Friday, December 26, 2014

An Ironic Wrinkle in the David Jang Saga

So this was interesting. Earlier today, Ted Olsen forwarded this link to me:

It was a link to an article – published on a Christian Post blog, no less – examining the claims about and accusations against David Jang, and coming to some reasonably skeptical conclusions.

I immediately started to read the post on my cell phone, but in the five minutes it took me to get to a computer, the link started turning up a blank page, and indeed, it looks like the entire Scriptural Truths blog got deleted. Luckily, I was able to save the page from my cell phone to a PDF, and it’s now available here:

I was previously aware of most of the material (indeed, it seems to quote from some of the documents I’ve previously made public), though I believe that some of the translations into English were new. It also appears that the author had access to independent sources within David Jang’s community, though what his own ties to the group may have been are not clear.

Given how sensitive Jang’s community is to criticism, I’m hardly surprised that it got taken down; I’m more surprised that it got published at all, and I’m sure there’s a fascinating story there. Before this, I had no idea who Aida and William Spencer were (a quick Google search reveals that they’re theology professors at Gordon Conwell), nor do I know who “Martin Zhang” is. If anybody has more information along those lines, please reach out to me!

The full text of the original blog post follows.


The Mystery of David Jang (Jang Jae-Hyung)

By Aida and William Spencer

December 26, 2014 | 4:46 pm

Guest blog by Martin Zhang

Why A Mystery?

David (Jae-Hyung) Jang is an influential yet controversial figure especially in Eastern Christianity. On the one hand, he is the founder and international president of Olivet University (OU), a professor of theology at Olivet Theological College and Seminary (OTCS), the 88th president of Denomination General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, founder of Christian Today, Christian Daily Korea, Christianity Daily, founding team member and former senior advisor of the Christian Post, North American Council Member of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), president of the Holy Bible Society (HBS) and president of the World Olivet Assembly (WOA).[1] He is a very distinguished and industrious religious leader.

On the other hand, sources show that David Jang was a follower of Sun-Myung Moon for 31 years, and was a major leader of the Unification Church (UC) until 1998, in which year he resigned as professor of Sun Moon University. Moreover, former members of his present group, the Young Disciples of Christ or the Davidian Community, have testified that they were given lectures and eventually led to confess David Jang is the “Second Coming Christ.”

No evidence shows that David Jang himself has claimed publicly to be the “Second Coming Christ,” and he himself has also denied that he has claimed to be the “Second Coming Christ.”[2] However, witnesses from Korea, Japan, China, Singapore and America are unanimously pointing to one thing: Some followers of David Jang induce people to confess that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ.

What’s the Possible Fact behind the Controversy?

What, then, is the fact lying behind the controversy? There are at least three possibilities: 1) All those former members are either telling the truth or lying; 2) David Jang is either telling the truth or skillfully lying (he did not explicitly claim publicly, but privately accepts his followers’ teaching); and 3) both the former members and David Jang are telling the truth and neither is lying (only some of David Jang’s followers are teaching heretical doctrines which are neither created by nor known to him).

Possibility One

First, let us examine the testimonies of the former members. These witnesses claim that they are usually approached by members of the Davidian Community (under the name “Young Disciples of Jesus” [YD]) who are called “guides” (author’s translation). They are invited to a free Bible study and taught forty lessons which are called “forty Taos.” Attendees usually receive at least one lesson per day. After finishing these lessons, attendees report they are asked questions that lead them to the conclusion that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ.

Brother EN, who joined YD in 2001, recalls, after the “Forty Taos” they had a celebration party for him. At the party, their leader, a Korean sister, asked him: “What differences do you feel in this place?” EN answered: “Genuine love. Very warm.” She replied, “Only those who have faith can understand the difference. At that time, by his faith, Peter recognized Jesus was the Christ, what do you think?” EN answered, “Jesus is with us.” She asked again, “Only those who have faith can see, do we have love?” EN answered, “Yes.” She then asked, “The one who has greater love is Msni (David Jang). If Christ has come, he must be very special. All these ‘Forty Taos’ you have listened to were written by him, which is the highest revelation. So, what do you think?” He finally understood what she expected him to answer, and said, “Msni is the Christ.” Then everyone applauded, and praised aloud, “Thank the Lord, thank the Lord.”[3]

Esther (Ma Li) and another girl were asked the same question after they had listened to the “Eschatology,” “Time and Date,” and “New Israel” lectures. Zhang Naiwen, Esther’s teacher, asked them: “Who is Rev. David?” Being completely convinced, Esther answered without hesitation, “The Second Coming Christ!”

Then, based on Matthew 7:6, she and other members were told not to tell anyone else. She reports both of them were told that they were reborn. They signed the member card and were declared members.[4] Former leaders of the Davidian Community from Korea and Singapore shared similar experiences. [5] Those who joined them were soon required to work for affiliated companies and to give money to the Community. EN finally left the Community, but was identified as the one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, therefore not fit for the kingdom of God.[6]

Since those former members are from different countries yet are telling very similar if not the same stories, we may conclude that although it is possible that all of them are lying, it is unlikely. This writer would need more evidence to be convinced that all of those witnesses are lying.

Possibility Two

Now let us consider the second possibility. Is David Jang telling the truth or is he a skillful liar? Sources show that David Jang was a follower of Sun-Myung Moon for 31 years, and he was a core member of the Unification Church. He was charged with promoting Unification Theology. It was said that he first denied his long time experience in the Unification Church, then reinterpreted his years in the Unification Church (e.g., he was not teaching Unification Theology, but saving people from the Unification Church), and finally wrote a letter of repentance.[7] This writer cannot help but wonder what really happened to David Jang.

Was he actually a follower of Sun-Myung Moon? Sources show that David Jang was married among 1,800 couples in a mass wedding presided over by Moon in February 1975. One of the qualifications for participating in Moon’s mass wedding was to believe Sun-Myung Moon was the Second Coming Christ.[8] Did Mr. Jang believe that Sun-Myung Moon was the Second Coming Christ? If so, when did he change his mind? How did that change happen? David Jang definitely has a great testimony to tell. God may use his testimony to lead more Unification Church members back to God.

On the other hand, some participants in the “Forty Taos” series have reported that, based on Matthew 7:6, members were taught not to share the teaching with those who are biased, lest they may not believe what they say and turn back to accuse them.[9] These claim that David Jang was following the strategy in this teaching when he denied that he claimed to be the Second Coming Christ, perhaps following the example of Sun Myung Moon, who for a long time did not reveal himself to be the “Lord of the Second Advent.”

However, even if David Jang’s experience in the Unification Church is true, and even if he used to accept people believing him as the Second Coming Christ, if he has genuinely repented, all evangelical Christians would be more than willing to embrace him as a brother in Christ. We were all someone else before we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, just as the Apostle Paul says, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). However, all of us would really want David Jang to share his spiritual journey openly before all could embrace him as our brother with complete confidence and without any concern.

Possibility Three

How about the third possibility? Is it possible that David Jang was a genuine orthodox Christian from thebeginning or has genuinely repented from the Unification Church, but his followers somehow came up with the teaching that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ which was unknown to him? Before discussing the possibility, let us first take a look at the teachings reported of David Jang’s followers.

What Are These Controversial Teachings?

According to a sermon preached by one of David Jang’s followers Pastor Paul, God restores the fallen world through three periods of time. He cites Mark 4:28, “first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” These three images represent the Old Testament era, the New Testament era, and the era of (another) New Covenant respectively. The Old Testament era was an era of law; the New Testament era was an era of Gospel, and now we are entering a New Era, which is another Gospel era, oriented by the Second Coming Christ’s teaching, which is the eternal Gospel.[10] In the New Testament era, Jesus separates the era of “the stalk” and the era of “the head.” Jesus taught in parables. The one who separates the ear of “the head” and the era of “bearing fruit” will be this Second Coming Christ who preaches the Eternal Gospel crystal clearly.

David Jang’s sermon “Time and Date” divides the history of the world by millenniums. Genesis covers the first two thousand years. The last figure in Genesis is Joseph, who is the image of Jesus. Joseph was sold by Judah, but he finally forgave Judah. The rest of the Old Testament also covers two thousand years. Jesus Christ separates the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus was also sold by a Judah (Judas), but he also forgave him. Therefore, David Jang concludes, there is a great change every two thousand years. Now we are at another point of the two thousand year period. God chose Israel in the Old Testament era. He chose Christians in the New Testament era. God is going to choose a New Israel for the coming new era. These are the 144,000 people in Revelation 7.[11] They are not the only people who are saved, but they set a model for the Kingdom of God. We can become one of the 144,000. In Revelation 1:7, we read, “He is coming with the clouds”: “‘The clouds’ mean witnesses, not real clouds.” Being caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in 2 Thessalonians means experiencing an inner change in our lives. The sermon argues that the kingdom of heaven is not in heaven, but on earth.[12]

How can one become one of the 144,000? Another sermon teaches, if one signs the member card of this movement, that one will be counted.[13] Who, then, can sign the member card? Testimonies of former YD members report that, although they might be directed in different ways, all finally were convinced and confessed that David Jang was the Second Coming Christ. And then they were told that that day was their “re-born day.” Then they would sign the member card.

