After Shinchonji, I no longer practice religion
It’s been a few years since I was involved with Shincheonji. I chose to leave due to some issues with how the church operated and was run. I haven’t really thought of them for a while, but during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, all my memories from my time there came rushing back.
Times have certainly changed.
When I was a member, hardly anyone knew about them. I certainly didn’t when I first got started, and only when I was finishing my Revelation classes did the teacher finally bother to tell me the name. But now, the New York Times, the BBC, and all the major news outlets have put this ‘doomsday sect’ on blast a big way. Now as people are celebrating the arrest of Chairman Man Hee Lee, it seems like things are no longer going well for Shincheonji.
But for some reason, I’m not celebrating. It’s not because I’m beholden to them – I haven’t spoken to anyone from Shincheonji in years. But for all the issues I had with them personally, there were parts I admired and appreciated too. Specifically, their teaching, and their commitment to peace and volunteerism.
They teach that God’s word is like dew and rain. This was honestly how I felt when I took the center classes for the first time. I had been discontent with my church for years, but was still helping out because of a sense of obligation (and a feeling that if I left, the ministry would collapse.) My heart was parched and I was getting nothing out of church. It was at this point a friend invited me to their Bible Study, and after a few lessons, I was so refreshed and felt that the Bible was a fun book to read.
Unlike previous Bible studies I joined or led, there was a sense of certainty, clarity, and authority to the way we learned in class. I would actually have to open to the obscure books of the Old Testament, and I would see the “thread of connection” from Genesis all the way to Revelation. Every Bible study would feel new – I thought the teaching was truly amazing, and knew I had to get more. I tried inviting many individuals from my old church, but only a few would take me up on my offer to check it out.
When we went over Revelation, I was blown away. This was a book I was taught to not even try to understand. Yet now verse after verse made complete sense. I would give anything away here (since it is their teaching after all), but I was fully convinced I was at the place of truth because of it.
Furthermore, Shincheonji was very committed to publicly doing the work of peace and volunteerism. I respected this, and participated in various rallies and events to give my time back to the community. I believe I volunteered with Shincheonji much, much more than I would have done if I was not a member.
My qualms with Shincheonji was never about the teaching, doctrine, but more so how I felt like I no longer was able to spend time with my family and friends, or have any personal life. We were told constantly to evangelize, to be in center, and to help out (“Just say yes.”) The mindset sounded correct at the time: we should always put God first, even if it comes at the expense of jobs, relationships, and family.
Every time I would ask for time off to be with family or visit friends, I was rebuked for not fulfilling my duty. As a result, I haven’t seen some of my best friends literally since the day I entered Zion. And if I had any questions or concerns about God’s kingdom, I would be discouraged from communicating about it, and to keep that “bad yeast” to myself.
I couldn’t stand living such a rigid life. The Bible teaches Honor your Father and Mother, yet it seems like I was not permitted to do so. I would face discipline everytime I wanted to raise my concerns. Not to mention the constant text messages, the lack of sleep, and the constant anxiety of screwing up and being rebuked.
On the one hand, the teaching was amazing. Making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Sometimes I still do wonder if there’s a chance I made a mistake, but reading other testimonials helps me to cope and be at peace with my decision.
I no longer practice religion, because every other doctrine and religion has turned into garbage in my eyes. How can I just walk into a church when I know the pastors have no idea what they are talking about? My journey towards spirituality has been put on pause. I don’t know what’s next, but I know that whatever it is, i won’t be satisfied unless the teaching and doctrine is as clear as it was in Shincheonji. If only the people and structure matched the teaching.