The public is calling for the shedding of new light and a re-examination of a sexual harassment case involving a religious organization that had caused quite a public stir. The public’s concern is that the truth was buried by the unilateral stoning from the press.
I have been reporting on scene, ever since the media began to broadcast about this religious organization.
In 1999, this organization was at the center of attention due to media coverage by a broadcasting media company S (hereafter ‘Media S’) of a story titled ‘The kidnapping of Ms Hwang’, which was about the kidnapping of believers by the leaders of a religious organization. However, after inspecting the documents I had collected from the police investigation, I found that this case was not about kidnapping, rather it was about assault. Assault is completely different to kidnapping, and the penalty is different. Once the facts were uncovered, an article was accordingly published in the Police Journal. Subsequently, Mr Kim called to complain about the article in a rather agitated tone. He was unable to verify whether he was directly involved in the allegations brought in this matter.
He complained saying, ‘why did you write about a kidnapping as simply an assault, in your article?’ I explained to him that I had checked the investigation records at the Cheonan Police Station and that the article was published based on truths and facts. He then agreed to meet me to talk about this. Mr Kim was the one who made the reservation for this meeting, yet he did not show up. I called him and asked, ‘why are you not coming?’ He responded with an irresponsible and absurd explanation; that he simply did not want to meet and had returned home. He then hung up the phone on me. After that, he stopped receiving my calls.
Afterwards, Mr Kim criticized the Police Journal for publishing online an article about the assault case. Mr Kim even put up hand-written posters around his university campus. He attempted to organize a student council meeting. However, that meeting did not eventuate because there was clear evidence from the police investigation that the case was about assault.
It seemed then that this topic would die down, however, it was put back on the hot stove. Media S amplified the topic by broadcasting a report about how the president of the JMS religious body sexually harassed its believers, and continued to cause problems abroad after he fled to Hong Kong. Media S and its current affairs program took this story about President Jung as fait accompli, and the mass media began to regurgitate this story, without making enquiries as to what the truth may be.
Afterwards, the followers of this religious organization were deemed to be sinners, where in fact, they were innocent and suffering silently in shock and despair. Also, conflict within the organization intensified. Some followers viewed the stories aired by the media and uttered their disbelief upon seeing the difference between the original video made by the Church and the footages aired by Media S.
Finally, it was brought to light that the footages aired by Media S were distortions of the original video, crafted by video editing. Media S had depicted President Jung Myeong-Seok as a leader with sexual problems in its broadcast. Media S showed a portion of President Jung’s Sunday sermon from 1995, titled ‘A Life of Thanskgiving’. In the portion that was aired, the company distorted the audio of President Jung saying ‘give a tithe of lives, by evangelising one person out of ten’, to the point those spoken words were inaudible. Media S then inserted as subtitles the words ‘one woman’ instead of ‘one person’, when the story was aired. This was done so that viewers would inevitably be led to believe that President Jung Myeong-Seok was a leader with sexual problems.
In the original video, there were both men and women present at the Sunday service and events. However, Media S edited the video such that only females could be seen on screen. This gave viewers the impression that President Jung Myeong-Seok was a religious sect leader who only interacted with women.
Furthermore, Media S reported that the acronym ‘JMS’, which was adopted by members and known to them as standing for ‘Jesus Morning Star’, was short for the English initials of the name - President Jung Myeong-Seok. The implication they created was that the organization’s official name was ‘Jung Myeong-Seok’. However, the official name of the organization was never ‘JMS’. As I uncovered this, I found out that the official name of the organization at that time was the International Christian Union.
Ultimately, the court proclaimed, in its findings, that Media S was biased in its reporting, and recommended mediation for resolution [see picture]. The main outcomes were as follows: ‘Mr Kim OO’s one-sided reports should not be aired on television. Notice to the Christian Gospel Mission (hereafter CCM) must be provided 48 hours prior to the broadcasting of any stories about the CGM, and 5% of the airing time must be allowed for the CGM to refute any claims subject to broadcast. The violation of any of these terms would result in the imposition of 30 million won in compensatory damages.’ In its ruling, the court recognized that there was bias in Media S’s reporting. However, this was not known to the viewing public, and President Jung who was already branded a criminal by public opinion, continued to suffer because of the media.
