As the Southeast Asia representative for David Jang's organizations—pastor of his churches, proprietor of his businesses, and editor of his Christian news website—Edmond Chua believed that Jang was a new Christ, a messianic figure establishing the kingdom of God on earth.
Just after midnight on September 6, 2005, Chua had completed a series of Bible studies, and his teacher, Susan Hu, was leading him through a crucial final lesson.
"I think Susan asked me, 'So who is Pastor David?' And I probably said something like, 'He is the Second Coming Christ!' I fully believed it. The [Bible studies] just seemed to point that way. It was very logical and deep. For the first time I felt that I knew the love of God intimately, strange as that may sound, considering who Jang is."
Chua told Christianity Today, "I actually thought of him as God and prayed in his name instead of Jesus'. And whenever I typed something about him, I would use the upper case on pronouns."
He doesn't believe it anymore—nor does his teacher, Susan. 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.
Like most of the other couples, the Chuas' marriage was arranged by the movement's leaders. "We are a lucky case: We knew each other for very long already," Susan said. "Some couples, the two never met each other before, but were recommended and they accepted with faith and obedience."
As Christianity Today reported in August, several former members of Jang's organizations similarly described encouragements to believe that Jang is the Second Coming Christ. But most spoke on condition of anonymity. Now, in exclusive in-depth interviews with Christianity Today, the Chuas are among the first to speak out on the record about their experience in Jang's group, the theology behind their belief that he was the Second Coming Christ, and why they left.
Employees of Jang-founded Olivet University counter that the community has no secret teachings that Jang is Christ or the Second Coming. Meanwhile, a National Association of Evangelicals committee is meeting again today in its ongoing inquiry into whether Olivet is theologically compatible with the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Christian Resources.
In 2003, Susan was already a university graduate and a Christian. A year earlier, while attending Xiamen University in Fujian, the Chinese mainlander had been baptized by a Korean evangelical group unaffiliated with Jang. While studying one day, she was approached by a couple and invited to a Bible study.
"I was baptized but did not know the meaning of baptism, sin, or have a clear understanding of salvation," she said. "I was only a bit scared of the end—Judgment Day—because I wondered what would happen to my grandparents who had never heard the gospel."
The Jang-connected Bible study was a revelation. "Wow," she said. "They teach you one by one from beginning of the Bible to the end. I felt the teaching was so clear, unlocking the verses."
A month of intensive study later, Susan's teacher, Li Zhihong, introduced the 22-year-old to a key teaching she calls the "New Israel" message. The content, Susan said, was essentially the same as a July 20, 2002, sermon delivered by Jang's chief teaching associate, Borah Lin, at a church retreat in Berkeley, California. (The Chuas provided a transcript of the sermon, as well as other Lin sermons, to CT. Susan said she received the Lin sermon texts in Chinese and English later, when she was a missionary. Similar sermons had once been available as audio recordings on the community's internal websites, the Chuas said, but they did not have copies.)
The sermon indicates that Jang's church constitutes the 144,000 sealed servants of God of Revelation 7. "This doesn't mean that it will be only these people and the rest will all die," the sermon says. "It is that these will be the ones to bear fruits first and gain salvation first. … They are the ones that establish the kingdom of God here on earth. They are the sample of heaven."
Near the end of the sermon, the church's Second Coming teaching comes into focus:
We need to stand firm. This is the dream that God has given us. That is why these are the firstfruits. This is the sample. What is this? This is the great body of Christ. This is the second coming of Christ. This is the resurrection of the body of Christ. This is the second coming of the great body of Christ. The great body of Christ being established is the true resurrection of the true coming of the body of Christ. … The one who establishes the Kingdom of God becomes the Christ.
The sermon repeatedly compares the first Christ and the second Christ with the two stone tablets of Moses' commandments. Just as God created the first tablets and wrote the Ten Commandments on them, so was the first Christ, Jesus, sent by God. And just as Moses broke the tablets, Jesus' people rejected him and killed him, the sermon says. And just as Moses had to write the second tablets with his own hand, so the second Christ will be man-made. It continues:
The stone tablets symbolize Christ. The first Christ, God sent. How about the second Christ? We must make him. On earth, he has to be made. Then God will write on him. God will then acknowledge him. …
Peter personally met the Lord. Already, he has met the Lord. Jesus asked him. He asked, "What do people think of me?" Peter said, "Some people say you are a prophet or Jeremiah." Then Jesus asked, "Who do you think I am?" Then Peter confessed. You are the Christ, the son of the living God. Peter has already met him. But [it] is not like the whole community recognizes Jesus as Christ. To some, he is a prophet. Some know him as a prophet or Elijah. But the individual Christ has come. However, the whole community Christ hasn't come yet. The Christ of the community is not revealed yet.