The testimonies of the former believers seem to accord with the sermons. What is the problem with these teachings?

What’s Wrong with Their Teachings?

According to the testimonies of former followers of David Jang, those who confessed David Jang to be the Second Coming Christ were called re-born.[14] It appears that the problem of the Davidian groups is in their soteriology (doctrine of salvation). However, this is probably not the main issue. As explained in the sermon “Eschatology,” adherents do not claim that only those who follow them or believe in David Jang are saved. Those who sign the member card are among the 144,000 who are “the first fruit.” Technically, “reborn” is not an accurate word, since it might suggest they do not rely on the cross for their salvation. This is not these former adherents’ complaint.

The major problems appear to be with the movement’s Christology[15] and Eschatology.[16] In the sermon “Time and Date,” Jesus is said to have used mainly parables to preach the gospel, thereby contrasting him with the Second Coming Christ who will proclaim the Eternal Gospel plainly. Human history has been divided into 2 millenniums (creation to Joseph) + 2 millenniums (Joseph to Jesus) + 2 millenniums (Jesus to the Second Coming Jesus). Therefore, their arguments seem to be that there is no question of the date of the Second Coming. It has to be the second millennia A.D. “The era of the fruit is right in front of us,” Pastor Borah Lin assures us.[17]

If the Second Coming Jesus has already come, then the logical question would be: Who is he? In “Time and Date,” Pastor Borah does not appear to ask, “when will Jesus come,” but “who brings the Eternal Gospel?” The assumption is that the Second Coming Jesus is not Jesus of Nazareth but another. Since the Second Coming Jesus is already on earth, the Rapture that Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 cannot be a literal rapture. One possibility would be that it is an internal change, as described in “Time and Date” and “Eschatology.”[18]

Once one accepts such teachings, if asked, “Who do you think Pastor David Jang is?” one is reported to be guided by questions to the conclusion that he is the Second Coming Jesus, because all the sermons studied are said to be have been written by him. Therefore, he is the one who explains this “Eternal Gospel” in such a plain way.

Such a teaching, of course, would contradict both the Bible and the Creeds of the early church. First, concerning the date of the Second Coming, Jesus Christ said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).[19] Therefore, any person or group declaring to know the date must be mistaken. Second, Jesus told his disciples, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). Moreover, right after Jesus’ ascension, the angels said to the disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). It is very clear that the same Jesus will come back. The Nicene Creed also confesses that “He (Jesus Christ) shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead.”[20] Anyone or any group who declares that the Second Coming Jesus is not the same Jesus must be heretical. The Nicene Creed confesses that Jesus Christ is “God of God…very God of very God.”[21] The Chalcedonian Creed also confesses that Jesus Christ is “consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead.”[22] If we accept a conflicting teaching that the time of the Second Coming of Christ can be known, and the “Second Coming Christ” is not the same person as Jesus of Nazareth, we would have to admit at the same time that what is reported in the New Testament that Jesus and the angels told the disciples was not true. This would diminish Jesus to either an intentional liar or a mistaken person who honestly said something that was not true. In either case, Jesus could be anyone, but not fully God, since he was not perfect. But the Scriptures tell us he was the “unblemished” sacrifice for our sin (Heb 9:14). Last but not least, although the Davidian Community teachers are not reported to have specifically taught that salvation belongs only to them, by identifying those who have left their movement as not fit for the kingdom of God, they are implying such a theology, which apparently contradicts the biblical teaching that, through believing Jesus Christ, we are saved (John 3:16; Rom 4:24).

Back to the Third Possibility

Former believers testified that they were told that the “Forty Taos” and other sermons were written by David Jang, which was key in leading them to conclude that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ.[23] While they report that Davidian teachers did not directly teach that, witnesses testify, they were asked “two plus two equals?” questions to let these listeners themselves come up with the answer “four,” but “no one said ‘four’ directly.”[24] Did David Jang really write these sermons to declare himself the Second Coming Christ or are those teachers mistaken in their interpretation of his instructions?

If David Jang wrote these sermons with such an intention, it would be impossible for us to accept his teaching as orthodox. Therefore, it would be best once more for David Jang to explain what he really believes and intends to convey in his sermons, in his teaching, and in the interpretations of his instructors and their followers. If David Jang did not write any of the sermons, and he neither believes the above, then his followers may be promoting heretical teaching in his name. This is a very serious problem, because his followers would be making up sermons to lead people to confess that David Jang is the Second Coming Christ, and be claiming that the sermons were written by him with this intention.

Ben Dookey in his article in Mother Jones claims that David Jang knew his followers were spreading the message.[25] If this charge is not true and Rev. Jang is really opposed to such a monstrous interpretation, our plea is that he clearly forbid anyone in his movement to make such a blasphemous claim and even expel those who continue to do so.


We certainly do not want to see an innocent person wrongly charged. At the same time, we cannot call anyone who is heretical in his or her teaching our dear brother or sister in Christ. That is why we wrote this article, with a hope that David Jang would help us clear up the mystery by answering the questions raised in this article by sympathetic but puzzled and inquiring Christian people.

[1] David Jang, “Biography of David Jang,” accessed Sept. 22, 2014,

[2] Michelle A. Vu, “Sources in ‘Second Coming Christ Controversy’ Face Scrutiny,” Christian Post, Aug. 19, 2012, Accessed Sept. 22, 2014.

[3] EN, “The Testimony of EN,” in Clear the Fog & Reveal the Truth, by K.Y. Cheung Teng (Hong Kong: Concern Group on Newly Emerged Religions, 2008),

[4] Ma Li, “The Inerasable Memory,” in Clear the Fog & Reveal the Truth, by K.Y. Cheung Teng (Hong Kong: Concern Group on Newly Emerged Religions, 2008),

[5] Davidian Watcher, “Important: Full Text of the Testimony of A Former Pastor of the Davidian Community,” Collections on the “Davidian Community,” Sept. 22, 2008, Accessed Sep. 22, 2014. Ted Olsen and Ken Smith, “The Second Coming Christ Controversy: More Leaders Speak Out,”, Sept. 12, 2012, Accessed Sept. 22, 2014.

[6] EN, “The Testimony of EN.”

[7] Davidian Watcher, “Discussion on Rev. Jang Jae-Hyung’s Ministry in the Unification Church (I),” Collections on the “Davidian Community,” Dec. 1, 2007,; Davidian Watcher, “Discussion on Rev. Jang Jae-Hyung’s Ministry in the Unification Church (II),” Collections on the “Davidian Community,” December 1, 2007,; Davidian Watcher, “Discussion on Rev. Jang Jae-Hyung’s Ministry in the Unification Church (III),” Collections on the “Davidian Community,” Dec. 1, 2007,

[8] K.Y. Cheung Teng, An Analytical Study on the Continuous Controversies Stirred Up by David Jang, trans. Kitty Lau and Elaine Yip, Sept. 9, 2012, Accessed Sept. 22, 2014.

[9] H. T., “I Will Never Forget Them,” Research on Young Disciples of Jesus, May 31, 2008, Accessed Oct. 7, 2014.

[10] Paul Zhao, “Time and Date,” accessed Sept. 22, 2014, Pastor Borah preached the same sermon on July 20, 2002. See Accessed Sept. 23, 2014. We are not sure if they are the same person or not.

[11] Provided by Former YD Member, “New Israel,” accessed Sept. 22, 2014, For similar sermons on “New Israel” preached by followers of David Jang in English and German, see Preachers of the Davidian Community, “New Israel,” 2002-2006, Accessed Sept. 22, 2014.

[12] Provided by Former YD Member, “Eschatology,” accessed Sept. 22, 2014,

[13] Provided by Former YD Member, “Four Spiritual ‘Taos,’” accessed Sept. 22, 2014,

[14] Ma Li, “The Inerasable Memory.”

[15] “Christology” is doctrine concerned with revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

[16] “Eschatology” is doctrine of the last things or the final events of humanity.[17] Pastor Borah, “Time and Date,” July 20, 2002, Accessed Sept. 23, 2014.

[18] Provided by Former YD Member, “Eschatology.”

[19] See also Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2007), 1194.

[20] “Nicene Creed,” accessed Sept. 23, 2014,

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Chalcedonian Creed,” accessed Sept. 23, 2014,

[23] K.Y. Cheung Teng, Clear the Fog & Reveal the Truth (Hong Kong: Concern Group on Newly Emerged Religions, 2008), 16, 118,

[24] Ben Dooley, “Who’s Behind Newsweek?,” Mother Jones, March 2014, Accessed Sept. 23, 2014.

[25] Ken Smith, “David Jang Summary,” Confessions of a Would-Be Theologian, Jan. 6, 2014, Accessed Sept. 23, 2014.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Azure: What to use, what to avoid

Azure is clearly the second-tier choice for cloud services these days, well behind Amazon Web Services, but (so far as I can tell) still well ahead of Google Cloud and all the other players. But since I’ve been building Payboard’s infrastructure on the Microsoft stack – Visual Studio 2013 is pretty nice, and C# remains my favorite language by a significant margin – Azure was a natural choice.

