There are several provoking articles about Providence published in 2018, spinning old fake news from 2012 into “new” news in 2018.
These articles cast Providence in a negative light by reiterating the same old story about Elizabeth (Liz), an aspiring lawyer in Australia, who unknowingly joined a religious group called Christian Gospel Mission, led by Jung Myung Seok.
“The only way I could describe it was rape,” she said of the two-year experience. “Even though it wasn’t physical—it was mental and it was emotional and it was spiritual rape. I just felt violated.”
Her testimony is that she joined this group and then later required a team of experts to extract her out in 2013 when she realized she had joined a cult.
She also states that the jewelry, a necklace from Providence, symbolized a vagina, and she described the leader of the church, Jung Myung Seok, as being “obsessed” with sex and the female genitalia.
“Jung is just women-obsessed and sex obsessed,” she explained. “I guess he just wanted his women to wear things that symbolize him.”
But is that true? Or is it her own perception and judgment?
Actually, the designer who made this necklace described the necklace’s original and intended meaning to the church congregation of over 20,000 members. Here is the footage of the jewelry designer explaining the design that Pastor Jung Myung Seok gave to her. In stark contrast to what Liz claims, the jewelry design does not symbolize a vagina. Instead the three pearls symbolize the Holy Trinity. It appears Liz twisted the meaning of the Holy Trinity into a vagina to satisfy her depiction of Pastor Jung Myung Seok as a sex-crazed maniac.
Liz’ Testimony – Re-examined
Liz’ testimony suggests that after joining Providence she was not allowed to see her family. She also developed an eating disorder and was hospitalised in 2012. Even though she was never physically or sexually assaulted, she felt emotionally tormented to the extent of “spiritual rape.” She described herself as being sleep deprived.
“We had to wake up at 3am everyday to pray because they said this brought us closer to god. It’s a mind control technique: when you’re deprived of sleep you can’t critically think.”
Critics state sleep deprivation is a tactic that cults commonly use to prevent people from discerning things well. They say this is a technique Providence uses to brainwash people.
That all sounds very concerning. If this is all true, I would agree that Providence is a cult. As what decent religion would intentionally inflict such physical and mental harm to an individual?
The Real Deal
Before jumping to conclusions and judging the group, I did some research and have shared below the information I gathered.
I interviewed current members of Providence, including church leaders, assistant leaders, and general church members to see what they had to say about all this. At least half of the members interviewed were male. Of the members interviewed, some had only been in Providence for less than two years, whereas others had been in Providence for decades. The ages of the interviewees ranged from teenage years to above 50. The regions of the interviewed members spanned the United States, Africa, Canada, and Korea. Some were married, some were single.
Liz Was Sleep-Deprived
People in their everyday lives will often stay up late or wake up early doing things they value. It is not uncommon to see a student staying up until 2am studying for an exam, or an employee preparing for a major presentation well into the early morning. It doesn’t just apply to people who have to make exceptional deadlines. There are people who wake up at 4am to run, do their yoga, or meditate. Some people stay up late or wake up early to play video games. Likewise, there are those who wake up early to pray.
The problem with Liz’ testimony about pre-dawn prayer is not that it involves waking up early and praying. The problem is she suggests she was forced against her will to do something for a malicious cause.
Testimonies from current Providence members paint a drastically different view than what Liz claims about pre-dawn prayer.
One member states, “There is no obligation for pre-dawn prayer. People can vary on their wake times and duration of prayer according to their situation and spiritual level. Pre-dawn prayer is encouraged but not expected.”
According to Providence members, pre-dawn is felt to be a time of spiritual connection with God. They refer to Jesus and his disciples practicing pre-dawn prayer in the bible (Mark 1:35).
A senior member of Providence also explains: “It takes a certain discipline and dedication to do it while the body adapts to the change gradually over time. Members who engage in pre-dawn prayer are encouraged to sleep early and wake up early. It is not expected that everyone does this without gradual and proper adjustments. There are also individual circumstances where pre-dawn prayer is not possible.”
Contrary to the belief that pre-dawn prayer is only a sleep deprivation tactic used by cults, pre-dawn prayer is not unique to Providence. It turns out that many Christian churches, especially in Korea where Providence is based, also pray during pre-dawn hours. And as mentioned above, use of predawn time to partake in activities or accomplish things that people care about, is not an unusual phenomenon.
Liz Did Not See Her Family
Is it true that she was imprisoned in her room, forced to live with Providence roommates and not permitted to go anywhere? What does Providence have to say about Liz being isolated from her family?
In the past, CGM spokesperson, Mr. Andrew Choi, had responded to this and said, “Members are entitled to their own lifestyle choices.”
I learned from one member who knew Liz while she was in Providence that Liz lived with a roommate and they would invite her mother over for dinners and gatherings.
What do current day Providence members testify about meeting with family?
