Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Community's Understanding of David Jang

One of the things that first confused me about David Jang’s community when I first started researching them is the wide disparity between the claims that their critics were making about their beliefs, and what Jang’s community themselves say that they actually teach. I remember reading all these people saying that Jang’s group was teaching that Jang was a second Christ (or “second coming Christ”); but whenever I asked any current members about their group’s beliefs, they unanimously insisted that they didn’t teach this, that they never had taught this, and that their community is perfectly orthodox.

As I said, this left me confused. And my initial conclusion was that the critics must be wrong, and I argued as much publicly. How could a group deny something that, if true, had to have been absolutely central to their belief system? If they actually believed their leader was the Messiah, why wouldn’t they just come out and say it? Like I said, it didn’t make any sense.

But then the first ex-member contacted me. And then another. And then another. And then lots, lots more. I think I’ve probably talked to something like 20 former members, but I’ve actually stopped keeping track, because it doesn’t seem important anymore to document every contact or take detailed notes on every conversation. Every former member I’ve talked to who was a part of the group before 2006 (at least a dozen of them) has told me fundamentally the same story. And the story is basically this.

Prior to 2006, they’ve told me, many and perhaps most members did in fact believe that David Jang was a second Christ. But it wasn’t normal for them to talk about it openly, even amongst fellow insiders. And the leaders, I’ve been told consistently, would almost never quite come out and say it. But when it came time to induct new members who were believed ready, a core member would sit down with the initiate and walk them through a series of lessons that were designed to bring them to a confession of faith in David Jang as a second Christ. Again, these lessons would never precisely come out and say it: but they left little doubt as to the conclusions they wished the new member to draw. (These lessons included the “New Israel” and “Genealogy of Christ” documents which I’ve recently analyzed.)

One source described it this way to me:

[T]he missionary on chage teach it until the studend hear certain number of messeges and is ready to hear "the truth" they certanly don't teach you that Jang is the second coming christ, directly... it's an inderect teaching, they allways are telling you this great word comes from our great pastor david!! And at the end when you hear the history messages about "new israel" and "christology" the missionary whrite a question mark ?? And ask you, do you know who is the second coming christ? And you ask, is your pastor, the david one? And the missionary will ask you, not you shall tell me, do you know or not? So after you get it from all the shocking thing, if you got the messeges correctly you will answer is Pastor David the second coming christ... they make you confess it, otherwise is not valid, you shall confess it like peter did it to Jesuschrist... and after you confess it, they will tell you, but shhhh, don't tell it to anybody, is a secret, we don't want that the world will kill the second coming lord as they did it to the first one.... we shall protect him...

Another source I interviewed said that after several weeks of directed Bible studies, her mentor walked her through one of the lessons which pointed towards Jang being a “second Jesus” (her words). These are the notes I took in my conversation with her (with “A” and “B” replacing the names of my source and her mentor respectively to preserve my source’s confidentiality).

[T]hen B finally asked, “What do you think about that?” A didn’t really follow what she meant, and said so. B had a sort of surprised look on her face and said, “So you don’t understand?” So A responded, “So are you saying that...?” And B responded, “No, really, absolutely.” Then B told about how an angel came to his mother, and how he is here to fulfill the ministry that Jesus didn’t complete. David was here to complete God’s work on earth. A didn’t believe her, but then they prayed, and then had lunch together. A says that she should have gotten up and left, but she didn’t.

Later on, at the conference, A asked B about it [David Jang being the Christ] again, and B would say it pretty much straight up. And she talked to some people at one of the Christmas retreats, and the girl was talking about how PD appeared to her in her sleep, hovering above her bed, and gave her an assignment. His spirit would float into their rooms.

Edmond Chua, the former editor of the Singapore edition of the Christian Post, wrote this in a chat session (CT described this, but this is a fuller version of the quote):

I made my confession on September 6, 2005, in the wee hours, just after midnight
I made it to Susan, who was my teacher
she then had me write a letter to Jang thanking him for bringing me into the Kingdom of God
this was after a long series of messages that evening
and explanation and counselling
...
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 '12 steps' Basic Bible studies I learned 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

Ma Li, a former member from Beijing whom I interviewed at length, wrote this description of her experience.