Since making that choice, Payboard has processed some 30 million events from our customers, with several hundred thousand more coming in every day. That’s pretty small beer compared to some folks, but it’s not insignificant, and it’s given us a chance to stress test Azure in the real world. In the process, I’ve developed some strong opinions about what works well in Azure and what I would at all costs avoid the next time around. What follows here is just the experience of one team – so caveat developor.

Azure Websites: Thumbs up

Azure Websites aren’t suited for every task, with their main limitation being that they can’t scale up beyond 10 instances.  But if you’re not going to bump up beyond that, they’re very nice. We haven’t had any reliability problems to speak of, and they have very nice rollout stories. My favorite is their git integration: once you get it setup, you just push to Github, and that’s it. Azure notices your push, builds it, runs all your unit tests, and then if they succeed, pushes it to the website automatically. Very handy, and a nice workflow.

Azure SQL: Adequate

SQL Server is a great database, and I’m not at all sorry that we went with it. But Azure SQL starts getting spendy if you’re pushing any significant traffic to it at all, and it has some weird limitations that you won’t find in standalone SQL Server. (The one that’s bit me most recently is that it doesn’t support NEWSEQUENTIALID() – good luck keeping those clustered indexes defragmented.) Like SQL Server in general, it doesn’t have a great scale-out story: you can do it, it’s just a significant PITA. And finally, Azure SQL seems to have a lot of transient connectivity errors. At least half a dozen times a day, we simply can’t connect to the DB, sometimes for upwards of several minutes. MS insists, quite correctly, that you need to wrap every attempt to write to the DB in a retry block. But sometimes the errors last longer than your retry block on a busy server can reasonably be expected to continue retrying. My recommendation: if you’re building a financial application, or any application where you simply can’t afford to lose data, don’t use Azure SQL.

Azure Table Storage: Adequate (barely)

Azure Table Storage is insanely cheap, unbelievably scalable, astonishingly reliable, and if you’re using it the way it was intended, blazingly fast. It’s also missing a whole host of vital features, and is extremely brittle and thus painful to use in the real world. It’s not quite as bad as the “write-only datastore” that I initially dismissed it as being, but it really needs some TLC from the Azure team. For a good sense of what it’s still missing after years of neglect, check out of the UserVoice forums. Despite all that, if you’re willing to repeatedly pivot and re-import your data into ATS, it can be fairly effective. It’s basically a really cheap place to dump your log data. If you need to read your log data back, you can do it, you just need to be willing to repeatedly copy your data into a whole bunch of different tables, with each table having a separate partition key/row key schema. That’s more-or-less acceptable when you have a few million rows of data; it’s a lot less workable when you’ve got a few billion. It would be better if I’d been able to get the 5-20K rows / second imports that Azure advertises; unfortunately, even after a lot of tuning, I haven’t been able to get more than (sometimes) 1000 rows per second. (I’m sure that there may be ways to do it faster – but the fact that I haven’t been able to figure it out after a lot off effort goes right back to my point about brittleness.)

Azure Service Bus: Thumbs Down

Uggh. When we decided to switch over to an asynchronous queuing architecture for our event imports, we initially went with Azure Service Bus, mostly because it was newer (and presumably better) than Azure Storage Queues, and because it offered a notification-based approach for servicing its queues. Unfortunately, it was neither reliable nor scalable enough. We suffered through repeated outages before switching over to Azure Storage Queues. In addition, it basically doesn’t have a local development story. You have to use a real Azure instance, which is annoying and a PITA if you ever need to develop disconnected. (MS does have a Service Bus instance that you can install on your local machine, but at least as of this writing, it’s badly out-of-sync with the Azure implementation, and doesn’t work with the latest client library off of nuget.)

Azure Storage Queues: Thumbs Up

Very fast, very scalable, and rock solid. It’s poll-only, but that’s not hard to wrap. It has very large maximum queue sizes, which mostly makes up for the fact that its maximum message size is only 64K. On the whole, recommended.

Azure Worker Roles: Thumbs Up

They do what we need them to do. I still think that they’re more difficult to use than they need to be – I wish I could use Kudu with them, to enable the same “push to git” workflow that works so nicely with Azure Websites  – but I guess I don’t mind the flexibility that comes with requiring me to go through a separate publishing step. And once you get them configured, they’re easy to scale up and down. (I especially like the option to scale them up or down automatically based on queue size.)

Azure Managed Cache: Thumbs Down

Azure’s in-house cache implementation is slow and unreliable. When we finally abandoned it, we were experiencing multiple outages a day, and even when it was working, we were averaging about 300 ms / lookup, which was unacceptably slow for a cache. Not recommended.

Azure Redis Cache: Adequate

Redis is, indeed, as blazingly fast as you’ve heard. Our lookups often take less than 10 ms, which is kind of hard to believe, when you consider network latency and everything else. Unfortunately, after an initial period of stability, we’ve lately been having several (brief) outages a day. It’s just a cache, and we’ve wrapped our Redis cache with a (briefer)  in-memory cache, so this hasn’t been crippling, but it’s not what you like to see. In addition, I have some gripes with the recommended StackExchange redis libraries – the basic problem being that they don’t provide any automatic reconnect after a connection issue. Yes, you can wrap that, but it seems like the sort of thing that ought to be handled for you by the library itself.

Friday, July 25, 2014

“502 Bad Gateway” error on Azure Websites

I ran into a strange problem the other day. It made perfect sense as soon as I understood what was going on, but I was scratching my head about it for a while, so I thought I’d document it here in case anybody else runs into it.

I recently switched Payboard’s website over to use the new Azure redis cache, instead of the native Azure Managed Cache Service. We’d been running into all sorts of problems with the Azure Managed Cache, with requests to the cache averaging over 400 ms – way, way, way too slow for a cache system. Once we switched to redis, our average request time dropped to under 25 ms. Not perfect, but much better.

The only problem was that certain requests to the website started (randomly, it seemed) returning “502 bad gateway” errors. This had me quite puzzled. I was able to definitively track it down to our use of redis – as soon as I switched back to a simple in-memory cache, the errors disappeared. And when I switched back to redis, they started showing up again. However, none of these errors were showing up in our site’s error logs – they weren’t getting caught by any of the error handling attributes that we decorate all our controllers with, like so:

/// <summary> /// Log unhandled exceptions /// </summary> public class PayboardApiErrorHandlerAttribute : ExceptionFilterAttribute { private static readonly Logger logger = LogManager.GetCurrentClassLogger(); public override void OnException(HttpActionExecutedContext exceptionContext) { try { var exception = exceptionContext.Exception; var exceptionMessage = exception.CompleteMessage(); string userName = null; if (HttpContext.Current != null) { userName = HttpContext.Current == null ? "" : HttpContext.Current.User.Identity.Name; } var origin = ""; var ctx = exceptionContext.ActionContext; if (ctx.Request.Headers.Contains("Origin")) { origin = ctx.Request.Headers.GetValues("Origin").FirstOrDefault(); } var content = ctx.Request.Content.ReadAsStringAsync().Result; var ipAddress = ctx.Request.GetClientIp(); var message = string.Format("Controller: {0}; Url: {1}; User: {2}; Origin: {3}; IpAddress: {4}; Error: {5}; Content: {6}", exceptionContext.ActionContext.ControllerContext.Controller.GetType().Name, exceptionContext.ActionContext.Request.RequestUri, userName, origin, ipAddress, exceptionMessage, content); var prefix = string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(userName) ? "Anonymous WebApi Error: " : "User-visible WebApi Error: "; } catch (Exception ex) { logger.Error("Error logging error - and yes, that's as circular as it seems: " + ex.CompleteMessage()); } base.OnException(exceptionContext); } } }

Because we weren’t seeing any errors in these controllers, that made me think that it must be something on Azure’s side. After the bad experience we’d had with the Azure Managed Cache, and given that Azure’s redis cache offering is still in preview, it seemed a real possibility. I just couldn’t figure out why an error in the redis caching system was causing our site to return a “bad gateway” error. The only explanation I could come up with was that perhaps both our site and the redis cache were using the same ARR instance, and maybe ARR was getting confused. That didn’t seem likely, but it was the only idea I had.

But after some playing around, I was able to reproduce the error – or at least, an error – on my dev machine, on the same pages. And it turns out that it was my fault (it usually is).

The problem is that I was using JSON.NET for serializing objects that I was sending to the cache. Unfortunately, I had it configured incorrectly.  I was setting my JSON serializer settings like this:

var jsonSerializerSettings = new JsonSerializerSettings { ReferenceLoopHandling = ReferenceLoopHandling.Serialize };

And it should have been like this:

var jsonSerializerSettings = new JsonSerializerSettings { ReferenceLoopHandling = ReferenceLoopHandling.Serialize, PreserveReferencesHandling = PreserveReferencesHandling.All };

In other words, I was telling it to serialize reference loops, but I wasn’t telling it to only include one instance of each object reference in the graph. As a result, whenever I tried to serialize (say) an EntityFramework object graph that included reference loops (for instance, a Customer object which contained a list of Events, each of which in turn contained a reference back to its parent Customer object), it would try to serialize the whole damn infinite loop, which resulted in a stack overflow.