The incident in China on April 4, 2006
The members of the CGM found out about the discrepancies in the story publicized by Media S. They refused to accept the story as truth and were on the move to expose the truth. On the other side, the anti-JMS forces also emerged claiming that they would expose this religious organization’s problems to the world.
Surprisingly, the person who led a group called Exodus (the lead group for the anti-JMS movement) was Mr Kim, the same man who had complained about the story of Ms Hwang, for being about an assault allegation, rather than kidnapping.
On April 18, 2006, Mr Kim held a press conference with four women who claimed that they had been assaulted. This occurred at a time when the world was about to forget about JMS.
This press conference brought JMS back to people’s minds. Mr Kim asserted that the reporters were seeking his views, in hopes of being on the side of justice. However, a shocking occurrence was exposed on the spot by Pastor Park, from his in depth investigation of the case. Mr Kim had demanded from the CGM 2 billion won as a pretext for agreement. Those who did not know Mr Kim would never have suspected this. A reporter from another media company ‘K’ had heard about the payment demand and conceded that there were problems with the press conference, and so chose to not cover the story. Afterwards, other reporters who had heard this truth began to doubt the trustworthiness of Mr Kim’s conduct, being the leader of the anti-JMS group.
On April 4, 2006, Ms Jang and Ms Kim, the alleged victims, undertook a medical examination in a hospital, while under Chinese police protection. The examination resulted in a finding of no traces of sexual assault. In particular, for Ms Jang, the alleged incident had occurred during her menstruation. Hence, the case amounted to nothing.
However, it may have seemed that this case had led to Korea’s extradition of President Jung. Accusations were made against President Jung while he was abroad. As he was not in Korea, his prosecution was in pending status. Hence, Korea’s Department of Justice requested his extradition from China, and China accepted that request.
The Korean police hospital also undertook a medical examination of Ms Jang and Ms Kim on April 8, to detect any injury on the alleged victims’ bodies. Again, they could not find any trace of sexual assault. In fact, their hymens were intact.
▲ In a conversation with a CGM member, Mr Kim demanded 2 billion won for damages. However, there were no actual verdicts on CGM’s liability at the time.
The media was wilfully blind to the truth
Religion is a freedom. People need religion to find peace and comfort for their soul and spirit. Hence, everyone is free to have religion. What becomes an issue is that people have the right to choose their own ways of expressing and acting on what they believe. As a result, those actions are driven by their own interests. People of faith must not overlook the reality that their actions are followed by consequences. This can be likened to the investment of shares; when the value of shares plunges, one cannot claim reparations from the company of which one owned the shares.
Religion is for none other than oneself. It stems from people’s freedom to believe as they choose. As a result, people may become excessively devoted to their doctrinal beliefs, and this may lead to them breaking away from their parents and siblings. In the end, people are free to follow their religious beliefs and act on them. However, those actions can lead to social ramifications and oppositions. One ought to be mindful of this.
Over the past 10 years, there have been various programs broadcasted by the media which have made accusations against religious cults. Then religion came into the foreground for scrutiny as a social problem. What ought to be holy and non-secular came to be judged and criticized for being right or wrong under public and criminal law courts. Journalists believed that they could perform surgery by their pens, and so rushed in to cover these religious issues. They did not cover the story, but covered the complaints-side unilaterally.
The crux of their reporting was that the believers’ devotion to faith was so extreme to the extent that they separated from their families, that the doctrines restricted their freedom and about the bizarre behaviour of the religious leader.
What was unfortunate was that journalists did not report with an in-depth understanding of the religion. They reported from the perspective of the non-religious, while the position of the religious was meagrely presented. This was how the edited footages provoked extreme interest in the viewers. If one were to consider the qualities of a religion, the freedom to express and interact with one another, one could perceive that what was depicted by Media S was possible. But the start and end segments of a video were clipped, and such partial footage was shown to create the perception that this religion was strange.
Another example is baptism, which involves a pastor putting his hand on a believer’s head, pushing his head down and making him submerge in the water and then letting him rise up again. This ritual may be difficult to understand by normal standards, given that it is a Christian ritual symbolizing one’s cleansing from the world of sins and becoming born again. However, to a certain religious denomination, this ritual of baptism is particularly important. If the start and end of a baptism footage were to be clipped, then the remaining footage of someone’s head been submerged under water could be seen as water torture.
