American megachurch pastor, Bob Rodgers, has defended Pastor David Yonggi Cho after the pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, was convicted last week of embezzling $12 million of the church's funds.
Cho, 78, was sentenced to three years in prison after he was convicted of directing officials to buy stocks from his son at four times the market price. The church subsequently lost U.S. $12 million, according to The Gospel Herald. Hee-jun, Cho's oldest son, the former CEO of the media company, Kookmin Ilbo, was also sentenced last week to three years in prison for his participation in the embezzlement scheme.
Bob Rodgers, the senior Pastor of Evangel World Prayer Center, released a nearly 500 word statement on Wednesday defending Cho, whom he referred to as a "personal friend of our family," and stated that he and his father had served on the board of Cho's Assemblies of God-affiliated church for a combined 38 years.
According to Rodgers, Cho did not purposely sabotage his church, but rather, his son "purposely defrauded" him.
"Cho testified that he trusted his elders and son and didn't check and read the thousands of pages of paperwork, which was prepared for him to sign. Because Cho relied upon the direction of his choice elders and son, he signed the papers. He never received any monies from the transaction," Rodgers wrote.
Rodgers also noted that unlike his two brothers, who both worked in ministry, Hee-jun "has been the prodigal," noting his four marriages and "sexual scandals with national personalities." Further, Hee-jun has previously "served prison time for investment scams and embezzlement."
Further, Rodgers suggested Cho was being punished by association and quoted the presiding judge, who reportedly said, "The court considered that even though Pastor Cho had the final say in the church, he never took the lead in any of the crimes, including tax evasion, committed on the suggestion of the accounting firm."
Rodgers, who said he decided to speak up for Cho, because of concerns of "the slant of some of the media reports," suggested that he could offer more context about the case because he was "present in Seoul during much of the trial."
He also added that "there was also information disclosed during closed-door meetings which has not yet been made public," which presumably he had insight about.
Rodgers also defended Cho's reputation against those who had criticized him for promoting and leading an opulent lifestyle.
"Even though Cho established the world's largest church, with more than 1 million members, he lives a simple life in a 1,000-square-foot church apartment. Neither does he own a car. Cho has raised and given personally to the church more than $170 million," he wrote.
Rodgers added that Cho is likely to avoid prison time but instead will be placed on probation.
Rodger's interpretation of Cho's trial contrasts with the account of former elder, Ha Sang-ok, who said in November that he had attempted unsuccessfully to convince the pastor to end his unethical ways.
"A sect leader might violate the commandments and do as he wishes, but a pastor cannot do that," Ha said, as reported in The Hanyoreah. "Over the past 14 years, I have met with Rev. Cho many times to try to persuade him to repent and return to being a great pastor, but the corruption has continued. That's why I had no choice but to disclose it to the outside world."
A biography of Cho on the English version of the Yoido Full Gospel Church website says that the pastor, who came to faith after attending a crusade led by American missionary Ken Tines, met Jesus in a vision one night while he was fasting and was baptized in the Holy Spirit.
"Pastor Cho gives thanks to the Lord for his 47 years of ministry, and has been sincerely serving 750,000 church members," the biography states. "In the early 21st century, the church's goals for next 10 years are to build 500 prayer houses and 5,000 satellite churches in Korea, and to expand global mission through internet broadcasting, and to enlarge overseas mission to the third world countries, including North Korea."
Approximately one million people claim membership at the South Korea church, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination. The AG is the world's largest Pentecostal denomination and boasts 66 million members.
Rodger's church is based out of Louisville, Ky., and boasts a membership of over 9,000 people.