And here’s the key. You can’t catch a stack overflow exception. You just can’t. It simply crashes your app domain. You don’t even get a chance to log it. Your app just goes bye-bye. Of course, IIS recovers from this and continues to serve more requests, but it plays all-to-hell with the current request. But this is the key part: if you’ve got a load balancer sitting in front of your web app, the load balancer isn’t even going to see an HTTP 503 error, or any sort of HTTP error. It’s just going to see that its TCP connection to the web server dropped. And in that case, it only has one option, to return a “502 Bad Gateway” error to the browser.

As soon as I figured that out, I fixed my serialization code, moving it all into a separate class so that I could unit test it, and all was well.

At any rate, that’s a bit of a long story, but the key lesson is this: if your website is simply failing to return requests (without even a 5xx error), or if the load balancer in front of your website is returning “502 bad gateway” errors, suspect a stack overflow exception somewhere in your code. That, and write more unit tests.

That’s all. Carry on.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

In Defense of Mozilla

I’m no fan of JavaScript. It’s a language that has been pushed far beyond anything its creator could have envisioned, and it shows. But there’s still something to be said about a language that has become the foundation of the modern Internet. And there’s something to be said for having been the dude who invented the whole thing.

That’s why it was not at all surprising that Mozilla’a board recently appointed Brendan Eich, their long-time CTO and the inventor of JavaScript, as their CEO.


It was a bit more surprising that the same board then turned around and fired him only a few days later. The sin for which Brendan Eich was removed is that six years ago, he had made a donation to Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that defined – or rather, acknowledged the reality – of marriage as one man and one woman.

Now, there’s lots that ought to dismay us in this episode, none more worrisome than the fact that this decision was taken in the name of tolerance and diversity. In a blog post announcing this decision, Mozilla wrote:

Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.

That’s an odd way to frame removing somebody because of his political and (presumably) religious views. On the contrary, this decision makes it abundantly clear that there are certain religious views – namely, those of any orthodox Jew, Muslim or Christian – which are not at all welcome at Mozilla. I'm still trying to understand how neither Mozilla’s board nor Eich’s detractors didn't see the irony there. Their blinders are more complete than I would have suspected.

This decision also raises concerns about the possibility of any real dialogue with folks on disparate sides of the issue. Mozilla’s logic would have made a certain sense if Brendan Eich had been a neo-Nazi or a member of the KKK, if his position had been so exclusionary and repellant that no quarter should be given, no compromise possible or desirable. This is apparently what Mozilla’s board believes, that opposition to gay marriage is a moral outrage, an evil so pernicious that it truly can be rejected in the name of diversity and tolerance.

That’s silly, of course. Even Barack Obama, until roughly a year ago, claimed the same perspective for which Brendan Eich was sacrificed. (Nobody believed him, but I don’t think that changes my point.) I don’t know what percentage of folks worldwide are opposed to same sex marriage, but I’m guessing that it’s well north of 75%. One may be forgiven for regarding dubiously any claim to universal tolerance and cosmopolitan diversity which rejects tout court three out of every four human beings on the planet. As Inigo Montoya said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

In short, if you think a witch hunt, purge, or inquisition is in order, that’s your business. But have the guts to call it by its right name, and don't pretend you're being tolerant.

But there’s another part of this decision that we ought to respect.

Mozilla took these actions because they felt that, as a corporation, they needed to support a particular understanding of morality. It's a highly idiosyncratic and provincial understanding of morality, of very recent origin and dubious provenance. It is an understanding of morality that I do not share. They were disingenuous and hypocritical to wrap their decision in the language of diversity and inclusiveness. But I very much affirm their desire, as a private corporation, to take actions based on what they believe to be moral, just and right.

This is nothing new. That's precisely what folks on the left have been arguing for decades that companies need to do. Corporations need to act according to the precepts of basic morality. They need to treat employees with respect and pay them a living wage. They need to take proper care of the environment. They need to act, in other words, as if they had a moral obligation to society. Corporations are not - or should not be - amoral agents. They are moral actors, and need to act as such.

And I agree. Corporations do have an obligation to justice. They cannot be indifferent to concerns about human flourishing. They must be concerned with the environment and society in which they are placed, and must give due weight to these considerations, even when they may affect the bottom line.

But consider this. This is nothing more than what Hobby Lobby wants to do, the same Hobby Lobby who is routinely mocked by the left for its lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby’s owners want their company to act in a way that they believe is moral, right and just, and reflects an appropriate concern for human flourishing. It’s entirely legitimate to argue that these beliefs do not, in fact, promote human flourishing. But it’s a very strange argument to hear from my friends on the left recently, that corporations cannot have beliefs about morality and should not act in a way that reflects moral concerns. That argument might make sense if these same people hadn't been making exactly the opposite argument right up until the moment Kathleen Sebelius decided that free birth control was more important than religious liberty.

To be clear, I don't always know, in any specific case, whether a given religious freedom claim should be allowed to prevail, whether the actor in question is a company or an individual. In general, though, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - passed almost unanimously by both parties - provides a good framework for deciding these questions. It says, in effect, that the government can't impose a burden on the expression of religious beliefs (even in a religiously neutral law) unless it (a) has a damned good reason to do so, and (b) can't get the same result any other way. So the government can outlaw human sacrifice, even if it impinges on the free expression of Aztec religious beliefs. But it can't, say, outlaw the use of peyote in Indian religious ceremonies. (That last was the case that got RFRA passed.)

Now, clearly, if Hobby Lobby was claiming that they get to decide whether women can get birth control, that would be an overreach. But despite what you regularly hear from the left, they aren’t. Actually, (a) Hobby Lobby is perfectly fine with paying for contraception and already does, (b) the only "contraception" they have an issue with are drugs that probably work by causing abortions, and (c) Hobby Lobby's objection is not to women getting those drugs, but to Hobby Lobby being forced to pay for them. Well, that's a different matter, and I expect the Supreme Court to find rationally. Hobby Lobby - and the Green family - has a genuine religious interest, there's no compelling government interest, and even if there were, there are lots of other ways to accomplish it.

On the other hand, I would expect the courts to find very differently in a case involving Jehovah's Witnesses who objected to an insurance policy covering blood transfusions, or to a Christian Scientist who objected to paying for insurance policies at all. In those cases, there is a genuine religious interest - I don't want to deny that there isn't - but there is also a compelling governmental interest, and regrettably, there may not be any other way to accomplish it.

I’m not saying that any given First Amendment claim to religious freedom or to primacy of conscience should always prevail. I am saying that it should be considered, and given due weight, even if the entity making the claim is a for-profit corporation. This is exactly what the Mozilla Corporation believed it was doing; and that is why I want to affirm their desire to do so, even though (in this particular case) their actions were silly, dangerous and counter-productive, precisely on their own terms.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

That’s Gotta Hurt

David Jang’s community has been having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

First there was the Guardian article which outlined the connections between David Jang and Newsweek, and then, in a fit of political correctness, tried to convince everyone – with daunting success – that Johnathan Davis’ opinions about gay reparative therapy were newsworthy.

This was followed, much more damningly, by a Mother Jones article which laid out some pretty solid reasons for being concerned about the cavalier attitude towards immigration and labor laws evinced by both IBTimes and Olivet University. And of course, these articles resulted in a great deal more chatter back and forth over the Interwebs, with responses ranging from thoughtful to inane and naive.

But the really bad news landed today. According to the Hudson Valley Reporter, Olivet University (or, I suppose more precisely, its management company, Olivet Management LLC) got hit with a $2.3MM fine from the Department of Labor for “exposing its employees to asbestos and lead during a renovation.”

Olivet Hit with $2.3M Fine for Exposing Workers to Asbestos During Wingdale Psychiatric Center Renovation



I have to imagine that Olivet is going to contest the fines – because from everything I’ve seen, Jang’s community tends to run their budgets pretty close to the red line, and only make it from month-to-month by depending heavily on donations from students and community members (and more troublingly, from community members’ families, who aren’t necessarily told the truth about how their money is going to be spent). Unless IBT and Newsweek are rolling in a lot more cash than you’d think online news publications are likely to throw off, it’s going to be difficult for Olivet to come up with the money to pay this fine.

This enforcement action also raises the interesting question of the precise relationship between Olivet Management, LLC, and Olivet University. For instance, if Olivet Management declares bankruptcy (which definitely seems within the realm of possibility) can the DOL go after Olivet University for the money? Some very expensive lawyers are probably coming up with some very expensive opinions on that topic right now.

If the concerns raised by the recent Mother Jones article have any merit (and I’ve seen independent evidence that suggests they do), this may not be the first time that David Jang’s community has played fast and loose with federal labor laws. Now that they have the attention of the Department of Labor, they may want to rethink that habit.


An independent journalist by the name of Ben Reeves posted a very interesting story today about his job writing articles for IBTimes, the proud new owners of Newsweek, and (I would guess) the primary revenue engine behind Olivet University’s recent expansions.

Compared to the recent Mother Jones piece, Ben’s story didn’t break much new ground, but it was interesting to read about his experiences. It’s been clear for a while that David Jang and Olivet and IBTimes were closely intertwined, and the documents Ben included in his story were further evidence of that. Similarly, the chats and emails he reproduces had some worthwhile details, including a – supposed – recent massive spike in revenues for Olivet University.

I was a bit mystified by this comment from his article:

Nevertheless, intimate connections between the founders of a company and a university run by an evangelical religious group aren’t a problem in and of themselves, however distasteful this may seem.

I’m glad he acknowledged that having well-educated Evangelical Christians running a business wasn’t necessarily a problem, but it was surprising to me that he assumed his readers would find the whole idea repugnant. If that really is how most folks view religiously committed folks these days – well, in the end, First Amendment protections are only as good as the society that values them.

But aside from that, the most interesting part of the article, I thought, was how Olivet responded when they found out that Reeves was working on the story. Reeves said that he initially sent them this list of questions:

1) Can you provide us with copies of your most recent student handbook and Ministry Practice Handbook?
2) Please describe the relationship between Olivet University and IBT since the company’s foundation in 2006.
3) What was Johnathan Davis’ role at the school?
4) How is Etienne Uzac connected to the school? What is his current role, and has he ever served as an officer of the university?
5) Your course catalogue states that one purpose of the journalism program is to teach students how to “apply Gospel values” to the news. What are Gospel values and how should they be incorporated into the news?
6) How do you define “ministry” with respect to internships?
7) What is the Ministry Practice Program and how does it work?
8) How long must students intern through the Ministry Practice Program?
9) What companies are students in the Ministry Practice Program authorized to intern at?
10) Were Olivet University students interning at IBT through the ministry practice program paid? What were their duties at the company?
11) What are the demographics of Olivet University’s student body? How many students are there, and where do they come from?

Olivet’s response was telling. Rather than trying to answer the questions, they immediately sent for their attorneys. Ben received this message a few days later:

Dear Mr. Reeves:

This firm serves as litigation counsel to Olivet University (“Olivet”). It has come to our attention that you intend to publish a news article about a supposed connection between Olivet University and International Business Times (“IBT”). It has further come to our attention that your news article will include false and defamatory statements about Olivet and false and defamatory statements about the supposed connection between Olivet and IBT, including insinuations that Olivet has used IBT for improper purposes and/or to further its own agenda. Any such false statements would be unlawful and would cause immediate and irreparable harm to Olivet.

Wow. That’s touchy. Olivet’s assumption is that any article published about them “will include false and defamatory statements”. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost think they had something to hide, and were desperately trying to use their lawyers to make sure the information didn’t get out.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Who’s Behind Newsweek?

The reporting behind Ben Dooley’s Mother Jones story on IBTimes, Newsweek and David Jang is phenomenal. Very, very in-depth. You can tell that he’s been working on this story for years.

Who's Behind Newsweek

I should note that while my sources and Ben’s overlap to some degree (for instance, the Chuas), it’s quite clear that he has other sources I’ve never had any contact with. But it’s significant that they tell basically the same story. For instance:

As a new member, Anne started with "basic" Bible study focused on traditional Christian concepts. But as the courses progressed, Jang's name popped up with increasing frequency. Parables related by the pastor appeared side by side with the teachings of Jesus and other biblical characters. "We listened to him a lot," she told me. "We memorized the articles."

The lessons all seemed to lead toward some larger revelation. After completing the final reading, another former member told me, her tutor drew a question mark on the page and asked in a whisper, "Do you know who is the Second Coming Christ?" She hesitated for a moment before responding, "Pastor David." "They make you confess it," she told me, "like Peter did to Jesus Christ." The secret of Jang's true identity, she was told, must be protected because nonbelievers would "kill the Second Coming Lord as they did the first one."

Susan Chua, another former Community member, gave me a similar account. Indeed, every ex-Community member I spoke to either said they believed Jang was the Second Coming or said they were aware that others believed it. But Jang himself has repeatedly denied that he is the Second Coming and discouraged his followers from using the term. Several investigations by the heresy committee of the Christian Council of Korea concluded there was "no evidence" to indicate that he had made such claims, and in 2009, a Korean court sanctioned a newspaper for saying that Young Disciples taught that Jang was the Second Coming. In the Times, Davis and Uzac vigorously dismissed the idea that they considered Jang the Messiah.

I asked Anne whether she ever heard anyone in the Community publicly refer to Jang as Christ. "No one said directly," she replied. "But I think he was. Just like I ask you, 'Two plus two equals?' The answer is four. They only said, 'Two plus two.' No one said four directly." Back then, did she believe it was true? "Yes," she said. "With all my heart."

As folks get more and more interested in who’s controlling Newsweek, the media response has mostly centered around the Guardian’s report that Jonathan Davis endorsed gay reparative therapy. But that’s a sideshow. The biggest long-term impact will necessarily center around the story’s allegations that Olivet and IBTimes have repeatedly encouraged their students and/or employees to work in violation of their visas and for almost no money.

But if there's room for interpretation in the F-1 rules, the regulations for F-2 visa holders, such as Anne, are quite clear: They may not work, on campus or off—not even in unpaid internships. Yet Olivet officials appear to have instructed these visa holders to do just that. "If every single person attends all ESL classes and other major courses, we can't really find enough workers for each ministry on campus," Lydia An, an employee in Olivet's finance office, wrote from her official Olivet account on January 2012. "We cannot let everyone on campus to focus on study only…We've came to a decision that F-2 students should focus on ministries more while F-1 students study in classes for 2011 winter quarter. Rooms and food will be provided free of charge as long as F-2 students work and maintain a certain work performance in a ministry."

That makes no sense, says Anna Stepanova, an immigration lawyer who has worked on F-1 and F-2 visa cases: "There are no F-2 students," she said. "They're dependents. They accompany F-1 students. They're not supposed to work."

Tracy Davis says An's email referred to cooperative child care. "This is an email that's talking to married students in the context of family work and child rearing," she said. "If you put the word 'family' in front of this word 'work,' it's not talking about work where you get a W-2. It's talking about family work and shared child care."

Susan Chua, who says she was dispatched to the San Francisco offices of the Christian Post after coming to Olivet on an F-2 visa, says that doesn't reflect what she was told. For believers like her, she says, working in the Community's businesses was simply another way of serving the Lord. "Whether they came to US with F-1 or F-2 visas, the majority of them were devoted members to the community and their belief system. They were going to work extremely hard and sacrificially and obediently and joyfully for the building of the ark—the various ministries in the whole community."

"There was no concept of pay at that time in the community," Chua added. "You were feeling obligated to donate and contribute instead of receiving. The little money given by the ministry office you were working in was to cover bus fares and cheap meals in [Olivet's] Student Union."

Another former student told me, "The members suffer. They are young, naive, believe the teachings. After some time they find themselves without money, because they donated what they had. And they work basically for free…The visa thing and being far from home makes things more complicated."

I should note that Tracy Davis’ explanation of this particular incriminating email – that the “work” was “family work” – makes little sense, as the email clearly refers to maintaining “a certain work performance in a ministry”. Sometimes the denials issued by Jang’s community do them more harm than good, I think.

At any rate, read the Mother Jones article. It’s very good.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

“An Account Of”

Several years ago, I spent some time wondering where the phrase “an account of” came from, or at least, why it had recently seemed to reach such prominence. I never did figure it out, and it’s a question that’s been sitting in the back of my mind ever since.

I was reading a passage from Gregory of Nazianzus today – his famous critique of Apollinarianism – when I ran across this sentence:

“Further let us see what is their account of the assumption of Manhood, or the assumption of Flesh, as they call it.”

Or in Greek:

“Τις δε και ο λογος αυτοις της ενανθρωπησεως, ιδωμεν, ειτουν σαρκωσεως, ως αυτοι λεγουσιν.”

In other words, the phrase “an account of” is really just a translation of the famous Greek stand-by, “logos”.

Well, that makes sense. And you learn something new every day.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Geoff Tunnicliffe is stepping down

I just spotted the news on Christianity Today that Geoff Tunnicliffe, the head of the World Evangelical Alliance, is stepping down, to make room for “younger leadership”.

The skeptical side of me wonders if this has anything to do with the minor fiasco over the WEA’s cancelled General Assembly in Korea. Or with Tunnicliffe’s controversial and extensive ties to David Jang.

Or maybe it’s just a normal turnover of leadership.

Still, I think the WEA would definitely be healthier if they were able to achieve more distance between themselves and Mr. Jang. It seriously is not good that a man whose followers long hailed him as a second Messiah is that close to an organization this important.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ruth Boorman Eulogy

[My grandmother Ruth Boorman – the last of my grandparents – died on February 2, at the age of 95. I read this at her funeral yesterday.]