In India, the Ganges River is contaminated with sewage water, filled with the wastes of everyday life. However, people of faith believe that this water is holy and they cleanse their bodies and hearts with this water. They submerge their head under the water and wash themselves, and even put that water in their mouth. There are also believers who climb the Himalayan Mountains with their bodies bent over, like they were crawling and bowing, as they climb with all their life, in order to go through penance. People question why such people do those acts. By secular common sense, they are seen to be insane. However, such acts are the expressions of the faithful, who act on what they believe and accept in their hearts to be true.
Religion has been measured by secular standards, rather than by religious standards which recognize the concept of obedience to God. As such, people nitpick at certain behaviour and ask, ‘why do they do that?’
Religion cannot be understood by the standards of the secular. How can one make sense of the assertion that humans being were created from mud and brought to life by the whiff of a breath? Yet, is there anyone who remembers the moment they were born from their mother’s womb? Despite that, we believe that we were born from our parents. Air and fragrance both cannot be seen or touched, yet we feel them through our senses.
This television program, about social complaints, makes no comment on the source of a problem, does not provide constructive criticism and does not inform viewers of how airing its stories affect members of society. At the end of a lengthy story, the conclusion is, ‘we leave it to the viewers to decide’. These television programs that broadcast complaints only show footages that are far from the facts. As a result, the people of faith, who once lived in peace, all of a sudden have become victims and perpetrators simultaneously. The followers of this religious organization were treated in the same way as their leader. Their leader was depicted as someone strange and the followers were considered the same. Thus, they became perpetrators. At the same time, they were also seen as victims who followed the leader, without knowing everything about him.
The possibility that the media was fooled by Mr Kim
Mr Kim held a press conference to bring his claims to the public. Mr Kim announced to the public that the women ‘were sexually assaulted to the point that they were wounded so deeply with bloody discharge that they could not even walk.’
To the contrary, the closed- circuit television (CCTV) footage, as subsequently revealed in Court by the defendant’s lawyer, showed that the two alleged victims were smiling and having no difficulties walking. This contradicted Mr Kim’s claims to the press.
Aside from this, there were many other aspects of this case that appeared incongruous, when considering all things.
Both Ms Jang and Ms Kim filed lawsuits on April 7, immediately upon returning to Korea. However, the typed court pleadings did not show any signature or seal of Ms Kim. This gives reason for suspicion. The pleadings also showed material produced by Exodus (the anti-JMS group), which bore no relevance to the alleged victims. This raises questions as to whether Ms Kim had connections to Exodus before she visited China.
The issue of sexual assault was intensely argued over in court by the defence and prosecution. Many aspects of the evidence presented were incongruent to the outcome of the proceeding. For example, as explained above, the dishonesty of the sexual assault claims was proven by the hospital records in China which showed no damage to the bodies of the females. Also, the first medical examination undertaken by the Korean police hospital showed ‘no damage to the hymn, and no traces of sexual assault found anywhere.’
However, two days later, Ms Kim, an accuser, requested another medical examination from the police hospital. This time, she was diagnosed with a laceration of 0.5mm, which was different to the previous finding. The doctor who conducted the examination stated that this was a slight injury, which could have been the result of excessive bicycle riding. Given the difference between the first and second medical diagnosis, the defendant’s lawyer reasoned that the injury was possibly self-inflicted.
Further, Ms Kim showed a photo of her abdomen as evidence for her claim that water was forcefully injected into her vagina, which resulted in her swollen abdomen. However, the doctor from the Korean Police Hospital who had medically examined Ms Kim testified that this was medically impossible. The defendant’s lawyer stated that this photo was intentionally produced to fabricate damage.
Ms Jang had alleged that she was a victim of sexual assault and her accusations were brought to trial. However, she later confessed that her accusations and testimony were false and withdrew her lawsuit. This fact should have received more attention than any other. Ms Jang attended court while holding her mother’s hand. There, she changed her statements that were previously given to the prosecutors and completely denied that she was a victim. The judge warned her stating, “If a witness testifies differently from a previously made accusation, they would be penalized for perjury.” To that, Ms Jang responded, “I am fine to be punished. The truth is that I was not sexually assaulted. Ms Kim, the joint-plaintiff, also falsely accused President Jung, while being pressured and incited by Exodus. There was no sexual assault and we have been giving false testimonies.”
