The Story of Pastor Jung Myeong Seok Published in the Civil Government Magazine (15 Feb 2010)
The public is calling for the shedding of new light and a re‐examination of a sexual harassment case involving a religious organization (and Jung Myeong Seok) that had caused quite a public stir. The public’s concern is that the press buried the truth unilaterally. (The original article in Korean archived 13 Jan 2017 | archive 2)
An Investigation of the Media’s Reporting of Providence
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 police uncovered the facts, they published an article 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 police published the article 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.
Mr Kim criticizes Police Journal
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, the media brought the issue back up again. Media S amplified the topic by broadcasting a report about how the president of the JMS religious body sexually harassed its believers. They also said he continued to cause problems abroad after he fled to Hong Kong. Media S and its current affairs program took this story about Jung Myeong Seok as fait accompli, and the mass media began to regurgitate this story, without making inquiries as to what the truth may be.
Afterwards, people deemed the followers of this religious organization as sinners when in fact they were innocent. As a result, these innocent people were speechless and had to suffer 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 modified footage. There was a difference between the original video made by the Church and the footage aired by Media S.
Media S distorts original footage to slander Jung Myung Seok
Finally, it was brought to light that the footage aired by Media S were distortions of the original video, crafted by video editing. Media S had depicted Jung Myeong Seok as a leader with sexual problems in its broadcast. Media S showed a portion of Jung’s Sunday sermon from 1995, titled ‘A Life of Thanksgiving’. In the portion that Media S aired, the company distorted the audio of Jung saying, “Give a tithe of lives by evangelizing one out of ten people.” It was to the point you could not hear what he said clearly. Media S then inserted subtitles replacing “one person” with “one woman” when they aired the story. The company did this so that viewers would believe that 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 viewers could only see females on the screen. This gave viewers the impression that Jung Myeong Seok was a religious sect leader who only interacted with women.
Furthermore, Media S reported that the acronym JMS, which members adopted and understood as Jesus Morning Stars, was short for the English initials of the name 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.
The court rules Media S as biased
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 CGM) 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, the public did not know about this. So Jung Myeong Seok who the public branded as a criminal continued to suffer because of the media.
The media was willfully 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, their interests drive their actions. People of faith must not overlook the reality that consequences follow their every action. You can liken this 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 the media has broadcast which have made accusations against religious cults. Then religion came into the foreground for scrutiny as a social problem. The public and the criminal law courts judged and criticized what ought to be holy and nonsecular for being right or wrong. 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.
Journalists biased from the beginning
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 behavior 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 an atheist while meagerly presenting the position of the religious. This was how the edited footage provoked extreme interest in the viewers. If you consider the qualities of a religion, the freedom to express and interact with one another, you would perceive that what Media S depicted was possible. But they clipped the beginning and end of the video. And they showed partial footage 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 you were to clip the beginning and end of baptism footage, then viewers would see someone forcing someone’s head under water and see it as water torture.
The media measures religion based on secular standards
In India, sewage water contaminates the Ganges River. The wastes of everyday life fill the water. 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, people see them as insane. However, such acts are the expressions of the faithful, who act on what they believe and accept in their hearts to be true.
Society measures religion according to secular standards rather than religious standards. Religious standards recognize the concept of obedience to God. As such, people nitpick at certain behavior and ask, “Why do they do that?”
People will not be able to understand religion by analyzing it under secular standards. How can one make sense of the assertion that God created humans being from mud and brought them to life by the whiff of his 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. We cannot see or touch the air and the fragrance of smell. Yet we feel them through our senses.
Journalism far from fact
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 footage 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. Society treats the followers of this religious organization in the same way as their leader. The media depicted their leader as someone strange so people consider the followers similarly. Thus, they became perpetrators. At the same time, people saw them as victims who blindly followed their leader without knowing everything about him.
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 Jung Myung Seok had assaulted them. 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, Pastor Park exposed something shocking 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.
Medical tests reveal no traces of sexual assault
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 Jung Myeong Seok. Alleged victims made accusations against 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.
Mr Kim fooled the media
Mr Kim held a press conference to bring his claims to the public. He announced to the public that “Jung Myung Seok had sexually assaulted the women to the point they they were bleeding and 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 defense and the prosecution argued intensely in court about the issue of sexual assault. Many aspects of the evidence presented were incongruent to the outcome of the proceeding. For example, as explained above, the hospital records in China proved the dishonesty of the sexual assault claims. They showed that no one had damaged the bodies of the females. Also, the first medical examination undertaken by the Korean police hospital showed ‘no damage to the hymen, and no traces of sexual assault found anywhere.’
Ms Kim injured herself to fake rape
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 swollen abdomen as evidence for her claim that Jung Myung Seok had forcefully injected water into her vagina. 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 lawyers brought her accusations to trial.
Witness claims her testimony was false and withdrew her lawsuit
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 she had 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, we will penalize them for perjury.”
To that, Ms Jang responded, “I am fine even if you punish me. The truth is that Jung Myung Seok did not sexually assault me. Ms Kim, the joint‐plaintiff, also falsely accused President Jung Myeong Seok, while Exodus was pressuring and inciting them. 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. This question we must ask ourselves is this. What right did Mr Kim have to accuse Ms Jang for acting out of her conscience? We ought to investigate this.
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.
Mr Kim threatens Jung Myung Seok for money
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 CGM to 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 and reveal the truth. Withdraw your accusations now to avoid regrets later.”
Mr Kim said, “Truth? 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 people and reporters on the side of the prosecution whose contacts are on my cellphone. They 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 company S would never sit still. How many times have they broadcast about you until now? Can you really win this case? You don’t know the power of having personal connections.”
Mr Kim used women to falsely accuse Jung Myung Seok
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. But I busted them. 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.”
Pastor Park testified that shortly after the Chinese government extradited Jung Myeong Seok, 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. That was how much the police had fined him 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. And second, the CGM representatives and lawyers sign a deed to guarantee that they would take no further legal action 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 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 apologizes to Jung Myung Seok
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 Myeong Seok, for disgracing him through the publication of scandalous articles and for scarring him deeply.” In addition, he sent apology letters to Jung on two 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 Jung Myeong Seok were handwritten by Mr Kim himself, stamped with a certified seal (sent with its certification document), and his own photo attached to it.
Jung Myeong Seok 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…
For 6 years, you were my worry and the source of all kinds of pain. That harm you caused me has worldwide 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…”
CGM did not agree to Mr Kim’s demands
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.
The true victim
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, Jung Myeong Seok 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.
Jung Myeong Seok 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.”
Guilty until proven innocent
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. Jung Myeong Seok 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 Jung Myeong Seok stemming from him were false. The judge sentenced 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 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.
Jung Myung Seok carries the cross
With a heart of sacrificing, Jung Myeong Seok 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 ninetynine 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 Jung Myeong Seok.