In 1928, a little girl by the name of Ruth Elizabeth Reed had reached the advanced and distinguished age of 10. She lived with her parents and siblings on the family farm in the small town of Elliott, Iowa, near the cousins and friends she loved. Her favorite possession was a wide-brimmed hat with an entirely superfluous and beautiful yellow ribbon.

One Sunday afternoon in August, after a hot and breathless day, Ruth’s father was about to begin his evening chores, but something in the sky caught his attention. He watched closely for a few moments, then turned and ordered his family into the root cellar. The tornado arrived only minutes later. Ruth was left gasping for breath as the pressure differential sucked the air out of the cellar, all the while watching her dad brace himself with everything he had against the door. When the chaos and terror subsided, and her family finally emerged, it was to scenes of devastation. Their house had been shifted off its foundation, the barn was gone, and the outbuildings had been destroyed. A newspaper account said that three of their neighbors were killed, and scores wounded. They found little Ruth’s wide-brimmed hat with the yellow ribbon in a nearby tree, damaged beyond repair.

When my Grandma told this story years later, she was typically self-deprecating. The loss of the farm meant hard times for her parents, she knew, especially on the eve of the Great Depression. But, she said, “I was just a little girl, and to me it was all a great adventure.”

In many ways, those two poles represent her life. It was marked throughout by hard times. But the times were never so hard that they stopped being an adventure. The tornado that forced her father off his farm and into odd jobs and manual labor meant that she got to play with new friends in the town park. Her family eventually moved across the country from Iowa to Oregon, but along the way there were cute boys on the train she could flirt with. She was the new girl in Henley, Oregon, but of course that meant new classes, community dances, and a new and remarkably persistent suitor. Five children meant struggling to put food on the table, but also a full and lively house, and fodder for later stories. They lived in a tar paper shack in Tionesta, but with a family and as members of a community that looked out for each other. When her husband’s pumice business went under, it was followed by a move to Ashland, a new church, a new house, and a chance to start over. A retirement to a tiny mobile home in a Grants Pass trailer park meant entertaining grandchildren and getting her husband out of the house so he could hunt and fish to his heart’s delight. Her final move to assisted living in Longview meant a smaller apartment, a loss of independence, a smaller world; but also, a new audience for her stories, a well-earned opportunity to rest, and the chance, for a change, to let someone else care for her.

My Grandma Ruth was a tall and proud woman. She and Clarence never had much money, but they were responsible with what they did have, and they raised their children in a tradition of thrift and discipline and honesty. In the early 1950’s, with five children and a failing business, things were especially tight. Grandma once told me about walking through the general store in Tionesta, down to her last few dollars, trying to find something to feed her family, something she could afford. The store owner figured out what was going on, and walked over to the aisle where she was standing. “Ruth,” he said gently, “I want you to put this on credit. It will be all right.” Before she left, he gave her a large box of Roman Meal cereal samples, and that was her family’s breakfast for the winter. Later, when the simplest course would have been to declare bankruptcy and walk away from their debts, she and my grandfather declined the easy way out, and over the next 10 years paid back every creditor in full.

My Grandmother was not a great cook; it was not a skill she could have put to any use. Her raw ingredients were venison and cans of green beans and sometimes a mess of trout or a wild goose. It was rare for anything fancier than a casserole to emerge from her kitchen.

She could be stern sometimes, but she was never harsh. My brother Keith tells me that he never once heard her speak critically of anyone. She loved her children, and grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. But her temper was not particularly warm, and she did not gush over them or jump at the chance to spoil them. The present she gave me for my sixth birthday was typical: a simple King James Bible. The only hint of ostentation was my name inscribed in gold letters on its forest green cover. It was always on the pew next to me as a child, and is still on my bookshelf at home.

But the gift of a Bible was typical for other reasons besides simplicity. She was a great reader, and my own love of books can be traced at least partly to her influence. She opened up her bookshelf to me, and over the years, I made my way through every one of her large collection of Agatha Christie novels. The Bible was also appropriate because she was a believer, and the matriarch of an extended tribe of believers. She never wore her faith on her sleeve - she was a good Baptist, even if she eventually forgave her daughter for marrying a Pentecostal - but she loved her savior, and she brought her children up in the training and admonition of the Lord. In the many pictures she left behind, it is not difficult to tell which ones were taken on a Sunday, because everyone is dressed for church.

Just yesterday, I found some brief notes she left behind in a book I had given her some years ago. In these notes, she was clearly thinking of her own life when she wrote:

[The people of my generation] were for the most part able to live responsible, respectable lives. Caring for their loved ones, serving where needed with their communities, holding down the fort as it were. Decent people that we never hear of - and they like it that way.

That was my Grandma. Never flashy, often stubborn, determined to be good, but equally determined not to make a fuss over it. She loved us, and cared for us, and we loved her. We will miss her.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

David Jang Summary

Over the last two years, I’ve done several deep dives into the theological distinctives of David Jang and his community. There was a lot of detail in those posts, and it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees. So I think it makes sense to summarize briefly my theory about David Jang’s community.

  1. To a great extent, and certainly within the hearing of any outsider, David Jang and his churches teach recognizably orthodox Christian doctrine. If you visit any of their churches, you will find nothing obviously amiss.
  2. However, until 2006, within this reasonably orthodox framework, the highest leaders in David Jang’s community encouraged a very heterodox teaching that David Jang was a key eschatological figure worthy of the title “Second Christ”. This belief was not universal but was very widespread, being taught explicitly or implicitly to new members in (at least) Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and Latin America.
  3. Although David Jang probably (and privately) continues to claim a role for himself more significant than any mainstream Christian would be comfortable with, he has never explicitly claimed to be “Christ”.  He currently disavows this teaching entirely, but there is evidence that he knew others were making this claim on his behalf and allowed them to do so.
  4. Since 2006, the community has ceased to actively promote the doctrine of a “second Christ”, though some members have made it clear as recently as 2012 that they still believed Jang to be Christ.
  5. David Jang and his community initially denied outright that this teaching had ever occurred, have continued to minimize and obfuscate its extent, and respond harshly and even viciously to silence anyone who brings it up.

So that’s the theory. But is it true?

You know – I think it is. Perhaps not in every particular. There may be nuances which I’ve missed or mistaken, and the evidence for some claims is more solid than for others. (I have the most questions around #3.) As I gather more information, I may need to revise portions of it. I first wrote this summary almost two years ago, and have continued to revise it periodically, as additional evidence came to light. I will continue to do so. But as it stands, it’s my best explanation of the facts as I have them.

Of course, I may be wrong. There may be other theories which cover the facts as well or better. Maybe the 20 or so people who have made this charge are just lying. Maybe they think they’re telling the truth, but badly misunderstood what they were told. Maybe Jang’s leaders just went horribly off the rails, and kept Jang so completely in the dark that he honestly knew nothing about it. Maybe they intercepted all the confessions people sent to him. Maybe this is all just some huge misunderstanding.


I’ve done something over the last year and a half that I had never imagined I would do: I’ve all but accused a significant figure in American Evangelicalism of serious heresy, and done it in a public forum where I was confident he and lots of other folks will hear about it and pay attention to it. This is a very sobering thing to do. Given the fate of Jang’s other critics, I continue to share my sources’ fears of retribution, that I’ll be on the receiving end of more personal attacks or even a lawsuit. And even more, I have worried throughout that I might be wrong, that in leveling these charges  I have been slandering the name of good Christians and needlessly stirring up dissent and division in the body of Christ.

But even with those risks, I cannot stay silent. The evidence for the key charges seems to me not just strong, but indisputable. And the charges are serious enough that I feel eminently justified in bringing them to the attention of the Christian world at large.

And I suppose that’s why I’m bothering to wade into this fight again, after a year of sitting on the sidelines. I’m worried about the fact that despite the extensive evidence, many mainstream Christians continue to have close ties with Jang’s community. It is true that many have withdrawn. Around the time of the original Christianity Today article, Al Mohler and Daniel Akin removed themselves from the Christian Post board. The sale of Bethany University to Jang’s Olivet University eventually fell through; and Lifeway declined to sell them their Glorieta conference center. But many other groups and individuals have continued their affiliation. The World Evangelical Alliance is only the most notable and worrisome example. Walker Tzeng, a senior leader in Jang’s community, is on the board of both the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the National Association of Evangelicals. Richard Land, the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, has continued on as the Executive Editor of The Christian Post. Will Graham (Billy Graham’s grandson) and Joel Hunter (megapastor and occasional spiritual advisor to the President) continue to allow themselves to be listed as a part of the CP’s “senior editorial advisors”. Donald Tinder, a former editor at Christianity Today, teaches at Olivet University, along with many other Christians whose orthodoxy is unquestionable.

I would feel very differently about Jang’s community if they were honest, transparent and apologetic – in a word, repentant – about what had occurred. But given the extent to which the group continues to dissemble about their past, and their scorched earth tactics against their critics, I am uncertain as to why any orthodox Christian would continue to lend them their support. Their chances of playing a constructive role in the body of Christ seem diminishingly small so long as they have not mastered simple honesty.

