People in Gansu Province carry a banner warning that Almighty God is coming to save believers and destroy the people and nations that resist, December 11, 2012. Photo credit: gscn.com.cn
All across the world, people have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of December 21, 2012, a date some believe has been prophesied to mark the end of the world. China has apparently not been immune from these rumors, and a recent report from Shaanxi Province suggests that authorities there are engaged in a serious crackdown against a persistent “cult” organization that has been using the doomsday rumors to recruit new members.
For several decades, authorities in China have been trying to eliminate a quasi-Christian group that calls itself the “Church of the Almighty God.” Known also as the “Real God” church or “Eastern Lightning,” this group believes that divine revelation has identified a “female Christ” who will reign over a new age in which humankind will be judged and only believers will survive. The group apparently has an extensive organization both inside and outside China and has reportedly been involved in a number of violent attacks on Christian house church organizations. In 2001, Time magazine published a short profile of the organization describing some of these allegations.
Translated below, the recent report out of Shaanxi does not offer much detail on the group’s latest activities. (According to China Digital Times, propaganda officials have put Chinese media under strict orders not to report on recent cult activities.) It does, however, provide a useful view of how Chinese authorities define “cults” and perceive their various social harms.
“Almighty God” Cult Appears in Shaanxi, Incites Believers to Wage Decisive Battle against Party
Chinese Business View
December 14, 2012
Recently in some places in our province, members of the “Almighty God” cult have been taking advantage of the “2012 end-of-the-world prophecy” to gather illegally and disseminate propaganda in the streets to spread the end-of-the-world rumor and claim that “only believers will be saved.”
Also Known as “Eastern Lightning,” “Real God”
This reporter has learned that the “Almighty God” cult is also called “Eastern Lightning” and “Real God.” Its doctrines are selections and perversions from the Christian Bible, [and the group] mainly exploits the name of “Christianity” to conduct illegal activities. The State Religious Affairs Bureau first made a note of its cult nature long ago and banned the group in accordance with the law; [the bureau] is now striking hard against [Almighty God].
This organization originated as an offshoot of the “Shouters,” a cult which entered our country from the United States in the late 1970s. Its founder, Zhao Weishan, was a core member of the “Shouters” who left to set up his own group because of disagreements with fellow members. “Almighty God” carries the banner of Christianity and disseminates absurd, illegal cult teachings adapted from Christianity such as The Word Appears in the Flesh; Lightning from the East; Almighty God, How Great You Are (also known as Sing a New Song with the Lamb); Christ’s Words (also known as Judgment Begins with the Family of God); Works of the Spirit; Kingdom of Praise; Hymns of Truth; and New Songs.
This group teaches that the “Age of Law” ruled over by Jehovah and the “Age of Grace” ruled over by Jesus have both passed and that the “Age of the Kingdom” ruled over by “Almighty God” is approaching. [It teaches that] God took human form a second time as an Eastern woman and descended to China to pass judgment on humankind. It claims that “the end of the world is approaching” and that only those who believe in “Almighty God” can be saved, whereas all who reject and do not believe will be killed by “lightning.” It says slanderously that “present-day China is a great imperial family in decline that is dominated by a great red dragon (i.e., the Communist Party)” and incites followers to launch a decisive battle against the “great red dragon” under God’s leadership and “to destroy the great red dragon and establish the Kingdom of the Almighty God.”
Striking Hard against Its Destructive Activities
“Almighty God,” which originated in Henan in the 1990s and spread to many provinces, is a cult with political overtones.
There have been instances of the cult’s money-making scams in many places throughout the country, bringing great harm to more than a few members of the public who were “lured” by the cult into joining. The cult even encourages its members to leave their homes, devoting their body, soul, and property to the church leader. This has led to the shattering of many formerly prosperous and happy families and compounded the problems of many families that were already poor and suffering.
The spread of this cult has seriously interfered with the normal religious beliefs of some members of the public in our province and has disrupted the order of people’s work and daily life. It has deceptively attracted [members of the] public who do not understand the true situation, led to disharmony in many families, and caused great social harm. As December 21, 2012, approaches, the destructive activities of “Eastern Lightning” groups everywhere may grow even more apparent and virulent. The relevant authorities are presently striking hard [against them] and remind the public to resolutely resist.
Readers who discover illegal or criminal activities of the “Almighty God” [cult] are requested to report them to police immediately by phoning 110 and to assist the public security authorities in combating and punishing [the group].
Operation Style of the “Almighty God” Cult
Beginning in the 1990s, “Eastern Lightning” (also known as “Almighty God”) spread northward from Henan. In 1998 it spread to places including Yan’an and Yulin, and in 2004 it reached the region of Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, making pervasive inroads towards Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and other areas. The group’s internal organizational structure is extremely tight and its ability to resist detection is quite strong. At the very top of its internal organizational structure is a female God, below which are priests. The churches are divided into large-area, small-area, and branch churches, with the persons responsible known as “leaders.” Proselytization is similar to a pyramid marketing scheme, employing “rolling personal networks” and one-way relationships. Once you have joined the church, you are not allowed to ask others’ names. Only pseudonyms such as “Little White Rabbit” or “Doggy” are used in communication with others. Each church member only knows the several other members of their branch church, and members rarely meet in groups exceeding seven. New members are known as “newcomers.” Those who have been discovered by the public security authority or government agencies are said to have “left the surroundings,” and either don’t talk or talk nonsense [to those who discovered them]. Proselytizers are typically not allowed to carry any means of communication and, when they need to make contact, make varied use of local pay-per-use telephone services to call people to meet them.
How to Identify Cults
[With respect to] Article 300 of the Criminal Law, cults are defined as “illegal organizations established in the name of religion, qigong, or other pretexts that, having deified its most important members, uses the creation and dissemination of superstition and heresies, among other means, to bewitch and deceive others, recruit and control members, and harm society.” [Note: Article 300 discusses cult-related crimes, but “cults” are not defined anywhere in the Criminal Law—Trans.]
In other words, [cults] make people miss work, neglect their fields, abandon their homes, and give up their studies to believe in “God”; claim that joining their “religion” can heal the sick and ward off calamity and serve as a refuge; spread word that the “end of the world” is coming and that only those who join their organization can be saved; deceive and coerce women into humiliation by church leaders; say that traditional religion is out of date and that one must believe in a new “God”; hold illegal and furtive gatherings where they shout, sing, and dance wildly; make people use deceptive means to get others to join; refuse to allow [people to] leave the group after joining; incite members to defy the government in the name of “God”; treat society, the government, and ordinary people as “demons”; concoct ridiculous heresies under the guise of religion and science; unscrupulously collect money through fraudulent means; and establish underground organizations and carry out illegal activities.