After recapping the sermon, Susan's teacher asked her who she thought Jang was. Susan responded as she says many others in the community did. David Jang, she said, was the second Christ.
The teaching of the two tablets is repeated in other sermons attributed to Lin, including one sermon completely focused on the tablets. Other former members of Jang's community said they were also taught the theology of the two stone tablets, and that the second Christ would have to be man-made, not divinely sent as Jesus Christ was. Susan says these sermons—known in the community as "Letter and Spirit," "Eschatology," and "Time and Date"—were the key lessons in encouraging members to declare Jang as the Second Coming Christ. Susan says she was told to study them at least seven times before teaching them to others.
Like other former members who spoke about the teachings, the Chuas say they did not hear Jang directly teach that he was the Second Coming Christ. But Susan said he came close at a mid-March 2004 event in Hong Kong.
"He himself was teaching about 'Time and Date,' but of course all of us had heard about time and date before. He just simply described it on a whiteboard, simply tried to emphasize the time, the numbers in Daniel 12." (Several former members of Jang-affiliated organizations told CT they were taught Daniel's prophecy of 1,260 days, 1,290 days, and 1,335 days referred to the timespan of Jesus' life and ministry and a 42-year gap that Jang would fulfill.) Then, Susan said, "He asked us, 'Do you all understand? 'Everyone said, 'Amen' of course."
After that event, Susan said, Jang personally escorted her to Singapore to become his missionary there.
It didn't go well, she said. She had little training, often missed the movement's daily morning church services (broadcast via password-protected video streams), and lied to her parents to get money to support her mission.
"Inside I felt very guilty and tired," she said. Marriage didn't help much. Even by the time Edmond and Susan legally married, three months after their church wedding, she said, "our relationship was bad because we had changed from leader and follower to husband and wife."
They were business partners, too. Together, they ran (and, in theory, owned) The Christian Post's Singapore edition. Susan handled the business side, and Edmond served as editor. When they were told they had to create five articles a day, they became overwhelmed. "I was not able to do mission," she said, "I did not connect with the groups. I did not attend the internet chats." All she could do was work, and she began to withdraw.
After the birth of the Chuas' first child in late 2009, Susan withdrew from community gatherings and began reading books that weren't part of the notes she had once faithfully read seven times a day, as mandated.
But her outlook changed as well. "I forgot all the pain in the past. I was very joyful with my child." She reconnected with group members from Malaysia, too, and found herself reinvigorated to plunge herself back into her work and ministry.
A second child had the opposite effect. "Once again I felt very burdened," she said. "By the beginning of this year, we really felt we could not fit into the culture again."
Then Susan Chua had a dream.
"I just felt the pain of ex-members come to me," she said about the dream. "The pain is so deep, so heavy. It's like I was in their pain. They were not able to tell others or adapt to the society. … [Jang] sent out many young leaders that are really not mature. Many are really not able to shepherd the young members, so many members were hurt."
She awoke angry, thinking of the lost sheep that Jesus said the Good Shepherd would leave 99 other sheep to find. Instead of reconciling with former members, she says, Jang's associates attacked them, sometimes denying that they had ever really been connected. The victims, she said, included Ma Li, a former member and missionary she knew in China. Susan says Jang "treated [Ma] badly" after she testified against the group in Hong Kong in early 2008. (Ma was the only named former member in CT's earlier story. An article appearing in The Christian Post responding to CT's article quoted Ma's ex-husband as saying, "Everything she testified was a lie." Susan says that in fact Ma was part of Jang's community and that her experience accords very well with Ma's statements.)
"A leader should take the responsibility," Susan said. "You need to literally comfort those who hurt instead of covering up. … My emotional link with David Jang was cut off that night [of the dream]. I used to respect him. His preaching is very good when he talks about Jesus and the Cross. But this is wrong. This is not the spirit of Christ."
In 2009, as the Chuas awaited their first child, Edmond (by then known as Pastor Edmond, since he was leading church services as well as editing the Singapore edition of The Christian Post) was tapped to be one of the movement's top leaders. He represented not just Singapore but Southeast Asia on the World General Assembly (WGA) of Jang's Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches (EAPC). Each week, about a dozen representatives of Jang's many businesses, churches, and ministries around the world—International Business Times, Veremedia, Olivet University, and others—met in a restricted chat room with Jang to report their activities and hear his plans.
At times, Jang's associates have denied to Christianity Today and other inquirers that there is such a thing as a community led by Jang, or that he exercises any control of various organizations beyond providing inspiration. Transcripts of the WGA chats from 2009 clearly demonstrate otherwise. (CT took steps to verify the authenticity of both the WGA chats and the Borah Lin sermons.) There is little discussion in the chats. In many cases, Jang largely lays out plans varying from wide-reaching reorganizations to indicating what story should be the lead at The Christian Post. In other cases, he chastises workers for not meeting targets.
