Shincheonji is an offshoot Christian new religious movement. Lee Man-hee founded the movement on March 14, 1984. He established its first temple in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province in South Korea. Shincheonji in Korean means “Hanja lit,” which is translated as “New Heaven and New Earth.” It is also known as the Church of Jesus or the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ). The religious movement was initially established in South Korea, but it has spread in various parts of the world, eventually gaining more followers or members.
Lee Man-hee, the founder of the religious movement, is regarded as the “promised pastor,” “the advocate,” or “the one who overcomes.” He is a self-proclaimed messiah that is believed to contain the spirit of the returned Jesus Christ. The religious movement also preaches that the Bible, particularly the Book of Revelation, is written in secret metaphors that only Lee can decipher. The religious teachings further claim that only its members will receive salvation that everyone who is not part of Shincheonji will be denied forgiveness and destroyed during the Judgment Day.
Though there are several similar operating religious groups or movements, Shincheonji has particularly gained limelight due to the number of controversies and its link with the recent COVID-19 outbreak. The quasi-Christian doomsday sect was founded in 1984 but gained popularity and recognition only in the present day. In Korea, the virus outbreak was centered in Daegu, where a 61-year-old, particularly known as Patient 31, was infected with the virus.
He was later found to be part of Church of Jesus and had spread the virus to other members causing a huge rise in the number of COVID-19 infected people. In 2014, 120,000 members were estimated to be part of the Church of Jesus. However, the Government of South Korea in March 2020 declared that there were exactly 317,320 registered members. Besides the huge pandemic controversies such as threats, discrimination, and abuse were targeted at Shincheonji members.
His preaching and his principle about him and his religion appear discriminated against Christianity. So, most mainstream Churches in South Korea believe Shincheonji as a cult. Shincheonji has millions of devout disciples from South Korea and other countries like the US, that are considered to be the faithful followers of God. However, this religious group has different beliefs and ideology, then Christianity. Their teaching, thoughts, devotions, practices, and prayer customs are very other than Christianity. These practices and their disobedience, which led to the rise of COVID instances in South Korea, assert Shincheonji as a cult rather than a committed religious group.