Lee Man-hee, the 88-year-old founder of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, held a press conference, Monday, amid growing suspicions surrounding the secretive religious group at the center of the ballooning outbreak of the new coronavirus in South Korea.
He apologized to the public for the church’s role in spreading the virus, but fell short of answering many questions, including those about the group’s alleged ties to politicians. It is obvious that he created more questions than he answered.
The moment in the press conference that drew the most attention was when he got on his knees and bowed to apologize to the nation. A gold-colored watch bearing the signature of impeached former President Park Geun-hye engraved on it was visible on his left wrist.
This prompted speculation about Lee’s possible political connections to the disgraced former President. Reportedly, Lee had long bragged about his friendship with Park to church members. He even bragged that he chose the name for the party that Park created, the Saenuri Party, which is now the United Future Party (UFP). “Shincheonji” and “Saenuri” have the same meaning, “new world.”
After the press conference, UFP members tried to distance themselves from Lee. Some members said the watch must have been a fake, as Park’s office only made silver watches as presents for presidential guests. Others said Lee showed the watch deliberately to seek “protection” from conservative politicians who are still loyal to Park and give a “warning” to others.
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Lee definitely needs to offer an explanation about the watch because it may remain a source of speculation. If necessary, an investigation should be launched into the church’s alleged ties to politicians. It is commonly said that the church’s rapid growth would not have been possible without the help of politicians.
Notably, the Shincheonji Church has been one of the fastest-growing religious groups here. The church’s questionable programs to increase the number of members have indeed unnerved mainstream congregations, leading them to condemn Shincheonji as a cult. Lee looked repentant in his news conference, but a couple of messages he has given to church members since the outbreak of the virus were quite offensive. He blamed “evil” for the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Korea, saying the church will be triumphant after all.
The church’s serious commitment is indeed in doubt. In the conference, Lee vowed to fully cooperate with the government to combat the virus. However, the church spokesman told reporters after the conference that the church was the victim of a “witch-hunt”, because “it is not the church that made the virus.” Given that over 80 percent of virus infections in South Korea are now linked to the Shincheonji Church, such an attitude will only deepen public mistrust of the religious group.
Source: The Korea Times