled that the Deulsori Times was guilty of defamation for alleging that one person (David Jang) controlled the "Davidian" organizations and for accusing these organizations of believing in the "Second Coming Christ." The court found that Deulsori had the intent of "harming" these organizations by publishing these allegations.
As a result of the criminal court verdict, the Deulsori Times was ordered to pay a fine or face jail time. Christian Today in Korea, which is the most widely read religious newspaper in Korea, is currently preparing to file a suit in the Korean civil court against Deulsori and other involved publications that have also circulated similar materials. Christian Today in Korea's lawyer expects that compensation for his client could amount to millions of dollars in damages.
Yamaya Makoto: 'Cyber-Terrorist' Blogger
As part of the story, Christianity Today also interviewed Yamaya Makoto, who works for the Salvation Army in Tokyo and runs a blog critical of Jang and Christian Today in Japan. Hokuto Ide, a reporter for Christian Today in Japan, has stated in his blog that Yamaya is notoriously known as a "cyber-terrorist" for using blogs to criticize not only Jang but also foreign missionaries in Japan. According to CT, Yamaya is in possession of a set of "Bible Lecture notes" in Japanese. Yamaya said he was made aware of the notes by parents of Munenori Kitamura who said their son went missing after they pressured him to leave his church.
Kitamura, who came forward as the owner of the notes, gave his own version of what happened on his personal blog Only Jesus. Kitamura said that the claims made about him on Yamaya's blog are false and that the Second Coming issue was fabricated by Yamaya. He said that Yamaya accused Kitamura of believing in Jang as the Second Coming Christ, a charge that Kitamura strongly denied. Kitamura responded to Yamaya by posting a public confession of his faith that salvation is found in Jesus and that he is waiting for Christ of Nazareth to come.
Even though Kitamura clearly affirmed his belief in Jesus and denied believing in Jang, Yamaya insisted that Kitamura's confession of faith was a lie. Yamaya continuously pressed Kitamura to admit his belief in Second Coming Christ, he said. "I clearly confessed that I believed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth alone but Yamaya wouldn't accept my confession. I felt like he was forcing me to say something that I didn't believe. He should apologize for accusing me of believing in Jang," Kitamura told CP.
In a blog post dated May 14, 2008, Kitamura said that Yamaya told his parents that he belonged to a "cult." In the same entry, he said Yamaya and his conspirators took advantage of his parents' feelings and planted misunderstandings so that they could be used as a "tool" for attacking his church. "I cannot believe that a person who confesses to be Christian would tear apart the relationship between parents and son. This is egoistic and a terrible behavior," he wrote. Kitamura later updated his blog to report that his parents have changed their position and now support his position.
Yamaya Makoto has also argued on his blog that Christian Today in Japan believed in Jang as the Second Coming Christ. According to Ide, Christian Today in Japan asked Yamaya to stop slandering them but he refused. That's when Christian Today in Japan brought the matter to The Salvation Army in Japan and urged the Rev. Haruhisa Ohta, an executive of the Salvation Army in Japan who supervised Yamaya, to order Yamaya to stop his accusations. After listening to both sides, Ohta agreed to issue a statement clearing Christian Today in Japan of heresy if the newspaper published a public confession of faith affirming belief in Jesus Christ and rejecting belief in Jang as the Second Coming.
Christian Today in Japan published the confession and the Rev. Ohta signed a statement in which it affirmed that Christian Today in Japan does not hold the belief that Jang is the Second Coming. "Rev. Ohta cleared Christian Today in Japan of suspicion that Christian Today in Japan believes Rev. David Jang as Second Coming Christ and confirmed that there is no such belief by the fact that Christian Today in Japan published its confession of faith," read a joint statement released June 27, 2007 by Ohta and Christian Today in Japan.
Even though Ohta cleared the newspaper, Yamaya persisted in criticizing Christian Today in Japan on his blog. Yamaya then spread his accusations on 2 Channel, an online forum for anonymous hate speech, according to Ide. When Christian Today in Japan called one of Yamaya's close associates to ask whether he helped Yamaya in making defamatory online comments about the newspaper, he boldly stated, "I did it." The Salvation Army in Japan fired Yamaya's associate for threats and harassment against Christian Today in Japan after listening to a recording of the phone conversation.
Christian Today in Japan later discovered that its market competitor The Christian Weekly News was collaborating with Yamaya in a "smear campaign" against Christian Today in Japan. Ide said their efforts against Christian Today dates back to 2004, the year when it began publishing its print edition. The Christian Weekly News was the only evangelical publication in Japan at the time so it feared that it might lose its market share, he said. On June 17, 2004, at the urging of CWN's editor Shoichi Konda, two officials of Japan Evangelical Association distributed a short memo on Jang that was based on an article in News N Joy, a pro-North Korea newspaper. The memo, obtained by CP, stated that the Rev. David Jang was a board member of Christian Today in Korea and that he was currently a core member of Unification Church. (Both claims were later determined by legal and church bodies in Korea to be false.) It was noted at the end of the memo that The Christian Weekly News provided the article.