On that day, we studied for a long time, ZNW did not permit us have slight wander time, and she drew pictures, wrote something on the white board, and asked us to make sure we were clear about what she was talking.… In the end, they added the clues in the “New Israel” which gives further reasoning, which said that David Jang will be the 'second coming Christ' who could clearly explain the 'eternal gospels'; hence those who have had the luck of following him and understanding the 'gospels' he was talking about would be the New Israel’s, and will write the new history of the 'Eternal Gospels', which will added right after the New testimony.

I was totally attracted by what she was talking, the way to analyze human's history, and the gospels relates to the future of the human beings. However, I am the person without any religion backgrounds, which meant that I didn’t have any previous theory to compare and analyze, and so was happy with ignorance; because I suddenly found myself became a selected person, who is living in the New time, and will write the new history.

Surprise, exciting, on the fortune I thought I had. Even though I had not learned the Bible for the previous years, I could meet 'Christ's fellowship' during the first time I learning it. When ZNW looked at me and LLJ seriously and asked us: "Have you understood? All the content?" I answered firmly: "Yes". Then she asked me separately: "Who is the Pastor David?" I answered without thinking, just followed what I heard just now and answered: "The second coming Christ!" She said 'shhh' calmly, and then, 'Dont tell others'.

I felt like a little bit like cold waters had been poured on my head: why could she be so calm? Isn’t this a big event? And it is such a great thing! But the cold feeling soon disappeared totally, because to be 'New Israel' was such a big blessing, that I would like to sacrifice myself to protect it.

ZNW then told LLJ and me formally: "You are born today!" I didn’t know what was meant by 'born'; but my feelings told me that it was a good thing. ZNW then explained that as soon as we understood the 'gospel', the new life starts; and are our 'birthday of spiritual lives'; and each day today on the followed years would be our new lives' birthday, which should be remembered.

My feelings of being surrounded by the big happiness could not been explained, and I appreciated it so much, that I could neither laugh nor cry, just jumped and ran to the kitchen and told Haiyang (HY) who is preparing the breakfast for the second day 'I was born!'

'Really?'

'Really!'

'So fast, and you are so much blessed'

'is it?'

'Yes!'

Within few minutes, the whole Center knew that LLJ and I had been born, and we filled the 'Body Card', NaWenZhang (ZNW) announced us as 'Bodies', and others sang the song of 'Blessing Song'. We got blessings and encouragement from each one, and LLJ and I were standing on the right and left side of the ZNW, while others joking calling ZNW was our 'mother' because she fed us, and joked to let us call her 'mother'. ZNW did not accept because she was shy. XZ asked us to sleep earlier, and said to us in mystery way: "You might have dreams in the night, and see what you will dream of."

However, we could not sleep at all. In the sisters' rooms, LLJ and I talked all the time. LLJ was not as excited as me, and seemed she was holding back something. I was too self-centered at that time, and did not understood what it was, but thought if I was happy, she must be happy too. After the lights were turned off, Jifang Bing and TT Lu came in, after hearing LLJ and me discuss about the three gospels and the conclusions, they joined in our discussions.

Other former members whom I am not at liberty to quote directly have told me very similar stories about their confessions that David Jang was the Christ, sometimes to very senior leaders of the community. And a surprising number of them have told me that they sent written copies of these confessions to David Jang himself.

As I’ve said, there’s substantial evidence that the group stopped teaching these lessons around 2006. But even after that, there was apparently confusion amongst members as to what they were supposed to believe. One former member told me that around 2007 or 2008:

I was kind of exposed [to the “second Christ” teaching], but by another member, he told me in a conversation
one simply told me, like a comment and stop talking, it was weird. It was even more weird I didn't ask him before hand, he just popped up the topic. It was like that, I was a "lamb" learning and I felt I wasnt able to ask things.
He said something like:
You know, PD is Christ.
I thought he was crazy.
So I asked to leaders.
And they just asked me "What do you think?"
They never said yes or no
just tried to put it into my mind making me to answer myself

Another member was frustrated at Jang’s subsequent denials, and said, in reference to a particularly difficult choice:

And i accepted that time bc hey made me believe jang was christ
If not i wouldnt do it
And then ...
And jang denied he is the christ?
So many years of my life believing a lie?
Everyone where I worked believed it
And now he is dening?
It was a shock for me

All of this goes some way towards explaining why I was so confused. Jang’s community - and Jang himself - have genuinely adopted the language and to a great extent the content of orthodox, mainstream Christianity. There are very real and important differences in this respect between Jang’s community and, say, the Unification Church. If you compare Jang’s sermons fairly with those of Sun Myung Moon, you’ll find that Jang’s messages inhabit a very different world of discourse: no teachings about a “Divine Principle”, no references to him invading the spirit world to finish Jesus’ work, no talk of “True Parents”. My Southern Baptist friends would find nothing objectionable in at least 99% of what I’ve found in Jang’s sermons, whereas I can hardly go a paragraph in one of Moon’s sermons without finding something to raise my theological hackles. Yes, many of the group’s members and senior leaders did in fact believe and teach that David Jang was a second Christ; but that belief was never formalized into anything like a public creed, and however unorthodox and dangerous it may be, it seems to have been awkwardly inserted into an otherwise reasonably orthodox theology. Jang’s identity really was secret, certainly the biggest and most important secret in a community that seems to have more than its share.

One way of the ways of bridging this gap between an orthodox soteriology (say) and a highly unorthodox Christology seems to have been a novel application of the New Testament principle of “Now and Not Yet”. At least some members may have believed that while David Jang would eventually be proclaimed Christ, this hadn’t yet happened: it was something that was going to happen, but only if they did their jobs and got on with making the Kingdom of God. And until then, they were eager to enter fully into the life and community of mainstream Christianity, so as to eventually lead it altogether. David Jang’s identity thus wasn’t something that should be proclaimed, at least, not yet; the rest of the Christian world would acknowledge it soon enough and in its appropriate time. Until then, to reveal it too soon was to risk becoming a “Judas”, endangering their leader’s mission and their leader himself.

That David Jang was to be crowned king or anointed Messiah only at some point in the future may have been what many members believed (and is implied in many of the lessons). But there is no doubt that others went a great deal further. Edmond Chua says that he prayed to David Jang, and thought of him as God. Others have said that they felt like they could communicate spiritually with him. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I have a very personal document from a current member, something like a journal entry, which repeatedly refers to David Jang as “Christ”, and is full of praises for a man the author clearly regards as divine. Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to reproduce that document more specifically to preserve the confidentiality of its source. I’ve recently seen portions of several similar documents, from a different author, which I am also not at liberty to fully describe or quote from. However, I can say that in these documents the writer unambiguously refers to David Jang in Messianic terms, for instance, as “the One who is to come” or “the King”, and at one point, even expresses a desire to worship him.

I was recently shown portions of a chat session from 2005 in which someone identified as “[SF]Tracy” makes the following comment about Africa “receiving her King, at long last”:

[Praise Report!] God has given me a special reason to rejoice. Pastor announced earlier this week that he would pay for me to go with him to Kenya for the retreat taking place there December 2005! Thank you Pastor David for this opportunity!! ^^ I feel like all of Africa is already dancing in anticipation of receiving her King, at long last. And I am overwhelmed to be a witness to this historic event. Thank you again and again…

Tracy’s reference to Africa’s “King” is, I suppose, technically ambiguous. However, since Africa has had a Christian presence for just about as long as there have been Christians, it seems pretty unlikely that anyone reading it would have understood “King” to refer to anyone other than the David Jang who is apparently about to make his first visit to Africa. (And even in the unlikely event that “King” refers to Jesus rather than Jang - what, it’s only when Jang gets there that Africa is going to become Christian?) It is also worth noting that Tracy Davis, the President of Jang’s flagship Olivet University in San Francisco, told the New York Times, “People somehow insinuated that [Jang was a messianic figure] though no one explicitly told them”. One does wonder how they could have gotten that impression.

Other documents make it clear that members considered Pastor David to be, at the very least, a uniquely significant teacher. One document from 2006 describes the newly established Olivet University this way:

Now, the time is changing and in order to be a leader at all, someone must train at Olivet. