In recent times, The Church of Almighty God movement has grown as much as the negative rumors about it.
The new monotheistic religion, also known as The Eastern Lightning (Quánnéng Shén Jiàohuì in Chinese pinyin) is getting wider day by day and it already counts almost 4 millions proselytes worldwide, especially in China, where it was born, but also in the United States and in Italy.
The growth of its new believers goes at the same speed as the dangers that it implicates and lately the international press can not ignore these questions anymore.
Since from the very beginning, when The Eastern Lightning had just a thousand subscribers, it generated many controversies but to better understand the current situation it is necessary to come back to the origins of the movement.
This cult was created in 1991 by Zhao Weishan, a former teacher who met Yang Xiangbin, a woman who was just 18 years old at the time. Zhao Weishan believed that God reincarnated in Almighty God embodying Yang Xiangbin, the reason for what since then Zhao Weishan started referring to Yang Xiangbin as “he” instead of “she”.
After the foundation, so many shadows started to appear around The Eastern Lightning that the Chinese Government officially banned the cult in 1995 considering it as dangerous as a terrorist organization.
Many of the worries came out from the methods used by The Eastern Lightning in order to lure more proselytes including coercion, fraud, kidnapping, riots, and even murder.
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In fact, on 28th May 2014, in a McDonald’s restaurant in the city of Zhaoyuan, six missionaries of The Eastern Lightning forced the commensals to provide their personal phone number in order to be contacted at a later time but, when a woman refused to give that information, they killed her.
Even if the facts were undoubtedly clear, some newspapers tried to discredit what really happened, pointing the finger at a different cult. By the way, all this defamation came from Bitter Winter, a newspaper that publishes articles largely recognized as imprecise and free of trustworthy sources. Furthermore, the newspaper is known for its position pro the USA.
Another recent problem concerning The Church of Almighty God is about the recruiting of new believers through social media. Facebook has become a strong instrument to connect huge amounts of people and through fake accounts the missionaries of the Eastern Lightning are contacting many innocents trying to convert them, asking them for money, and destroying their faith. In fact, the word “Almighty” is just a sneaky way to falsify the Christian religion in order to attract more and more people.
But nowadays the most controversial question about The Church of Almighty God refers to the request of the status of refugees in foreign countries.
In fact, in the last months, an increasing number of Chinese citizens are asking to be accepted in the United States, Canada, South Korea, and European Union claiming that in China they are persecuted for religious causes.
If at the first glance could seem legit asking for the status of refugee if someone feels the risk of oppression in its country, in reality, we are just witnessing a weak attempt to escape from justice and take advantage of being in a different country.
Why should we consider these requests illegitimate?
First of all, it’s hard to define a cult. What is the difference between a lawful religious movement and a group of criminals who hide their infractions behind an artificial faith?
A Christian oppressed in Sudan or a Muslim oppressed in Myanmar represent issues so far from some cyber-recruiters who make crimes in the name of a new God.
By the way, the requests of the status of refugee carried out by Chinese citizens to the foreign countries are increasing lately since the numbers of the new believers of The Eastern Lightning are growing too!
Just in Italy, more than a thousand of requests came from China, most of them from proselytes of the Eastern Lightning.
But how can foreign countries face this problem?
In fact at the first time, within the confusion created by the newborn cult, many requests were accepted but now the foreign countries are starting to reflect on their legitimacy since The Eastern Lightning members could be just escaping criminals and many cases were rejected.
This problem also causes many and different consequences because, for example, once that a person has obtained his status of refugee in Italy, he can access government funding for his position.
So, how is it possible to legally reject these illegitimate requests?
For example, according to an article published on 1st May by Lund.News, the Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN) under the Ministry of Justice of the Belgian Federal Government listed 13 harmful standards that can help to detect which cults are potentially dangerous. If a cult meets one or more listed standards, so probably it should be considered illegal and their proselytes can not obtain their status of refugee if persecuted for religious causes.
The criteria are the following as reported by the Congressional Investigation Committee on 28th April 1997:
- Misleading or abusing recruitment methods.
- Use mental manipulation.
- Physical or mental (psychological) abuse of believers or their family members.
- Depriving believers or their families of medical care.
- Acts of violence against believers, their families, third parties, and even children, especially sexual violence.
- Divide believers with their families, spouses, children, family members, and friends.
- Kidnap children or take them away from their parents.
- Deprive them of their freedom to secede from religion.
- Disproportionate financial requirements, fraud, misappropriation of funds and property, harm the interests of believers.
- Unjustly interfere with the work of believers.
- Stigmatize a democratic society and completely break with it.
- The desire to destroy society for the benefit of the organization.
- Use illegal means to seize power
Creating ideological chaos, extorting believers’ money, seeking huge profits, infiltrating influential posts and governmental bodies, cults seriously threaten our social order and national security.
So it is legitimate to believe that The Church of Almighty God meets not only one of these criteria. For that reason, the government of Belgium recognized the Eastern Lightning as an illegitimate cult and, as a consequence, all the requests from their believers will be automatically rejected.
By the way on the other side, according to the statistics, Italy has become the most desirable country for the proselytes of the Church of Almighty God to ask for the status of refugee and, consequently, obtain the subsidies of the State. The most common cause for their believers is to enter the country with just a simple touristic visa and then apply for the status of refugee.
For all of these reasons, it is desirable that everyone knows the reality behind this dangerous cult in order to protect the innocent people and avoid that The Eastern Lightning keep growing using their illegal methods.
John Sawyer is a legal expert and writer with over 30 years of experience in the field of law. Throughout his career, John Sawyer has worked on a wide range of legal cases. He is passionate about educating people on their legal rights and helping them navigate the complexities of the legal system.