Such targets could be ambitious: One member is instructed to evangelize in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—all in less than three months.
Throughout the chats, Olivet University (OU) features prominently. The school, founded by Jang in 1992, is currently attempting to purchase the 2,100-acre Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico from the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Christian Resources. LifeWay has made the deal contingent on a review by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) to determine theological compatibility between the two organizations. (Olivet President William Wagner told CT that the NAE panel is meeting today and that "the chance of us getting the property has gone down considerably.")
In 2009, Jang and WGA members discussed Olivet's financial troubles and the requirement that all students be members of the EAPC. (The conversation is significant in part because Jang does encourage discussion and debate.) "Today's topic is whether we will receive outside students to OU," Jang said (via his translator). "Of course we shouldn't, but when we look at money, we have to receive. … The problem is that when we open up the university, we must designate professors. Then they will make daring remarks. It will not be like now. … When people and professors from the world come in, their meeting will decide all policies. This is very dangerous."
The eventual plan, to create a massive online distance learning program to compete with Liberty University's, never quite materialized (though it was part of Olivet's stated plan in acquiring Bethany University, a recently closed Assemblies of God school in Scotts Valley, California, which it later abandoned before attempting to buy Glorieta).
Edmond, meanwhile, pursued both his bachelor's degree and his M.Div. at Olivet (he lived most of the time in Singapore), and spoke at his graduation ceremony in 2011.
Edmond and Susan also confirmed what other sources have told CT: Before 2006, it was common for those who had confessed 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 writer also describes being encouraged in this belief by other members, and—like other accounts by former members—indicates that the final confession came after a Bible study leader asked who Jang was. Edmond echoes the language of this document when he says his initial view of Jang was "very primitive. I simply believed that Jang is Christ." He said he believed Jang was God, but acknowledged that this belief went further than the lessons that indicated Jang was Christ.
The community's end-times theology, which Edmond said took him years to understand more deeply, now troubles him. But he's also troubled by what he says is the community's teachings that lying can be righteous.
Six years ago, Edmond said, he traveled to New York for the Sumer School Mission Training for members of Apostolos Campus Ministry, a college group that Olivet's leaders say has provided most of its students (the organization has since been renamed Apostolos Missions). Near the end of the month-long training, he said, Borah Lin singled out him and two others for private sessions.
"During those private sessions, Borah Lin preached to us about the 45-year work of Christ; three of which have already been completed by Jesus, leaving 42 more years of work to be finished by David Jang," he said. "She also compared Jang to Abraham and his followers to Sarah in the account in the Bible where Sarah, to protect Abraham, lied to the Egyptians that he is only her brother, not her husband."
In lessons outside the mission training, Edmond said, Bible study teachers pointed to Rahab the prostitute as an example of righteous lying.
"They have encouraged lying and deception in cases that they judge to be urgent or critical, especially when people are judged as dealing with the incorrect motive. They take this from the Scripture itself, when Proverbs says 'Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.' They apply this to people who do not understand the great things they are doing for the Lord." Telling the truth, Edmond says he was repeatedly taught, takes too long when time is urgent.
Edmond's concerns are shared by other former members who spoke with CT. One said:
They have a teaching in their Bible studies that Jacob is the one who deserved the blessing, rather than Esau, and that Rebekah and Jacob lying to Isaac was justified. And that's why they are also justified in lying to folks who would challenge their birthright. … If you need to flee to escape from Satan, you can lie to do so. You shouldn't tell the truth to Satan, because he will steal your blessing and kill your faith.
The Hong Kong-based Independent Enquiry Committee, which investigated the Jang-affiliated Young Disciples of Jesus movement in 2008, was particularly concerned that the group taught that "righteous lies" are wisdom taught in the Bible. The committee's report said that witnesses from south, east, central, and north China all testified to the belief, and it seemed to be even more widespread than the Second Coming Christ belief.
One of the members of the investigating team was Carver Yu, the president of China Graduate School of Theology and one of the plenary speakers at The Lausanne Movement's Cape Town 2010 gathering. He told CT he's convinced that Jang's associates teach community members to lie.
"I talked to a leader of the Jang community, a Chinese [member] active in Vancouver about four years ago, and confronted him about the ethics of deception, i.e. telling lies in order to achieve certain purpose for the kingdom," Yu said in an email. "He flatly told me that it was justified by the Bible. This confirms our suspicion."
'We do not have secrets'
Olivet University dean Donald Tinder said he'd been very impressed with Edmond Chua when Chua was pursuing his degree. But he found Chua's description of the teachings that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ to be inconsistent. (Edmond sent Tinder and others a version of his story via email.) Tinder sent CT statements from three other participants of the 2006 Summer School Mission Training, each of whom disagreed with aspects of Edmond's account of the meeting.