The memo was printed on official JEA letterhead but it is questionable whether the memo could technically be considered an official JEA statement. According to Ide, the memo was never approved by a board meeting before distribution, a violation of JEA's by-laws. One of the member organizations that received the JEA memo was the Salvation Army in Japan. Yamaya received the memo from Salvation Army and posted it on his website the next day. Christian Today in Japan said neither JEA or Konda contacted them to verify the information in the article. Ide said that Konda violated journalism ethics by not engaging in fact-finding.
The Christian Council of Korea has twice cleared Jang of having ties to the Unification Church, but the JEA never distributed results of the CCK report to member denominations in Japan. Christian Today, according to Ide, has yet to receive an apology from CWN and Yamaya over their false reports. Rather than affirm the CCK report, according to CT, Yamaya has claimed that Haidian Church in Beijing, and TongHap and HapShin denominations in South Korea had cut ties with Jang's organization. But CP has confirmed that these claims are untrue and no ties have been severed.
Ide explained the strategy behind what he called "Konda and Yamaya's conspiracy" to attack the paper. He said Yamaya had coined the term "Davidian" to tie Christian Today in Japan, Jang and other evangelical organizations as "one." "You know why they tied everything up as 'Davidian'? They couldn't compete against Christian Today in Japan, so they associated our newspaper with organizations that were facing heresy charges in order to make it easier for them to attack us," said Ide. Yamaya is facing charges of defamation in a court case in Japan. Christian Today in Japan said it expects the court to issue a similar ruling as the court in Korea, which has already found statements that accuse organizations of being "one" and holding heretical beliefs to be defamatory.
Sam Kyung Chae: 'Cult Fabricator' and 'Heretic'
Another one of Christianity Today's main sources is a Christian leader in Korea named Sam Kyung Chae, whose statements have been called "unreliable" by many evangelical leaders in Korea, including the Christian Council of Korea. Chae once served as vice chair of CCK's heresy committee during the investigations against Jang but was ousted by CCK in 2010 because he was found to hold heretical theological beliefs. A year later, Chae was branded the "worst heretic" in the history of the Korean church in a statement signed by CCK and 50 member denominations, including Hap-Dong, the largest Christian denomination in Korea, for his unorthodox beliefs in Tritheism and Jesus' birth, which he says was made possible by Mary's menstrual blood.
In total, accusations initiated by Chae against Jang have been cleared four times following investigations by CCK. CCK concluded in two separate reviews that Jang had no relationship with the Unification Church, and in another two investigations Jang was cleared of allegations related to the Second Coming Christ. Chae, despite being vice chair of the CCK heresy committee, failed to find any evidence of heresy in all his investigations, and subsequent re-investigations, against Jang.
According to CT, critics say Jang was involved in the Unification Church and taught Unification theology at Sung Hwa Theological Seminary in Korea. Phil Bay, a spokesperson for Holy Bible Society, where Jang currently serves as president, firmly rejected those claims. In a statement released to CP, Bay said Jang never taught Unification theology or at a seminary run by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. "It would have been impossible that Dr. Jang taught Unification theology in 1989," said Bay. "In 1989, Sung Hwa Theological Seminary was a Methodist seminary." Bay said that CT was made aware of the distortions of facts made by its sources, but the writers intentionally omitted HBS's response.
For example, he said that HBS pointed out that quotes attributed to Jang in the News N Joy article were highly distorted and taken out of context. "It's hard not to question the objectivity of Christianity Today when it relies on News N Joy, a pro-North Korean newspaper, as a source in making this claim," said Bay. The fact that Dr. Jang was the general secretary, and later president, of one of the founding Presbyterian denominations of CCK confirms his orthodoxy, added Bay.
(Corroboration can be found in the following documents: Public Statement of The Heresy Investigation Committee of the CCK: English Version Korean Version; Public Statement of CCK: English Version Korean Version)
The CCK also issued statements to CP refuting the statements made by Chae in the CT article. Chae claims that the "executive committees of a general assembly" rejected the CCK report. CCK said this claim is totally untrue. "Rev. Jang is not a heretic," said the Rev. Jae Chul Hong, CCK president, in July 2012 at the General Assembly of the CCK in U.S. "It's over.... It was clearly declared during the terms of six previous presidents that it's completely over." CCK provided CP with documents verifying that the president and the general secretary of the General Assembly have made public statements affirming the CCK report that cleared Jang of suspicion after four investigations. The CCK general assembly, in its GA annual report, said all suspicions raised by Chae have been totally cleared as groundless.
