Get to Know Your Neighborhood Evangelists

The World Mission Society Church of God Comes to play with the Atheists, Communists, and Free Lovers

On February 26, residents of the language houses received an email from the language house HA, John Poole, alerting students to the regular presence of evangelists from the World Mission Society Church of God in International Plaza in the evenings. In his email, Poole suggested that “if you run into someone at a weird hour asking ‘have you heard of god the mother’ that’s probably who it is” and added that he hadn’t “been told of anything explicitly threatening that’s happened in those interactions.” In an oft-cited 2015 article, an ex-member, Michele Colon, characterized the organization’s tactics as predatory, as being encouraged to evangelize to people going through “life transitions.” She also described being deprived of sleep, encouraged to separate herself from communities outside the church, and make significant financial contributions to the organization, and these practices have led many, including Colon herself, to call the group a cult. The group is often found on college campuses, proselytizing to students and usually being met with less than open arms. 

The Quest spoke to the student who first raised concerns to Poole. They were walking back to their dorm in the language houses from a late class in Eliot at about 7:30 when they were approached by a person in Eliot Circle who introduced themselves as a theology student working on a project. The alleged theology student asked if they could talk about “The Heavenly Mother,” and the Reed student declined their offer. This same Reedie described another experience walking home from Eliot. “I was walking through the East parking lot and this group of people had a dog with them. My dog got really excited and wanted to go say hi, so I let her go say hi.” Getting closer to the group, the Reedie recognized the same person who approached them in Eliot circle. They were asked similar questions as before and again turned the evangelists down. They told the Quest that while they have nothing against evangelism as a general practice, being approached by strangers late at night made them feel uncomfortable: “I don’t like being approached in parking lots and I don’t think that’s like a weird standard to have.”

These evangelists belong to the World Mission Society Church of God, a recent Christian movement that has a storied history of evangelizing on college campuses. Speckled with allegations ranging from predatory tactics to sex trafficking, the organization has largely received pretty poor press. However, Sophomore Religion Major Evelyn Lewis reached out to the Quest to offer a more cautious and nuanced position on the group’s public reception. To start with, from both Lewis’ research and the Quest’s, it’s clear that sex trafficking rumors are false. Allegations of sex trafficking have been circulating on the internet since at least 2018, but repeated investigations have failed to reveal any evidence of sex trafficking. Lewis argued that these allegations are reflective of a long history of prejudice towards new religious movements. “There are certain things that are unethical behaviors that a lot of religions do, and we only call them out when they’re in certain religions.” 

There’s no doubt that the World Mission Society Church of God has some beliefs and practices that many would find unacceptable. Aside from those already mentioned, they are staunch antinatalists, believing that it is wrong to have children to the point of pressuring pregnant members to get abortions against their will. While exerting control over wombs is certainly unethical, Lewis insists that “that’s generally considered within the norm of American religious practice, except when it’s people who we don’t necessarily like to begin with.” Lewis added that “maybe we should be calling it out everywhere every time we see it,” but she doesn’t believe that it’s fair to cite such practices as a reason for the World Mission Society Church of God to be classified as a cult-like many others have.

For those who are theologically inclined, the World Mission Society Church of God has an interesting set of beliefs and theological lineage. While they usually introduce their beliefs through more vague statements about the potential femininity of the Christian God, the specifics of their beliefs are often obscured from potential recruits until they’ve become more invested in the religion. Many of their beliefs mirror those of the Cathars, a 12th-century Christian gnostic movement that also believed in two Gods, that humans are fallen angels, and that we should not reproduce. This is not to say that they share all their beliefs — for example, where the Cathars believed in an evil God and a good God, the World Mission Society Church of God believes in “God the Father” and “God the Mother.” The group began as Church of God Jesus Witnesses by Ahn Sahng-hong in Busan, South Korea. In 1985, after Ahn Sahng-hong’s death, two members of Church of God Jesus Witnesses renamed the group and declared Ahn Sahng-hong to be the second coming of Christ, making all prayers in his name instead of Jesus’. The church also teaches that Zhang Gil-Jah, one of the church’s early members, is God the Mother, jointly God with Ahn Sahng-hong. Zhang Gil-Jah is still alive at 78 living in South Korea where people make pilgrimages to be blessed by her. The church has made multiple doomsday prophecies during its existence, predicting armageddons in 1988, 1999, and 2012. The World Mission Society Church of God denies having made any of these predictions, despite the 1988 one being published in one of Ahn Song-hong’s books which are revered as a seminal text by many in the church.

If you are approached on campus by evangelists and are made uncomfortable, community safety is aware of their presence and will be ready to come talk with them. They generally do not seem to pose a threat to students’ physical safety but have made more than a few students uncomfortable. Certainly, be cautious when interacting with a group with such a questionable history, but please don’t approach them with animosity or bigotry. Everyone deserves to believe their religion, even if you find their beliefs to be a little weirder than most.

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