All of the Providence members’ denied being restricted from visiting their parents, family members, or friends. In fact, some of the interviewed members still live at home with their family. Member statements also showed one consistent theme. That is, Providence emphasizes honoring your parents according to the 10 commandments, not to distance yourselves from your family.
“The way we interact with people reflects the way we live with God. Since the fundamental principle that God teaches us through Providence is to love, we must treat everybody with love. It would not make sense to ignore our parents or loved ones.”
“Pastor Jung Myung Seok always taught us to love and care for our parents. We are encouraged to spend time with family.”
“Why didn’t she see or talk to her own family and make them worry like that? That was her own choice, not due to Providence.”
Liz Had An Eating Disorder
Liz states the regulated eating from Providence coupled with sleep deprivation led to her eating disorder.
Is it true that Providence doesn’t allow you to eat?
One thing is certain – eating disorders do not stem purely from physical conditions. It stems from mental illness. Medical experts say many eating disorders are long-standing, onset during teenage years or early adulthood. This eating disorder that Liz had likely started even before she joined Providence. And it appears it has nothing to do with Providence teachings.
This is what current Providence members say:
“Providence does not teach you to not take care of yourself, not sleep, and not eat. In fact, Providence is based on Jesus’ teachings that you should care for your body and value your life as it is a precious vessel for your spirit gifted from God.”
“In many sermons, members are encouraged to seek medical attention for their physical and mental health when there are issues.”
“Providence doesn’t restrict our eating or enforce any regulations around eating. I am still able to eat whatever I want, when I want.”
“Lunch is often provided at many church services. It is not true that we are not allowed to eat.”
Liz says Pastor Jung Myung Seok Made Sex-Crazed Remarks
Liz states she wrote letters to the Head Pastor while he was imprisoned and that he wrote back sex-crazed remarks.
“They encourage us to write letters to him like he was our lover. He wrote sexually explicit replies saying thing like “your white skin arouses me’ or ‘your vagina would look pretty.’”
Mr. Andrew Choi refutes these claims. He explains that letters Pastor Jung Myung Seok hand writes back to members are in Korean and had to go through the prison mail system and several other authorities before being delivered. This further required translation into English in her case. How could these comments have bypassed the prison mail system?
All current members of Providence unanimously called out Liz’s lies. Many members found her assertions to be ridiculous.
“I wrote to Pastor Jung Myung Seok many times. Most general members will not get a response due to the volume of letters he receives. When he has responded to members, his answers were concise, related to the issue at hand, spiritual, and not personal or self centred at all.”
“Her claims are in direct contradiction to Providence’s key doctrine, which is to love God with all our heart, will and life. Pastor Jung Myung Seok teaches us to love God entirely and to be spiritual brides of heaven – NOT physical brides. His actions are entirely for God. How could that be compatible with those types of comments? A person who takes the term ‘bride’ literally has misinterpreted his teachings.”
Liz has not been able to reproduce these letters at any of the times she was asked.
Liz Says She Was “Raped”
Rape is a serious crime. “Rape” is an emotionally charged term with negative connotation that must not be tossed around carelessly. Yet Liz says that she was spiritually “raped” even though there was no sexual or physical encounter.
Why did Liz use that term? The answer is simple. It was to connect Providence to the imagery of sex and rape. It was to suggest to everyone that this is what Providence was all about, despite its large male membership.
Liz’s one sided fabricated testimony has damaged the reputation of this group, without allowing proper rebuttal. As a result, this group has had to keep justifying themselves in the eyes of public, defending themselves that they are not the cult that the public has made them out to be.
The Role of Media and Fake News
It is easy to ruin somebody’s reputation by making false accusations on media. The accusations from 2012 are still being circulated as recent news today.
For the media allegations in Korea instigated by Mr. Kim in 1999, slander against Pastor Jung Myung Meok was made on broadcast before any objective investigation was done. However, those 5 women gathered by Mr. Kim who claimed rape from Jung Myung Seok, failed to produce any objective evidence. Conviction was based on their verbal testimonies alone. One woman even recanted her testimony in court and informed the judge that the others were lying. Objective evidence ruled out sexual assault of any sort. Two independent hospital examinations immediately after two women claimed rape found intact hymens and no signs of sexual activity.
Yes, Jung Myung Seok was convicted. This is something the media continues to use against him and Providence. Yes, these women claimed rape. But was the trial objective? Was there hard evidence? Media outlets had already spread false rumors against him before the trial started. Jung Myung Seok was never given a fair chance to defend himself, leading to a verdict based solely on verbal testimony. The judges had no choice but to put the leader behind bars to satisfy social pressure and their own negative perceptions of him.
Any articles published about Liz’ story and Providence is based on one person’s testimony from over five years ago. For reasons I cannot understand, Liz had chosen to be dishonest about Providence and its leader. This had led to public misconception of this religious group. Outcomes from Liz’ testimony is a powerful example of the danger of judging and ostracizing groups before fully understanding the other side of the story.