After that, Ms Jang faced perjury charges, laid against her by Mr Kim from Exodus; it was apparent that Mr Kim was coordinating the actions of the two accusers. The question to be asked is– what right did Mr Kim have to accuse Ms Jang for acting out of her conscience? This ought to be investigated.
Ambivalent behavior by Mr Kim
I had heard the testimonies of various witnesses from the CGM during the trial. Their testimonies were rational and truthful. After 1999, Pastor Park had put much effort to find the truth behind these chains of events. His testimony in court was very enlightening as to why Mr Kim, Exodus and the alleged victims insisted on their incomprehensible claims.
In the witness stand, Pastor Park testified about how Mr Kim from Exodus met him to resolve matters. As per the court transcript, Mr Kim said to Pastor Park, ‘no matter how hard you try, Jung Myeong-Seok will never return to Korea. Among the prosecutors, there are some who grind their teeth just at hearing the name Jung Myeong-Seok. There are even three such people among the superintended public prosecutors.’ Then Mr Kim demanded that the CGM pay him 2 billion won, in exchange for withdrawing the victims’ accusations. In reply, Pastor Park said, ‘When I was visiting the President in China in 2006, he told me to love you. But somehow, I can’t bring myself to have the heart to love you. The President will surely return to Korea, upon which, every truth will be revealed. Withdraw your accusations now to avoid regrets later.’ Mr Kim then said, ‘Truth huh? No matter how desperate you are, he will never return. He will probably rot in a Chinese prison for the rest of his life. You will die without seeing him. Let’s say, even if the President does return, do you think you stand any chances of winning? There are countless many people and reporters on the side of the prosecution whose contacts are on my mobile phone, and who still contact me, Kim OO, to this day for information. You don’t know the power of mass media. Do you think Media S will just sit still? Do any of you have the power to suppress that media company? Of course the company S would never sit still. How many times have they broadcasted about you until now? Can you really win this case? You don’t know the power of having personal connections.’
Then Pastor Park asked Mr Kim, “You personally showed Mr Moon an accusation withdrawal form, didn’t you? I have heard that you always keep it in your car?”
Mr Kim replied, “Yes. Without 2 billion won to settle this, there is no deal. Some of your pastors have tried to contact and meet the women [female plaintiffs] without me. They were trying to seek a settlement with the women in secret, away from me. They were busted by me. I disrupted them. Jerks. You can never meet the women without me present. These women are crazy bitches. How could they accept any settlement without me, Kim OO! No one besides me can reach a settlement.”
Mr Kim’s attitude changed after the decision was made to extradite President Jung back to Korea
Pastor Park testified that shortly after President Jung was extradited, Mr Kim’s attitude changed. He lowered his demand for settlement from 2 billion won to 140 million won. Mr Kim was in need of 140 million won, as that was how much he was fined for committing fraud. Mr Kim’s demands for settlement were: first, in addition to the 140 million won, compensation be paid to rectify the harm done to Mr Kim’s father by the believers; second, the CGM representatives and lawyers sign a deed to guarantee that no further legal action would be taken against Mr Kim under any circumstance. In exchange, Mr Kim would withdraw all accusations made. He said that the decision to withdraw accusations, even if made by other plaintiffs, was entirely in his hands. He would publicly apologise to President Jung and the members of CGM at a press conference. Afterwards, he would go on his own way without ever having anything to do with JMS ever again. He expressed all of this to Pastor Park.
Mr Kim, the leader of Exodus, had written an apology letter on November 15, 1999. The letter was authenticated. In it, he stated, ‘I profusely apologize for secretly conspiring to cause harm to President Jung, for disgracing him through the publication of scandalous articles and for scarring him deeply.’ In addition, he sent apology letters to President Jung on 2 other occasions; March 17 and July 21, 2005.
Having seen parts of his letter, it stated, ‘I apologize for having misunderstood you, for defaming you and bringing indignity upon you,’ and further, ‘For the last 6 years, the Exodus members, including myself, have misunderstood you, defamed you and brought indignity upon you. We apologize again to you.’
The letters to President Jung were handwritten by Mr Kim himself, stamped with a certified seal (sent with its certification document), and his own photo attached to it.
President Jung replied to Mr Kim on August 3, 2005, in which he wrote:
“I write to you because in my heart, I was inspired to do so. I was glad to receive letters from you twice. Even if people are beloved to one another, when they fight, they become enemies. As Jesus said, those who fight become the enemy, and so they are distressed in their hearts. This torment only causes harm to one another.
