[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."