May 23, 2018 ~ Access McCandless Staff
A few days ago one of our admins shared a post from another local page that has been making the rounds on Facebook. The post claims that someone who was part of the “God the Mother” group aggressively approached the woman in a parking lot and asserted that the group “tries to lure you in by talking about a church group but it is actually sex trafficking.”
Several readers pointed out that the sex trafficking claim is false and cited sources that have debunked the viral post, while others recounted similar experiences with church members’ aggression in local store parking lots.
So just who are these people who approach you in a parking lot to talk about God the Mother?
While we have found the sex trafficking rumor to be false, the church is mired in other controversy including aggressive proselytizing and “cult-like” tactics.
The World Mission Society Church of God is a movement founded by Ahn Sahng-Hong in South Korea in 1964 who predicted Christ would return in 1967, then changed the date to 1988. The WMSCOG believed the world would end in 1967, then 1988, and then at the end of 2012. There is a branch of the church in West View.
The WMSCOG believes in God the Father and God the Mother, who came to earth in the flesh. Ahn Sahng-Hong’s spiritual wife, Zahng Gil-Jah, is known as “the Heavenly Mother.” According the WMSCOG, “God the Mother is the core of our faith and the figure that guides us. . . . God the Mother stands by and prays for us whenever we face hardships.”
We were contacted by Victor Lozada of the WMSCOG who demanded that we remove the viral post. Lozada asserted that church members have been attacked, pepper sprayed, receive death threats and the churches have been vandalized because of the false allegations. We declined to remove the post, however, due to the fact that several posters recounted situations in which they were aggressively confronted by church members in store parking lots around the area.
According to Lozada, the World Mission Society Church of God has worked with multiple law enforcement agencies, as well as the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that combats human trafficking, in an effort to dispel the allegations and tackle the problem. The rumors have been found to be blatantly false.
“Most of the encounters with our members are pleasant and/or very neutral,” he said. However, in our research, we have found that they have been banned from several college campuses because of aggressive tactics in recruiting new church members. At the University of Memphis, campus police communicated that members of the church would be subject to criminal trespass due to “aggressively attempting to discuss religion and distribute literature.” Several students complained that they were “cornered” and aggressively approached by church members who were barred from further harassing students.
While Tennessee University, The University of Memphis and Oberlin College have banned members from recruiting on college campuses, many other schools have had complaints from students.
Many ex-church members describe the church as “cult-like” and engaging in “mind control” tactics. In an article in People magazine, one of its former followers contends that the group is “a profit-making cult that uses a number of psychological control tactics…to prevent its members from exposing its criminal and tortious behavior.” Others have made allegations of controlling information, using brainwashing techniques and isolation from family members and friends.
The government of Vietnam has even urged caution when dealing with the group.
Lozada, however, contends that church members are not aggressive. In communications with Mr. Lozada, he said “our church has been around for 50 years operating the same way. Never did we have an issue like this, but suddenly since the posting of these false online rumors, our members lives have been out in danger.”
He points out that the church has been involved in many community activities such as relief for victims of hurricane Maria, (promotional video), a street cleanup in New Jersey and other volunteer services.
But many local residents still feel concern. One facebook poster said “I’ve had 2 somewhat similar experiences lately, once at Whole Foods in Wexford then again at Costco in Cranberry. ” Another recalled being approached in the parking lot of Ross Park Mall, “They tried to get me to come to their car to pray for me…they cornered me in between 2 cars.”
Another poster said “This happened to me in Aldi behind the block…it was two women that followed me around the store asking me questions.”
While the sex trafficking claim is obviously false, some local residents still feel that in a world where safety is a concern, the type of approach and location where the contact takes place are both inappropriate.