You will of course need to make up your own mind. But whatever your conclusion, I and everyone else involved will certainly need your prayers.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

David Jang’s Defense

The numerous blog posts I’ve dedicated to David Jang’s community have probably made this abundantly clear, but I suppose it’s time I say it outright: I don’t trust David Jang.

It wasn’t always this way. I was thrilled back in 2011 when I heard that Olivet University was negotiating to buy my poor, defunct alma mater. I had never heard of Olivet, but I was impressed with their website, and loved their focus on using technology to evangelize the world. But an off-hand comment by one of my fellow alums made me look deeper into the school, and into the community with which it was associated; and something - it was hard to say what - didn’t quite seem right. But I didn’t start to worry until Olivet came out with a new Bethany website, in which they blatantly lied about what was happening. And then they bizarrely threatened to sue me for pointing this out, and it went downhill from there. In subsequent blog posts, I laid out my growing concerns about David Jang’s community and its growing influence amongst American Evangelicalism. This research culminated in a pair of articles in Christianity Today - co-authored with the wonderful Ted Olsen - reporting on accusations that David Jang’s community believed him to be a “second Christ”.

In my day job as a programmer, I’ve learned to depend on a concept called “code smell”. Coding is as much about aesthetics as anything else, and after many years of swearing at code, I’ve learned to use how a codebase “feels” as a rough shorthand for how reliable and well-architected it will prove to be. It’s a feeling you learn to trust.

After several years of researching David Jang’s community, I think I’ve developed a similar sense of smell. And I don’t trust David Jang. Nor do I trust his community, their practices, their websites, their avowals, or their denials. Sometimes I have very good reasons for this, sometimes reasons that I haven’t yet talked about publicly. Sometimes it’s more of a hunch or gut feeling. But the end result is the same: I’ve learned to look askance at nearly anything David Jang or his community says promoting or defending themselves.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Among the thousands of documents that I’ve received from former members, some of the more interesting are those in which David Jang attempts a defense of his community against criticisms of the sort that I’ve leveled. I’ve placed these documents in a Google Drive folder. The oldest (which I’ve called 2004a) is undated, but based on internal evidence seems to be from between 2003-2005. Two others (2008a and 2008c) are dated to August 2008; and another appears to be from c. 2008, though the precise time is uncertain. (I should note that three of the documents do not explicitly identify David Jang as the speaker, but their content leaves room for no reasonable doubt as to who was talking.)

In these sermons, David Jang responds to a variety of criticisms of his community. Some of these criticisms are, in my opinion, well-founded, but concern aspects of the group that I haven’t focused on, such as their practice of arranged group marriages (what David Jang refers to as “Holy Matrimony”).

Other criticisms appear to me to be less well-founded, such as the allegation that the group doesn’t believe in Jesus, or that Jang taught that the cross was a failure. That last is an allegation which I’ve seen frequently made by the various Asian investigations, but none of the ex-members to whom I’ve spoken confirmed it, nor have I seen any reference to it in any of the thousands of documents which these former members have provided. One possibility is that this was an interpretation -- or misinterpretation -- of Jang’s theology which gained currency only in Asia. Not being able to speak any Asian languages, I’ve been somewhat limited in my ability to independently review the primary source material in Korean, Japanese or Chinese. But in the many, many sermons of Jang’s that I’ve read, he gives abundant evidence of having a strong faith in the person and work of Jesus, and in the efficacy of the cross. I have zero quarrels with that aspect of his theology.

At other points, however, David Jang attempts to defend his community against allegations very similar to those that I have leveled, namely, that the community believed they were the 144,000 of Revelation 7, and (more worrisome) that they were being led by a “Second Coming Lord”. Those of you who’ve been keeping up with my blog should recognize both of those claims by now.

The defense which he mounts against these allegations is quite interesting, and worth examining at length.

First, David Jang effectively confirms that his group did in fact teach that they were the 144,000 of Revelation 7 (a teaching clearly reflected in the New Israel documents). In 2008a, Jang describes a conversation he had with one critic:

Then, after then, [the critic] brings out a different card, you taught New Israel. 144,000 - it's not in the Bible. Did the lecturer make this? Actually, it is written in the Bible. YD say they are 144,000. Isn't it something that you should compliment? Should we not teach that there will be election/selection of God? Should we not teach about it? They say the center of the world is Jerusalem and Moscow. All the denominations say they are the center of the world. Center of the world is China. Why do you say something like that? In that way, you lead the history. We will become 144,000 before you Jesus and we'll lead. We will become your 144,000 and we'll lead your people. Will Jesus say no? Can we do this? Jesus will of course say, do it right away. He will never say who gave you that kind of authority?

Note that Jang doesn’t deny that the group taught this. Rather, he tries to downplay its significance, saying in effect that it is OK because every denomination does this (though that is hardly the case). And besides, he continues, when we actually do lead all of Christianity, Jesus is hardly going to complain that we did such a good job for him. As a defense of a rather problematic ecclesiology, Jang’s response doesn’t really work: but it does provide additional confirmation of what other sources and documents had already made clear, that he knew about the “New Israel” teachings, and affirmed them, at least in their broad outlines.

But while a screwy ecclesiology can be dangerous, it isn’t really heretical - though it is worth noting that the only groups I’m aware of that that have claimed to be the 144,000 are all groups that have departed from Christian orthodoxy (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses). On the other hand, the second charge, that of believing in the advent of a “second Christ” or “Second Coming Christ” or “Second Coming Lord” would, I believe, raise orthodox eyebrows semper, ubique et ab omnibus. (And of course, it is the “New Israel” teaching that provides the context for the “second Christ” teaching, because the second Christ will both bring into being and be acclaimed by this 144,000.)

In the case of this second allegation, it is the specifics of what David Jang denies and what he does not that is the most interesting. In 2008a, Jang responds to the charge by repeatedly denying that he has ever used the phrase “second coming lord”:

I've never even used this word once, second coming lord. If there is any record, bring it out.  I graduated from this famous theological seminary, but then enemies, they sent spies and they stole our notebooks and things like that. Secretly, they said, he is the second coming lord. It's very comical.

And again:

They said we don't believe in Jesus and regard Christ as failure, therefore, we believe in me, in pastor. So a second or third Christ must come out. That's why they believe in me.  We said, we don't believe in the second coming lord; we don’t believe in this term.  There was a great fight. So they said, we don't believe in Jesus or the cross and Pastor is the second coming Lord. Is this Christianity? Do we belong to Christianity? Some people say they want to meet us and identify whether we are Christian or not. We are! Are we not? Why don't you guys answer? If they say something like this, I was almost about to faint.

And again:

Why do you attack me? Then you guys say, we are similar to the Unification Church, but what kind of relationship do we have with them? We have no relationship at all! They don't believe in Jesus or the cross! They believe in the Second Coming Lord, but we believe in Jesus and the cross and we don't even use this word, second coming lord.

And again:

So I sent the legal document to the three people. I am not the second coming lord. You should know this. I sent the legal document to them.

His insistence upon denying the precise phrase “second coming lord” is worth noting, and it relates to what I’ll call “denial smell”. Read his words carefully (doing your best to work around the awkward translations, which aren’t his fault). Neither in these documents, nor in any of the other denials that I’ve seen from him around this time period, does he actually deny that the group taught that they were to expect a “second Christ” or “second Messiah”. He denies that the group uses the phrase “second coming lord”, and he denies that he ever taught that he was the Christ, but (so far as I’ve seen) he does not deny that he or others taught about a generic “second Christ”, nor does he deny that others have taught that this is who he was. Taken by themselves, these omissions are quite possibly innocent; but in the larger context, possibly not. Like I said, denial smell.

This emphasis on the exact phrase is interesting, because as it turns out, the language that members of the group used about Jang seems to have varied quite a bit: the most common terms I’ve seen are actually “King” (or “King David” or “the great King”) rather than “Christ”, though I’ve also seen  “Christ David”, “the head of the Church”, or “the one who is to come”. The only places I’ve seen the specific phrase “second coming Christ” or “second coming Lord” in primary sources originating with Jang’s community (as opposed to his critics) is in a series of documents that came from one particular Chinese source; in comparable places in the English-language documents, the phrase “second Christ” or “second Messiah” is usually used. So in the absence of further evidence, I’m perfectly willing to grant that David Jang is speaking the truth when he insists that he has never used the phrase “second coming lord”. Whether that denial is adequate is another matter.

At least one reason for questioning its adequacy is that David Jang basically does affirm that his group assigns to him a position and an authority that ought to make any Christian leader nervous. In 2004a, Jang quotes a critic who, in a meeting with another senior leader, made the following accusation: “It seems you guys believe in your pastor more than Jesus.” Jang continues the story:

Then this one senior member said, what's wrong with it? Their eyes became so big. This is it. That senior member said, because our pastor believes in Jesus so well, I can go to Jesus through him when I follow Jesus. My pastor and Jesus are one. Do you know in Catholicism, they say the pope is like a king. He has a big crown, a big robe, fine linen and this cane. When you are a phd, you wear this robe and it's very difficult to walk. You are very holy and majestic because you're like a king. They put on a really high hat. It's like 50 centimeters higher. They look so tall. Big cross. I'm the delegate of the authority of Christ on earth, he said. But then they don't criticize them or regard them as ugly.