** portions of the letter omitted **
For 6 years, you were my worry and the source of all kinds of pain. That harm you caused me has world-wide effects… After you thought about me, you said that I was not a bad person. Yet, you continued to demand money, so my thoughts only grow deeper at that…’
Despite his various efforts and extortions for money, the CGM did not agree to his demands, and so his efforts to obtain agreement ended in failure. His original plan was to extort large sums of money from the CGM, but that plan came to nothing. This was why he complained to the Police Journal in 1999 over the publication of the story about assault, rather than kidnapping. He protested to also put pressure on the Police Journal. The stories broadcasted by Media S and other media companies were initiated by Mr Kim. He proactively mobilized new programs and other mediums to form public sentiment. This had shocked the CGM. He created this public frenzy, with knowledge of the fact that the CGM had no system in place to defend itself.
Mr Kim utilized the mechanism of making complaints, and coordinating self-claimed victims to make accusations. He used the accusations as leverage to bargain with the CGM. Hence, he demanded 2 billion won, while keeping that a secret from the accusers. His plan was that if his demand was accepted, he would cease demands for punishment as agreed and would drop the case in court.
Secularism cannot measure religion
People of faith live by natural laws, laws that are unwritten. Natural laws are different to laws made by people. People in general do not live by the laws of society as their standard in life. Rather, it is the laws of their conscience, a part of natural law, that sets the standard for their lives. Thus, people live diligently by those laws.
It is more so for people of faith. It would not be a stretch to say that faith measures their life, and they live in reliance on God. As much as we guarantee the freedom of religion, it is unreasonable to condemn them by measuring them against the standards of the secular world.
In the midst of what became a social controversy, there were victims at the center of it all, and there was a person who tried to extort a large sum of money.
The believers of the religious organization and Pastor Park worked hard to dig out the truth behind this case. They contended that Mr Kim hazed the judge’s decision by misinforming the media and driving public sentiment for self- profit.
In court, President Jung stated clearly ‘no’, but his statement was not taken into account. The judge was shaken by public opinion. It has been said that the defendant’s position was not adequately considered throughout the trial process.
President Jung had stated, “I did not commit such sin, and so I considered their accusation lightly.” His concern and focus were on overseas missionary work. His thought was that no matter what, God’s will was omnipresent. He returned to Korea in 2000 and 2001. The investigations that occurred during those times were all concluded with the outcome of him being ‘free of suspicion’.
As for all the cases of accusations since then, he could not respond to each and every case because of his busy overseas missionary schedule. President Jung said that it was upon returning to Korea, that he realized the seriousness of the matters.
Reporters would distort the actions of the religious to appear strange in their coverage, if they measured their actions by the standards of the non-religious.
The prosecution should also reflect on their faithfulness to the presumption of innocence; a principle based on the saying, ‘let not even one innocent person be unjustly judged a criminal, even if a hundred thieves are set free.’ Rather than being faithful to this presumption, they were unilaterally persistent on prosecuting.
Given the actions of Mr Kim, someone who was anti-JMS, one must consider whether the allegations against President Jung stemming from him were false. The judge sentenced President Jung to 10 years, a severe penalty, in a case where the witnesses’ testimonies and the witnesses themselves were vague. We must also reflect on whether the presiding judge had a proper understanding of religion, whether his judgment was obscured and
forced by public sentiment and if so, whether President Jung was charged with false accusations. Mr Kim should be investigated as to whether he had coordinated and manipulated the actions of the accusers from behind in order to bring trouble, for the purpose of monetary profit. The fact that Mr Kim had demanded money from the CGM to settle should warrant such investigation.
With a heart of sacrificing, President Jung carried the cross by himself, holding on to Jesus Christ’s teaching of loving one’s enemies. However, everything must be revealed with accuracy, even if doing so is now. To not do so would be an act of helping those who pursue self-interest by exploiting the circumstance of the CGM not being represented by any secular lawyer. An attempt to leave ninety-nine sheep in order to save one lamb out of love carries the risk of losing the ninety-nine sheep.
Yet, this determination and effort is the key to restoring reputation and relieving the grief of injustice and hardships suffered by tens of thousands of believers along with President Jung. ◎
▼ An assembly scene of the Korean Christian Gospel Mission