SEOUL – Among the four Korean religious cult leaders featured in Netflix’s latest Korean documentary series, In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal, Mr Jeong Myeong-seok – the leader of the Christian Gospel Mission, better known as the Jesus Morning Star or JMS church – has been taking over headlines in South Korea.
“I recognised that many viewers felt uneasy with Professor Kim Do-hyeong’s stories featured in the series, but they make up only one tenth of his experiences over the past 30 years,” said director Jo Sung-hyun at a press conference held at Lotte Hotel in central Seoul on March 10.
Prof Kim is a Dankook University academic and long-time anti-JMS activist who was featured prominently in the series’ first three episodes on the controversial cult.
“There are more untold stories, but I was not able to present them all. The released series is already horrifying and disturbing enough for some viewers. It was very difficult to hold myself back from crossing the line,” the director said.
Meanwhile, during an interview on local public broadcaster KBS, Prof Kim said that there are many people who are still trying to protect JMS’ leader.
During the live broadcast of the late-night TV show The Live, Prof Kim said: “Some (JMS members) also work here at this public broadcaster KBS. A KBS TV director and an interpreter are also followers of Jeong.”
As Prof Kim’s allegation sparked instant public attention, KBS announced that it will investigate the issue and take the necessary follow-up measures.
When asked why the director decided to present specific scenes and voice recordings without blurring body parts or censor beeps, Mr Jo emphasised that he wished to present the whole undoctored truth. The footage in question featured several young female JMS members in the nude, gesturing towards the camera in a bathtub calling out for the JMS leader to join them. Only their faces were blurred.
“The footage was shown by several broadcasters in the past, but Jeong’s JMS brainwashed its followers, saying that the women in the videos were prostitutes who were paid and that the clips had been manipulated,” Mr Jo said.
The director added that while later it was confirmed that the women in the clips were indeed JMS members, the pseudo-religious group claimed the women were actually wearing bikinis, and that the footage was doctored to make them appear nude.
“If we don’t show these clips or voice recordings the way they are, I felt that JMS followers would create another way to dispute the truth and turn away from it,” Mr Jo said.
The director said that after many discussions with his staff and Netflix officials, he was convinced that the scenes and the audio clips in question had to be included in their original form.
Cults under the spotlight
In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal features three other cult leaders in addition to JMS’ Mr Jeong – Mr Park Soon-ja of Odaeyang Church, Mr Kim Ki-soon of Baby Garden and Mr Lee Jae-rock of Manmin Central Church – all of whom claim to be “saviours of humanity”.
The series recounts former cult members’ terrifying experiences and reveals shocking facts about their once-believed “messiahs”.
“I had friends and even a family member who were victims of a pseudo-religious group. The documentary is also a personal story for me,” Mr Jo said.
While thanking viewers who showed their support for the documentary series, the director said he wished for many who are still in these cults to watch it.
“I have read some online posts saying that some people withdrew from the group after watching the show. That really meant a lot to me. I definitely have an interest in doing more work on these issues,” Mr Jo said.
The director insisted it is the cults’ leaders who are to blame, not their followers, adding that those who appeared in the series should be applauded for their courage and bravery.
Local media reported that Netflix was stepping up efforts to beef up security for Mr Jo, who has been receiving threats from followers of the cults in the bombshell documentary. THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK