Warning: Some details may trigger sexual trauma.
“Even if just one person steps forward and tells the truth, there won’t be any more victims,” Maple bravely talks about the sexual assault that she has experienced in a religious organization.
On March 3rd, Netflix released “In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal”, a docuseries about the alarming stories of four influential Korean leaders who claim to be messengers of God, showing red flags of spiritual abuse.
The 8-part series begins with the story of Jeong Myeong-seok, the leader of the Korean church, Jesus Morning Star (JMS) also known as Christian Gospel Mission and Providence. In 2009, he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for sexual assault and released in 2018 with a GPS anklet bracelet, but is currently awaiting trial again after a victim bravely spoke up and exposed an endless cycle of sexual abuse.
According to the background details provided by MBC and Netflix in the first episode, Jeong Myeong-seok began his ministry in the 1980s and became a popular spiritual leader in the 1990s when he started a campus movement. He took over university towns, held various engaging events and campus clubs that attracted college students who became his major followers. Testifiers pondered that what people needed the most in their desperate times, it seems the pastor managed to give through his sermons, prayers, and powerful presence, that he was able to gain 30,000 members and build 200 to 250 churches, not just in South Korea but also across Asia. He healed the sick, prophesied events, played sports with his people, and traveled throughout the country holding various community events. Like a celebrity, the crowd follows him wherever he goes, awaiting for his prayer of blessings. For his followers, to be near him feels like being closer to God.
However, Jeong Myeong-seok became controversial when some victims started complaining about his sexual misconduct and perverted actions done behind closed doors—as exposed in the series, the man appears to be like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After a day of sports and preaching his sermon, he invites selected young pretty ladies for a one-on-one private prayer meeting that turns into a horrific sexual manipulation. He claims himself to be chosen by God as the groom and his female subjects the brides, and uses this abusive authority to force them into spiritual cleansing and marriage with him through sexual acts, telling them, “This isn’t a sexual crime. You are merely receiving the love of God.” As described in the series, he often manipulates his victims into thinking that they could not disobey him because it was the Lord’s will and an order from the Messiah. According to informants, he sexually abused hundreds of female followers, even minors.
Besides the revelations of his sexual addiction, he also displays a grandiose image of himself telling audiences, “Do you know who I am? I bet you don’t. Well, I’m the Messiah” and “You don’t need to search for God. If you can’t see God, look at me.” Such claims and teachings, despite red flags, have powerfully led his followers to pray in his name, “I pray in the name of the Lord, Jeong Myeong-seok”. They adore and worship him like no other, protect him at all costs from all threats to the point of physical assault, as revealed in the series, if a church member goes against the pastor and the organization. One time, a media exposed the pastor’s overseas sex scandals and 10,000 of his devoted followers gathered to protest, claiming the belief that evil spirits used the power of media just to prosecute the church. It is also strange to know that these devotees, amid strong evidences of sexual assault, still tolerate continuous acts of their leader’s harassment.
It was utterly disgusting to watch the docuseries, exposing the magnitude of the leader’s abusive practices, his sense of entitlement to take whatever he wants, and how he executes power over another person to threaten or cause humiliation using the word of God. It was reported that Jeong Myeong-seok requested an injunction to block the broadcasting of MBC and Netflix’s documentary about him, claiming that the contents gathered are false and the statements of informants are one-sided. However, the court rejected it looking at the considerable amount of objective and subjective data collected by MBC, saying, “This is about public interest for public interest.”
Sexual assault is known to be a dehumanizing act against someone and victims often feel shame and defilement. So most of them tend to refuse to talk about it and just suffer in silence because they fear of not being believed especially when the perpetrator holds a powerful position. Others fear threats from the abuser, injustice from law, victim-blaming and negative responses from society.
On March l6, 2022, Maple, a young lady and former member of Jesus Morning Star (JMS), attended a press conference to expose Jeong Myeong-seok’s continuous sexual abuse even after release from imprisonment, “There’s absolutely no way Jeong Myeong-seok is the Messiah. And JMS is not a place that is fulfilling God’s will.”
Maple took brave steps to come forward with her story, with MBC and Netflix providing her and the victims a strong voice to speak up and a platform to be heard. May she indeed find a safe place of comfort and full recovery with the right people that listens with understanding to her anguish and trauma. May this docuseries truly activate awareness about the untold issues and red flags of spiritual abuse within churches or religious organizations and help end the cycle of violence, if there’s any.
“For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.” – Matthew 24:5, NIV
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