CCK also rejected Chae's claim that over 20 denominations have broken away from CCK and formed a new body, the Communion of Churches in Korea (CCIK), which plans to conduct its own investigation on Jang. "No denominations have left the CCK over this issue. If that were so, we would have less denominations, but there are still 71 denominations in our membership," said CCK in a statement to CP. "We're puzzled as to why Christianity Today is discrediting the CCK decision into this matter and giving credence to Chae's claims," the largest Korean Protestant body added. "Perhaps this is because CT did not gain enough in-depth insight into Chae's gravely heretical beliefs--including the conception of Jesus through Mary's menstrual blood. These are detrimental to the basics of Christian faith. We encourage Christianity Today to look at the results of the CCK investigation."
CT cited several anonymous sources from U.S. and China but noted that they provided evidence that they once held "senior positions" in organizations, ministries, or businesses associated with Olivet. In East Asia, all of the sources who have come out publicly in the past have been discredited. In response to CT's use of anonymous sources, Bay of Holy Bible Society asked, "How can we respond to faceless people?" "In Matthew 18:15-17, it says if a brother makes a fault, tell it to the Church. And when David Jang went before the church council, the allegations were found unsubstantiated," he said. "Why are they hiding instead of bringing this before the Church?"
Notably, the co-author for the CT article in question, Ken Smith, admitted that his "Olivet insiders" or anonymous sources did not directly hear that an Olivet University official had confessed a belief that Jang is the Second Coming Christ. "Ken Smith made false claims on Facebook about Andrew Lin informed by two so-called 'insiders,' which he later had to retract because they were based on hearsay," said Nathanael Tran, dean of administration of Olivet University. "My strong suspicion is that these are the same people being relied on for indirect information about the U.S. people's 'confessions' in the article."
Ken Smith's Email to Andrew Lin's Lawyer:
This is in response to your communication on July 20, 2012, requesting that I remove a Facebook post I made on April 19th regarding a supposed confession concerning David Jang made by Andrew Lin. I made that statement in good faith, relying upon what two different sources in the organization had told me. However, upon further consultation, I have been made aware of further details regarding how they came to that particular belief. It appears to me that whatever reasons they had for this belief, what they reported to me was nevertheless largely based on indirect and not direct information. Because my statement did not include this significant caveat - I was unaware of it at the time - upon the advice of my attorney, I have removed that particular Facebook post.
CT alleges that anonymity was granted because the publication "found evidence" that its "sources could face retaliation" for speaking to the magazine about the issue. The magazine did not substantiate "evidence" of possible retaliation, and there has not been evidence of retaliation towards those speaking against Jang and groups allegedly tied to him in cases from East Asia.
(Update) Since the publication of its article, CT has issued a significant correction regarding the belief in David Jang as the Second Coming Christ by one of its anonymous sources. The corrected version says the opposite of the original version.
"In fact, the same member did come to that conclusion and acknowledged that for a time, he too believed that Jang was the Second Coming Christ."
"In fact, the same member said that although he never believed or confessed that David Jang was the Second Coming Christ, he did for a time believe it was possible that Jang was a 'key eschatological figure.'"
Jang's Controversy? A Misnomer
The CT article does not quote any sources that claim Jang himself taught or claims he is the Second Coming Christ. Jang has repeatedly confessed his belief in Jesus Christ as his Savior and through which his sins are forgiven.
Jang's statement of faith as published in Christian Today Korea:
"By the grace of Jesus Christ, I accepted Jesus as my one and only Savior, and since I was forgiven of my sins, I have never abandoned faith in Jesus Christ. Also, I have never preached any other gospel other than that of Jesus Christ. Furthermore I have never taught that I am Christ."
"One thing is clear, everyone agrees that Dr. Jang never taught nor claimed that he was the Second Coming Christ," said the Rev. Anthony Chiu, stated clerk of Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in America (EAPCA) in a statement to CP. Chiu, a Chinese-American pastor who has been studying the issue in East Asia, continued, "Yet, his accusers claim the followers believe this about him. How could this be possible? I have yet to hear a credible explanation."
He added, "Another problem is, if someone says he believes in the victory of the cross and Savior Jesus Christ, how can anyone else say he doesn't believe this? Likewise, if someone says he didn't confess that Jang is the Second Coming, then how can someone else say he did? That is going against that person's freedom of conscience and fundamental human rights. How can someone tell you what you believe or don't believe?"