Church of Almighty God has been banned by Beijing and is now upsetting many in HK with its aggressive recruitment practices
Chan Kang-kwong lived a quiet life with his wife in Tuen Mun before she encountered the Church of Almighty God, which is branded as an “evil cult” and banned by the mainland government.
As his wife became more involved in the church, also known as Lightning of the East and which has one million followers on the mainland, Chan became more worried.
“She was addicted to the heresy of the Church of Almighty God,” said Chan, 55, who works at a financial company. “It was very serious. Her conversion influenced me a lot. I couldn’t sleep for a whole week at that time. And our relationship was very bad.”
The sect, which believes a mainland woman is the second coming of Jesus Christ and calls the Communist Party the “great red dragon”, is notorious among Christian communities for its aggressive recruiting methods. Reports have said the church has kidnapped, tortured and brainwashed people into converting on the mainland. In December, about 1,000 followers were arrested and accused of spreading doomsday rumours, a key religious concept of the sect.
Mainland immigrants brought the church to Hong Kong about 10 years ago, and there has been a push costing millions of dollars to expand the church beyond its 2,000 followers here, said Kevin Yeung Tze-chung, general secretary of the Concern Group on Newly Emerged Religions, who has been studying the sect since 2008. He said the source of the money was unknown.
The Church of Almighty God’s “belief is antisocial and destroys the value of family”, Yeung said, adding that the sect denies the value of love, care and tolerance, but keeps indoctrinating its followers with its second-coming story.
He estimates that 200 Christians in Hong Kong have been harassed and “mentally hurt” by the sect.
Saleswoman Leung Fung-tai, 50, of Tin Shui Wai, said she had been a target of the sect and was dragged to a Bible study group by an acquaintance.
“The group leader, a middle-aged woman, kept talking about their belief for three or four hours, and we didn’t even have a chance to speak,” said Leung.
People at the church told Leung that bad things would happen to nonbelievers. She said she stopped attending the Bible group because she did not like being threatened.
Chan’s wife, 52, also returned to her regular church, refusing to talk about her experience with the Church of Almighty God because, Chan said, she felt guilty and ashamed.
But others have been strongly influenced by the sect.
Angel Lee’s 52-year-old mother has joined the Church of Almighty God for more than a year. Lee, 28, said her and her sister’s relationship with their mother had soured and that she had become irritable and dishonest. She had also left all her old friends, added Lee.
“My mum spends a lot of time in her church. She leaves home at 9 in the morning and comes back at midnight,” said Lee. “She gets very nervous once others say what she believes is a cult.”
Kung Lap-yan, an associate professor studying religion at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he prefers to call it a “new religion, a non-mainstream religion”.
A Christian, Kung said the reason mainstream churches called the sect an “evil cult” is because it is seen as a competitor. Mainstream churches are afraid of losing its followers, said Kung.
“I don’t see any bad influence it has made,” he said. “Every religion has the freedom to preach and no evidence proves that it has done anything illegal [in Hong Kong].”
The Church of Almighty God has set up stalls around the city and hands out leaflets in Causeway Bay, Tai Po, Fan Ling and other areas.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s mainstream Christian churches have organised speeches, handed out leaflets and set up a Facebook page to warn people about the sect.
The Church of Almighty God refused to directly comment on the accusations, but hit back at its critics instead. “Mainstream religious leaders don’t serve God. Instead, they serve themselves. They make themselves the idol of their followers and control them,” said the sect in a 40-page statement.
The sect also accused other pastors and church leaders of serving God for money and fame and that most of them are unfaithful and don’t pursue the truth.
When asked what that truth was, a representative at one of the branches in Sham Shui Po refused to answer.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Churches fight back against 'evil cult'