Last week, several high-ranking editors and veteran reporters were fired from Newsweek, following a January 19th raid of their New York City office by the Manhattan District Attorney as part of an investigation into the publication’s finances. The nearly 85-year-old magazine, as well as the International Business Times, are both owned by the Newsweek Media Group, which reportedly has connections to Olivet University – a small, evangelical Bible college in San Francisco – as well as a fringe Christian sect known as “The Community.”
The extent of the relationship between the media organization, the university and The Community – or the ties to controversial Korean pastor David Jang, who is the founder of both the school and the sect – is not yet clear. (Newsweek Media Group and Jang did not respond to emails requesting comment; a representative for Olivet University tells Rolling Stone that their institution was founded by Jang “and is affiliated with a group of evangelical Christians. Like millions of other Evangelical Christians worldwide, Olivet is associated with and shares the beliefs of Evangelical Christians. Recent media reports which attempt to portray a business as a religious business due to the beliefs of their owners is a practice which is plainly discriminatory.”)
Yet details continue to emerge on what, exactly, is involved with membership in this Christian group that has been described as having some of the characteristics of a cult. Here’s what we know about The Community so far.
It’s been around for more than 25 years.
In a 2014 investigative feature, Ben Dooley at Mother Jones reported that Jang founded “the Community” in 1992 based on the idea that, instead of Christians focusing on their reward in heaven, they should create heaven on earth via institutions that “will remake the world in the image of the church.” So far, it seems Jang has attempted to accomplish this by founding Olivet University in 2000, and launching several online publications including Christian Today and Christian Post. In 2006, he took a more secular approach when he founded IBT Media, publisher of the International Business Times, which acquired Newsweek in 2013.
Jang had connections to Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
According to the Mother Jones story, it was a libel lawsuit in Japanese court – after Makoto Yamaya, a Salvation Army major, claimed that that the Community was part of Moon’s Unification Church and that Christian Today had used mind-control on its employees – that proved there was a connection between Jang and Moon. Though the court ruled that the case had no basis, filings showed that Jang had been involved with the Unification Church in his youth: he was a member of the student branch before attending another Moonie-run theological institute, which he helped transition into Sun Moon University in 1993. Additionally, four former Community members told Dooley that Jang would frequently discuss his involvement with the Unification Church, including taking part in a 1975 mass wedding ceremony, officiated by Moon himself. Now, Jang reportedly rejects Moon and his teachings. (Additionally, Olivet University denies there is any connection to Moon or the Unification Church.)
Jang recruited through “history lessons.”
A 2012 investigative report in Christianity Today (not to be confused with The Community’s site Christian Today) by Ted Olsen and Ken Smith has done the deepest digging into the operations of The Community, including Jang’s recruitment strategy. According to their article, after gaining followers in China, Korea and Japan, Jang’s next target was the United States, where he would attempt to recruit new members – especially in the University of California system. Through the campus ministries, Community members would approach students who appeared to have an interest in the Bible and encourage them to take a series of 40 private “history lessons” which focused on discipleship and the group’s leadership. Specifically, several former members of Jang-affiliated groups told Christianity Today that the ultimate goal of the lessons was to get the students to confess that Jang was the “Second Coming Christ,” though that intention was never directly communicated by the instructors. Subsequently, if students did identify Jang as the Second Coming Christ, teachers would firmly direct them not to tell other people. And to clarify, no one who spoke to Christianity Today said the teaching that Jang is the Second Coming Christ has not occurred in recent years.
Despite the “history lessons,” Jang denies the Christ connection.
Unlike some cult leaders who actively identify themselves as a messianic being, Jang has refuted the claims. According to the 2012 article in Christianity Today, Jang issued a statement in 2008 in which he said: “I have never taught that I am Christ.” However, several of the former Community members who spoke to Christianity Today indicated that they “found it implausible that Jang had no connections to the confessions that he was the Second Coming Christ.” Moreover, two separate sets of notes from the “history lessons” obtained by Christianity Today indicate that the content of the classes was similar to the teachings of Moon; specifically, that Jesus’s work remained unfinished after his death, and required another “Christ” to complete it.
The Community allegedly exercised control over its members.
As Jang and his affiliated educational institutions, corporations, media and followers gained attention, criticism against the pastor and his organizations began to mount, Christianity Today reported. Posts on Japanese, Chinese and English-language websites warned that the Young Disciples of Jesus – another of Jang’s groups dedicated to Bible instruction – was teaching that he was the Second Coming Christ in addition to “isolating followers from their families, requiring them to donate large amounts of money, encouraging them to lie, and demanding strict secrecy” –classic cult behavior. Then, in 2008, an Independent Enquiry Committee in Hong Kong, comprised of high-level Chinese evangelical theologians, “unanimously expressed its serious apprehensions and concerns” about the group, particularly that the Young Disciples of Jesus were promoting doctrines similar to those of Moon’s Unification Church, according to Christianity Today. Documents sent to the publication from Olivet University and Christian Post squarely rejected the report out of Hong Kong, stating that it contained “repeated and ungrounded claims.”
Community membership allegedly came with a job and a price.
For his 2014 Mother Jones article, Dooley interviewed two former members of the Community – a married couple he called Anne and Caleb, who were Chinese citizens residing in San Francisco. They were able to live in the U.S. thanks to a student visa obtained as a result of Caleb’s attendance at Olivet University. Anne told Dooley that she previously worked part-time for one of Jang’s ministries, but donated most of her salary to the Community. While attempting to study, Caleb told the magazine, he worked 10 to 12 hours each weekday and most weekends for the International Business Times, translating articles from English to Chinese for less than minimum wage. However, at the time Dooley wrote the article, he wrote that most International Business Times employees were not members of the Community.