"I was startled to read Mr. Chua's claim about Borah Lin's teaching that Dr. Jang is to complete the work of Christ," said Jonathan Park, who is now program director of Olivet's journalism school. "If Lin truly was secretly teaching that Dr. Jang is Christ and lied (righteously or not) in the public regarding the completeness of Jesus' work on the Cross, then she did a very poor job of it, as I am more convinced that the Cross is a victory after listening to her lectures."
The Chuas and other former members did not dispute Park's assertion that Jang and other members of the community, even those who promoted unorthodox eschatology, preached orthodox teachings on soteriology.
"Jang is unsurpassed in preaching the theology of the sacrifice and atonement of the Cross," Edmond told CT. "He has successfully taken what many pastors would just say as a one-liner, expositing how God loves us, and paints this relationship between Jesus and his disciples in such a way that would put any movie to shame."
The Chuas provided written copies of numerous sermons and lessons delivered by senior members of the community, many of which contain theology that would have been unexceptionable in a Baptist Sunday school classroom. Very few reference teachings like the "two stone tablets" or contain any explicit eschatology.
Park also stated that he "never confessed Dr. Jang as Christ. … I do respect Dr. Jang as an effective Christian leader in the same degree I respect Rev. Billy Graham or Rev. Rick Warren, but in no way is Dr. Jang a replacement of Jesus Christ for me."
Likewise, Sarah Lafleur, now an administrator at Olivet University, wrote, "I think Borah had a reason to teach the lessons she taught, but certainly she could not have been teaching that David Jang is Christ—Jang himself denied this! We do not have a lesson plan 'culminating' with a confession of Dr. Jang as the Second Coming, as some make it out to be. … We do not have secrets, nor is there anything to hide."
Not everyone in Jang's community seems to agree that the group has nothing to hide. 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 another email string from mid-August 2012, Will Anderson, the publisher and CEO of The Christian Post, requested that Edmond delete from the Singapore site any articles by a writer suspected of being a source for CT's August article.
Another email announced that "PD [Pastor David] just announced that the use of Facebook and other networking sites is now forbidden for obvious security reasons... Facebook makes it easy for organizations that persecute us to link us all up together including the ministries we work for." That email itself contained the final instruction, "CLEAR THIS MESSAGE AFTER READING." (The command to abandon Facebook seems itself to have been abandoned, since many members and organizations in the community are currently active on the social networking site.)
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."
Jang's associates did not only challenge Edmond Chua's account by email. Edmond says he has found himself threatened with a lawsuit, locked out of his website, and harassed by Jang associates coming to his home late at night. (Members have also harassed his father, who accompanied him to the 2006 New York evangelism training, Edmond said.)
Others who have spoken out recently have also faced threats or intimidation. In 2007, an anonymous blogger from Houston who referred to herself as StillStanding posted the story of her year-long involvement with the Jang-affiliated Apostolos Campus Ministries. (CT was able to confirm her identity and verify several details of her account.) On her blog, StillStanding said that in late 2005, she had been reading her Bible on the campus of Rice University when she was approached by a woman named Kookhee Yoo. Kookhee invited her to join in a series of Bible studies at the "mission center," and initially StillStanding said that she found them helpful.
But eventually she began to have questions about what she had been taught. She was uncomfortable with the group's strict social hierarchy—"I hated to be called a 'lamb,'" she said on her blog—but especially with the central role that Jang played. "By this time I had already gotten the 'lesson' about Pastor David, that he is second Jesus, Kookhee told me this during a Bible study in the 'mission center.' … I remembered the words of Kookhee when I asked her if she was the only one who believed this about her pastor and she said that everyone did."
StillStanding removed her blog shortly after it went live. She explained to CT that "a few of the senior members including Tracy Davis and the two missionaries who originally evangelized to me, along with one or two others (I can't remember), flew from San Francisco to Houston and showed up unannounced at my door and threatened me with legal action and intimidation."
Similarly, a lawsuit from Christian Today Japan against Yamaya Makoto, a blogger who has repeatedly criticized Jang, is in its fourth year. An independent journalist from Canada, Ann Brocklehurst, as well as two Christian newspapers serving the Korean American community, Christian Today US (no relation to either Christianity Today or to the Jang-affiliated Christian Today newspaper) and News-N-Joy US, have also reported receiving legal threats from Jang's community for publishing critical articles.
On August 30, after finding that they could no longer upload articles to The Christian Post - Singapore Edition website (it's hosted on the same servers as the U.S. edition of The Christian Post), the Chuas decided to walk away. "It is with a heavy heart and yet mingled with the peace of the Lord that transcends all understanding that we have decided to bring our involvement in online Christian journalism to a close," they said in an email to friends, business associates, and others. But Edmond said he plans to continue to tell the truth about his experience in Jang's community and what it teaches.
Ted Olsen is CT's managing editor, news and online journalism. Ken Smith is an independent journalist based in Washington State.