Note that Jang appears to quote with approval this senior member’s affirmation that “My pastor and Jesus are one.” His defense of that claim is to compare himself to the Pope: since Catholics believe the Pope exercises the authority of Christ on earth, he basically says, why are you complaining about my followers when they do something similar? That is a defense which ought to appeal neither to Catholics (who believe the Pope to be unique in this regard) nor to Protestants (who don’t believe that about anyone). But more than that, the logic of the comparison only works if Jang saw himself as standing in a relationship with Christ that was almost - or perhaps absolutely - without peer. (I have also been told that he continues to use this analogy when explaining his role to insiders.)

The other thing that should make folks approach Jang’s denials with a “hermeneutic of suspicion” is that he explicitly encourages his listeners to lie about their beliefs. In 2008b, Jang is discussing Prov. 26:4-5, and describes a confrontation between some critics and one of Jang’s followers. The question at issue was whether he had attended a specific church - my guess is that the reference is to the Unification Church, but I don’t know that for sure. The follower had denied attending this church, but eventually changed his story. Jang defends the initial lie this way:

Did you go to that church? No, I didn't. But they were fighting and they thought we were winning. Then this person answered different and said I did go to that church. Then the enemies responded that you said before you didn't go to that church but now you said you went, so you are a liar. This person was  confused. But then I said you did something good. I showed him this verse. [Prov. 26:4-5]. So to the person who said this church is bad, you can say you didn't go to that church. But if a person thinks the church is good then you can say you went to the church. What does this mean? If you have this evil motive of fabricating and making up and criticize then you can say that I didn't go to that church you think of. But I did go to the church that taught me faith, Christ, the precious blood - I went to that church. Then this person suddenly gained strength and speaks well. I went to that church but I didn't go to that church.

In other words, if you’re dealing with critics who are asking with malicious motives, Jang says, it’s OK to lie to them.

With that in mind, it’s worth reading this particular denial offered by Jang in 2008 to one of the Asian investigating committees:

I give praises for the grace of Jesus Christ. By the grace of Jesus Christ, I accepted Jesus as my one and only Savior, and since I was forgiven of my sins, I have never abandoned faith in Jesus Christ. Also, I have never preached any other gospel other than that of Jesus Christ. Furthermore I have never taught that I am Christ. I clearly confess that there is no other way than through Jesus Christ to receive salvation and gain freedom.

This denial is more direct and succinct than the ones offered privately to his own community, and also more general. Among other things, it doesn’t perseverate on any specific term, and says specifically, “I have never taught that I am Christ”. Nevertheless, if one is inclined to be suspicious, you’ll note that in between its affirmations and denials, there’s still an awful lot of wiggle room - denial smell again. Look at it this way: every statement in that paragraph is perfectly consistent with the concerns that I’ve raised in my recent blog posts. Even if you assume that every conclusion I’ve drawn about Jang’s group is true, that paragraph above would be technically accurate - as technically accurate as it would be misleading.

Now, all that was back in 2008, and I don’t believe David Jang would offer precisely the same defense today. After the Christianity Today articles in 2012, the evidence became overwhelming that at least some members of his community had in fact believed that he was a second Christ. And from what I understand, from talking both to former members of Jang’s community and to other researchers, David Jang and his leadership have more recently begun to offer up a limited acknowledgement that some very small number of people in the group did in fact believe that he was a “second Christ”, though he has disavowed any responsibility for those beliefs. The explanation that he and other leaders are offering for this, I am told, is that it was a small and isolated problem, the result of some enthusiastic missionaries misreading some of the group’s eschatology lessons. Tracy Davis’ quote in the New York Times is emblematic of this: “People somehow insinuated that though no one explicitly told them”. I’ve been told by former members that internally he blamed the confusion on Borah Lin, whom he accused of teaching eschatology incorrectly. There are also a couple of videos of a Korean press conference in which Jang apparently addresses the question. I haven’t found an English translation of what he says, but I’m told that he simultaneously acknowledges and minimizes the problem.

Not having access to direct quotes from Jang, I can’t say with any certainty exactly what truth there is in this cluster of new explanations, though I can make a few comments. On the one hand, it is quite possible - indeed, it is virtually certain - that members were confused by the teachings they received. In the ambiguity and secrecy surrounding this belief, and in the absence of a public creed, they assumed David Jang to be even more significant than their leaders had told them. The lessons, for instance, for all their insinuations, never claim that David Jang is divine in any Chalcedonian sense; and yet it’s quite clear that some members prayed to him, worshiped him, believed that they could communicate spiritually with him, and even thought of him as God incarnate. Others thought of him as a “second Jesus”, which is almost certainly not what Borah Lin and other leaders had in mind, as the key concept in the lessons is Christ - a title - rather than Jesus - a name.

On the other hand, it’s not really plausible to claim that the problem (in either its confused or semi-official capacities) was isolated, either geographically or organizationally. The evidence I’ve laid out in my last three posts indicates more-or-less conclusively that the belief was present from the lowest to the highest members of the group, was spread across at least four continents, and continued for many years. Several people have told me that every member of their particular local branches believed Jang to be the Christ, and this in an organization which emphasized communication and control. (As David Jang once said, rather memorably, “We know all things together, so in Pusan in Korea, when someone farts, everyone in Seoul knows.”) And quite a number of folks have told me that they had sent David Jang letters or emails in which they laid out their belief in him as the Christ. All this taken together makes it hard to believe that this teaching was was happening entirely without Jang’s connivance.

And there, we get to the heart of the matter. The heart of Jang’s defense seems to be that he didn’t know that any of this was happening. Even with my doubts, I can’t say precisely what David Jang knew or when he knew it, so for the moment, let’s grant this explanation in its rough outlines. Given that, what I would really like to know is how Jang reacted when he became aware of what his followers were saying about him. I have heard from several sources that he scolded those who believed he was Christ, and there’s no doubt that by 2006 he had put a stop to the teaching of the history lessons. But again, there’s that denial smell. For even with that acknowledged, there’s little evidence that David Jang ever mounted a firm, vigorous and decisive response to the undoubted presence of heterodox beliefs in his group. If I’m wrong, and if David Jang did actually mount such a campaign, he could do a great deal to re-establish his credibility by talking openly and honestly about what happened. Rather than minimizing and misleading, attacking and suing, he could allow a free and transparent investigation into the the history of his community’s beliefs and practices, including access to the group’s email and document archives. Until that happens, I confess that I have a hard time taking much that he says on this topic at face value.

For comparison purposes, try to imagine that you were a Christian leader who heard credible reports of such beliefs in your organization. Can you imagine that your response would be other than white-hot and immediate? Imagine what you would say: “I’ve heard that some of you are spreading the idea that I’m some sort of Christ or King or what-not. That is not true, you should all know better, it’s not just heretical, it’s blasphemous, it’s evil and filthy, and if I hear anything more about it, you’re out the door, because I won’t have anything to do with that kind of nonsense. And you’re all going to march out of here right now and make sure everybody knows exactly that. Have I made myself clear?” And would you not then go out of your way to lay the teachings, their causes, and your response open to the outside world? And then publicly and repeatedly repent of any behaviors or teachings that had led to the error? And be immensely grateful to any external or internal critic who had helped to identify what was going on? Would you not do this, if for no other reason than to save your own soul, so that it wouldn’t be smirched with such a foul blasphemy when you one day stood before your Lord?

Do I need to bother to point out that this is not exactly how David Jang has reacted? Instead, his response was first to deny the allegations completely and cover them up; and when that became untenable, to minimize them. And throughout, he or members of his community have viciously attacked his critics, and have repeatedly threatened legal action (and repeatedly carried through on their threats) against even the mildest criticism. I am not aware of a single critic or former member who has gone public who has not been threatened with a lawsuit: my sources have very good reasons for wishing to remain anonymous. Last year, Ted Olsen and I were each threatened with lawsuits, and the Christian Post published an article about me that could reasonably be described as libelous. Other critics have been subjected to vicious public attacks. (Quite wonderfully, several, including yours truly, have been accused of being in cahoots with the North Koreans. I’m not making that up.) Numerous Korean and Japanese Christian news organizations have been sued. Other journalists or newspapers investigating Jang’s community have also been threatened, and I know at least one English-language journalist that was thus bullied into staying quiet.

As Jang says in 2008a:

So now, we should sue them and after the trials, we have to punish them. We have many organizations so if they compensate, they should compensate a lot. After one is over, another organization will sue them again so all their lives they will be sued… So from here, there, in Japan, you have to sue them with laws. Then they will be silent.

Or in 2008b:

So why are these guys saying this? We should just sue them and get it over it.

Or in 2008c:

They have this faithfulness that what they're doing is correct. They are in the limit of 666. When they challnege and attack us, we have to settle it well and attack back and think of them are amalekites and then you have to follow them until the end and kill all of them.

This is not how a responsible Christian leader behaves.

And that is why I do not trust David Jang.