Religion Dispatches has an interesting article by Jonathan Fitzgerald on the fall-out from Christianity Today‘s August investigation into David Jang, a Korean evangelical leader who is increasingly influential in the USA. The article, by CT editor Ted Olsen and an independent journalist named Ken Smith:
The pair investigated claims that members of David Jang’s ministries were encouraged to believe that Jang embodies a “Second Coming Christ,” an act of blasphemy for Christians. In addition to drawing further ties between Jang and Rev. Moon, who famously declared himself the messiah, this recent controversy hits close to home for evangelicals because of Jang’s ties to many parachurch organizations with seemingly orthodox beliefs.
While Olsen and Smith are careful to cite sources who both confirm and deny that members are led to believe that Jang is the second coming of Christ, the article leaves the reader with the sense that, at least for a time, many of Jang’s followers did believe it.
Additionally, the CT article points out that the connections between Jang and the Unification Church go beyond surface similarities, noting that Jang taught at a UC seminary for 9 years (1989-1998), though in later interviews Jang claimed to be infiltrating the seminary with orthodox theology.
The suggestion is that some members of Jang’s movement were introduced to private teachings; according to the CT article:
Former member Ma Li, who says she began the lessons in China in 2002, said that when she finished, her instructor looked at her and another new member very seriously and asked, “Have you understood? All the content?”
“I answered firmly: ‘Yes,’” she said. “Then she asked me separately: ‘Who is Pastor David?’ I answered without thinking, just followed what I heard just now and answered: ‘The Second Coming Christ!’ She said, ‘Shhh,’ calmly, and then, ‘Don’t tell others.’”
CT also explains why this of international interest:
Over the last five years, ministries and organizations founded by or connected to Jang have gained influence in American and global evangelical ministries, including the World Evangelical Alliance.
…The first missionaries to China arrived in 1996 and formed the core of the Young Disciples of Jesus. The Christian Post and Christian Today have dated their founding to 2000 (on its website, The Christian Post recently changed the founding date to 2004). The Gospel Herald and the American body of the Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches (EAPC) launched in 2004, and the International Business Times in 2006. By 2002, Jang had recruited adherents in key cities throughout China, Japan, and Korea, and had begun expanding into the United States.
…Southern Baptists have played a prominent role on advisory boards of Jang’s organizations. The Christian Post, which bills itself as “the nation’s most comprehensive Christian news website,” lists as its chairman [William] Wagner, the president of Olivet University (OU) who ran for the Southern Baptist Convention presidency in 2008. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is the media outlet’s executive editor.
What, then, should we make of the Christian Post’s response to the CT story? Fitzgerald writes:
The day after CT’s article was published online, the Post published a long piece titled, “Sources in ‘Second Coming Christ Controversy’ Face Scrutiny,” followed days later by another with the less subtle headline, “Christianity Today Writer Ken Smith Is Founder of a Company Fined for Deceptive Business Practices; With Child Porn Ties.”
…Penned by the Post’s Katherine T. Phan, it highlights Smith’s work as the founder of the now defunct software company, Zango (which web-savvy readers may remember for their intrusive advertising in web browsers).
Smith acknowledged that Zango “partnered with some people that we should never have partnered with” in a 2009 post on his blog—which the CP article cites—titled “What Zango Got Wrong.”
When I asked if he was aware of Smith’s history with Zango, Olsen told me that “The child porn thing really came out of the blue. It wasn’t an issue that was on my radar until CP ran the article.” He continued, “That headline was really shocking. Did he distribute child porn? was the question in the headline. If you read the article the answer is no. Zango is not a child porn company and never was.”
The truth of the accusations about Jang discussed by CT may remain murky, but the Post‘s reaction to those accusations is in itself very troubling: the “child porn” headline’s slant is manifestly misleading and repellently vicious. This kind of scorched-earth counter-attack is more the kind of thing that one associates with Scientology.
Fitzgerald also draws attention to some commentary by Timothy Dalrymple at Patheos. Dalrymple writes:
…what they issued was a full-throated defense of David Jang and an even more rip-roaring excoriation of Christianity Today and every person who criticized Jang within the piece. They issued, in other words, a performative affirmation that they are, in fact, David Jang’s mouthpiece.
The purpose of the response was to defend David Jang. If possible, however, the nature of the response was even worse — presented as journalism, it was actually a no-qualifications, no-holds-barred defense. There was not a single criticism of Jang that possessed any merit whatsoever, and none of the figures cited in Christianity Today‘s article were anything but complete and utter liars. Meanwhile, the people who defend Jang and who attack his critics, even if they themselves work for Jang-affiliated companies, possess unquestioned authority and good will. This is not journalism; it’s public relations. It’s not reporting, but spin.
The Post claims that Smith’s association with Zango was brought to its attention by “commentators” following the CT article. However, it seems that the Post planned a hit-pierce on Smith ahead of the CT piece; Smith himself writes
one of their emails to Christianity Today said that the “story is going to be about Ken’s involvement with an international network of pro-North Korean, anti-Christian and leftist groups that are attacking Christian organizations.”
That line of attack never materialised, but it just so happened that an alternative concern was raised by “commentators”.
Last month, CT ran a follow-up piece, with input from Edmond and Susan Chua, who used to run the Post‘s Singapore edition:
Edmond and Susan also confirmed what other sources have told CT: Before 2006, it was common for those who had confessed [to Jang as Christ] to send a letter of their confession to Jang. CT has independently obtained a document which, although it is not addressed to Jang, otherwise appears to be just such a written confession. (To protect the confidentiality of its source, CT was asked not to quote from the document directly.) The writer, a current employee of a Jang-associated organization, refers to Jang as “Christ” more than a dozen times in this document.
The Chuas also showed CT a transcript of a 2002 sermon suggesting that “Jang’s church constitutes the 144,000 sealed servants of God of Revelation 7″. There’s also the interesting Unifcation Church-tinged detail that
The two married on David Jang’s birthday, October 30, 2006—the 14th anniversary of the founding of Jang’s movement—along with 69 other couples, Susan said.
According to the Post, however, this was not a wedding, but rather “a Christian service for couples who desire to dedicate their family to God in front of other believers before marriage”.
CT also claims to have seen evidence suggestive that Jang is strangely secretive about his media empire:
In one email provided to CT, Johnathan Davis, the chief content officer of IBTimes, declined to participate in a Christian industry association being organized by leaders of other Jang-affiliated publications like The Christian Post, because, he said, “My commission is inherently covert.”
…In a different email thread discussing whether to include The Christian Post‘s history as part of its employee handbook, one senior leader wrote, “I don’t think we should include the history in the handbook. The issue is that PD [Pastor David] doesn’t want the history in written, audio or video form to fall into a non-members’ hands. Once you make a hard copy of something it is set in stone and he still wants some things to remain vague.”
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