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South Korea’s COVID-19 Church Scapegoat Is Fighting Back

South Korea confronted a crisis early in the pandemic, when a sixty one-12 months-outdated female with a fever attended quite a few Shincheonji Church of Jesus gatherings in the metropolis of Daegu. The area subsequently grew to become the most significant epicenter of the coronavirus outdoors China. South Korea properly flattened the curve and grew to become a globe leader for its pandemic response. Shincheonji, in the meantime, became notorious as the Christian cult supposedly dependable for the country’s outbreak. But the way the group has been treated provides up difficult questions of spiritual independence, pandemic responsibility, and media scapegoating.

One particular of the explanations Shincheonji has been blamed for the unfold of the virus is the testimony of former members who say that even when they had been unwell, they were predicted to attend products and services where they were being “packed together like sardines.” There have also been reviews that say church customers believe that their faith guards them from disease, or that illness is a sin. This, South Koreans will explain to you, is why Shincheonji (Read Alot more) associates collected in teams of far more than one,000 even as a pandemic was underway. This is why South Korea only recorded about one new scenario per working day in its to start with month—then jumped from 31 scenarios to six,767 more than the subsequent two and a 50 % weeks, with 63.5 p.c of those people conditions tied to the church.

Shincheonji has also been blamed for the problems authorities confronted in acquiring the secretive church’s membership documents, which created it challenging for wellness officers to keep track of the unfold of the virus in the critical early days of the outbreak. In the beginning, Shincheonji explained it was challenging to deliver a full record because some people ended up not yet total associates. Busan’s then mayor, Oh Keo-don, threatened to sue if Shincheonji was located to have furnished a fake record, whilst Daegu’s mayor, Kwon Younger-jin, stated he planned to press criminal fees for the church’s recurring refusal to hand in a checklist of trainees living in the city. The church’s founder, Lee Man-hee, was questioned by prosecutors on charges that he intentionally misled authorities about the quantity of worshippers and destinations of worship. On Aug. 1, he was arrested for allegedly giving health and fitness officials false facts and embezzling about $4.seven million.

But when the late mayor of Seoul, Park Won-before long, who just lately dedicated suicide subsequent accusations of sexual abuse, ordered the a raid of Shincheonji headquarters in the close by city of Gwacheon to acquire a entire listing of members, forensic analysis finally found that the church had not lied. What’s more, in the times primary up to the Daegu outbreak, the Korean govt had encouraged versus canceling huge-scale occasions simply because of the coronavirus, indicating it was time to return to daily existence, albeit with safety protocols. President Moon Jae-in himself assured the general public the epidemic would soon end, but that quarantine attempts would go on. The church experienced performed minor more than follow the government’s guide.

Shincheonji has also been blamed for the issue authorities confronted in getting the secretive church’s membership records, which made it tricky for health and fitness officials to keep track of the spread of the virus in the very important early times of the outbreak.

The backlash against the group has nonetheless been critical. An online petition filed with the presidential workplace to disband the church collected hundreds of thousands of signatures in times. When a Shincheonji representative posted a YouTube video clip inquiring viewers to conclusion their hatred of its customers, the video sparked typically anger. (The representative also argued that for the reason that most cases in Korea ended up church users, the church was hence the largest victim.) A single person wrote in the feedback segment, “We should really connect with it ‘Shincheonji-19,’ as an alternative of ‘COVID-19.’”

In another circumstance, a man wrote a Fb article just after he, his mother, his wife, and his two young children contracted the virus, asking people to present his family members mercy. “I did not know my mother was a follower of Shincheonji,” he wrote, conveying that his spouse, who had been seriously criticized for visiting a number of locations in the course of her incubation period, was a nurse whose position was to accompany people today with actual physical disabilities to clinics. “It is genuine my wife moved all around a whole lot,” he added, “but remember to cease cursing her. Her only fault is marrying a person like me, and obtaining to do the job and just take treatment of the small children.”

About 56 p.c of Koreans are nonreligious, while 28 % are Christian and about 16 % are Buddhist. Heterodox teams are thus not the norm any additional than in the United States, and even amongst the devoutly religious, they are considered askance: 20 percent of Koreans are Protestant (typically Prebyterian), about eight percent are Catholic, and most Korean Buddhists belong possibly to the Jogye or Taego get, which are both of those kinds of Seon, or Korean Zen. This puts teams like Shincheonji considerably outside mainstream Korean society, which could partly describe why they ended up vilified.

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