Many testimonies on Shinchonji's website explain why people join Shinchonji (see SCJ's website for testimonies). However, it is also important to consider why some leave Shinchonji.
After talking to a former member of the Shinchonji Church, who was involved in SCJ for almost a decade, this person sent a written response to different themes related to Shinchonji's movement. The response is published here below.
What are some important things about Manhee Lee (MHL) and being a member of SCJ?
2. During all major events the members are required to come and be there early with smiling faces and welcoming clapping. When he is at a temple, ¨amens¨ ring so loud it's hard to hear any English translations.
3. During my own graduation, it took well over two hours of moving people mere centimeters to get the picture perfect. MHL was called in for the last 5 minutes and left 2 minutes after the picture was taken.
4. I also learned of another graduation held during a colder season where the lovely young ladies in the hambok's were made to wait outside in the cold and the wind to get the graduation picture perfect, which they were glad to do because one must be willing to sacrifice for A PICTURE??
5. MHL is 82 years old now and has had some health issues. I was told that he had actually been physically declared dead but was brought back to life. This was never spoken of from the pulpit, so a rumour it remains, but the only miracle heard of and conveniently unsubstantiated.
3. To keep people going and working hard, members are told the 144,000 is getting so close and if they work QUOTE “just a little harder” then the fulfillment will happen and the spirit of the martyrs will come on them and they will live forever. The rest of the world is covered under the great white multitude, as spoken of in Revelations 7. The thing is the number is now over 100,000 and there are quiet rumours being spoken of that it has to be “the SEALED” not just 144,000 members of SCJ and NO ONE knows if they are part of the sealed. So, in effect, this could go forever...there could be a billion members. But, if there aren't 144,000 sealed, well, it's not going to happen. Each member is part of a tribe and many of the tribes are close to completing the 12,000 they need to complete their tribe. Whether or not those members are truly sealed or not is another matter.
4. Along with the 144,000 catch is the idea that if you just work a little harder you will be one of the sealed. So people sacrifice ALL their time, energy, money, family and health to do the work. And at the end of the day there is no guarantee of any kind that the sacrifice means you will get to be part of the 144,000. Paranoia and anxiety are some of the feelings people have inside but hidden under the smile of being in the right place for the right reasons.
I felt miserable all the time about not doing enough. Sleep deprived and poor mental health. No member would EVER admit to this as that would mean they were less than God wants them to be. Be glad you are part of the truth and NEVER NEVER complain about ANYTHING or you will be considered a betrayer of the truth. MHL tells wives to take care of their husbands and children to obey their parents but...at the level of their cell leaders are told that they need to work harder and in order to follow the COMMANDS of MHL which are considered the words of Jesus from GOD then something has to give and mostly it is family and school that are sacrificed. I wanted to protect individuals but have seen many heart breaking examples of people doing things to work for the church that are clearly unwise and in some cases not scriptural.
5. I was always frustrated by the lack of written material. People were expected to take notes and listen to sermons online at the members' only website. The COMMAND was 3 times for each sermons along with the mandatory Sunday and Wednesday meetings, which are monitored with a fingerprint scanner at every temple, cell group meetings, studying with potential new people and Mannam events. The schedule was packed and members are asked to hand in their personal schedules so that the leaders know what the people under them are doing most of the time.
6. Members are told what materials they cannot look at. There are websites, and books, actually all books about the Bible are regarded as lies and theology books are banned because they are not the correct interpretation of the Bible and will corrupt the member and the pure Word as received from MHL.
7. Saying anything to a leader in a meeting about ideas that may be better or asking why members are, in effect, expected to dig a ditch in the morning and fill it in in the afternoon are seen as going against MHL and, therefore, makes your thought something from the evil one and you have betrayers thoughts which must be repented of.
8. There are also conflicts about Mannam. I was told by another member that many people are unhappy about Kim Nam Lee's role in the church at the moment. It has always been strictly observed that if someone is in Mannam that an SCJ member may not recruit them into SCJ.
1. A potential member is considered “a fruit” and each person must work as hard as they can to gather as many fruit as possible. Although many would never confess to this, fruit are fought over as to who exactly brought that person in. It takes as long as a year before a person actually is sitting in the regular services. First, one person works on someone to study. This is done by most cults so it is difficult to get this started. The Jehovah Witnesses and Mormon's both use the study technique and, because people are suspicious of this, so many lies are used. I used to use the line that they were doing a seminar course and needed to do a study with 10 people to graduate from the course. Others use many different angles, but it all amounts to lying to get people to start studying.
2. “A fruit” must study three times a week at the gospel room level to be registered by the member as an actual fruit and the studies must be reported (what lesson are they on and how did each lesson go). The fruit will be unaware of this but then other things will start to happen. The fruit will meet other people called 'maintainers' who will say or do things that confirm they are indeed doing the right thing.
3. Members are pressured to evangelize and bring their fruit to a kangsanim (a certified teacher by SCJ standards) to continue studying. The goal is to have them study four days a week for six months one to two hours a day. The member and 'maintainers' must work very very hard to make this happen on top of all the other burdens placed on their backs. All so they can make the “fruit” like them. A fruit is also required to bring someone in so that they may graduate and so the cycle continues. The pressure is incredible but with faith all things are possible, so the expectation is always there.
1. I had to watch a video on Mannam to find out it was started in 2003. The aim is to do good and bring all people together. Many Mannam members in SCJ are ignorant of many things that outsiders know about the group like the mote of “When light meets light there is victory” is an anagram and the Mannam logo is the combination of all 12 tribe colours and that Man Hee Lee, who is the “honorary chairman” and the combination of Kim Nam Lee's names give Man+Nam= Mannam.
2. All the upper level planning meetings of Mannam are done in the SCJ temple buildings and only Mannam members who are SCJ may attend those meetings. These meeting always have in attendance the high profile Mannam members who I found denied their association with SCJ if asked.
3. Funding for events comes from SCJ. The upper level members of the organization are SCJ the organizers of groups such as Korean classes, Tai Kwan Do classes, photography classes, basketball, running club and cooking club are all headed by SCJ/Mannam members. They may be two different organizations but the direction of Mannam is clearly directed by SCJ.
2. The lunch was not very good and many people were herded to dark gloomy corners to scarf down a lunch with no place to sit. There were many more people than expected, so lots of people did not get their t-shirts and the ride was free...but the price was all day at an event designed to distract and look confusing.
3. Many people did not even get into the stadium. Soccer teams that were asked to come at 6 a.m. never even got the chance to play. In fact, only one game was played and that was SCJ's team against the Mannam team from Seoul. Guess who won.
4. There were too many people in the stadium and the chaos was created on purpose. Most of the stands were taken up but SCJ people who chanted and did the wave almost continuously throughout the day, in sports uniforms matching the colours of their different tribes. If people didn't get the idea that SCJ was a cult before, this certainly helped make the decision. CULT...the tribe members never mingled with the foreigners at all and there was an abundance of security all over the place.
5. Even though the stands were crowded beyond capacity, there was room where all the dignitaries were seated. The event began at 10 am but I suspect - from having attended two other events similar to this - that most SCJ members had been there since well be for 8 or even 7 am. Man Hee Lee arrived just a little before 10am in a nice car with a driver and walked on a red carpet to a seat with a silk cushion, surrounded by the dignitaries who had been invited for the biggest photo/video opt ever undertaken. Given refreshments and lovely young ladies smiling in beautiful gowns, with media watching and reporting from above.
6. The mask games were like being in North Korea and I know one foreigner that was in the mask games and said that he hoped God was pleased with his effort that he sat for almost 12 hours flipping cards.
7. I had been told on many occasions before the event that the truth about Mannam and SCJ would be explained at the event and that the lying would end. It didn't and for reasons of conscience felt this was very wrong.
8. It was also rumoured that something great would happen at the event. Many military personal that were there heard the rumour that a famous music group would be playing at the end of the night. And SCJ members were looking for the sign that perhaps MHL would do something truly miraculous. But, looking at it, having that many people together basically to worship the ego of one man is a miracle, just not the miracle most were looking for.
9. After the event it was expected that everyone who attended the event would have someone from the church maintaining them and bringing them to the truth. A surge, if you will, of new converts that just needed to be taught. The opposite was true. Many people were very angry with what happened.
10. I stood by the entrance to the stadium with a group of military who were supposed to be participating in the sports events. They were to do a parade past the dignitaries and MHL. It was a wait of almost 3 hours. In that group of military was a family who had twin boys around 8 years old. They waited and asked if they could leave as they needed to get their children home and to bed for school the next day. They were cajoled and tricked into standing there until the 5 min walk by the grand stands and were asked to release red and white balloons. It was something to have a 100,000 people cheer as you walked in, but not worth lying to a family desperate to get home.
11. A video on youtube made by a man by the name of Michael drew some conclusions from the event that a) SCJ seemed to be very much a cult and b) Mannam was indeed, as suspected, a creation of SCJ. He was fair in his observations and never disrespectful in any way, but I was told that Michael and others who made any kind of negative report about the event to be in league with Satan and pushing the destroyers' agenda. SCJ members are not supposed to watch the lies that they produce.
12. The event ended with a grotesque dance between MHL and Kim Nam Lee, which was explained to me, when enquires were made, that it symbolized the marriage between Christ and his bride or Mannam's new partnership with SCJ. I found this in poor taste as MHL has a lovely wife who has stood by him all this time. And I felt nothing but shame and humiliation that her husband would parade around with a younger, richer and more socially influential member of SCJ as the actor of this little drama.
13. In talking from the pulpit the following Sunday, MHL said he wished that every Sunday could be like September 16. That was it. Shortly after, I let the leader of the cell group know it was time to leave for reasons of conscience.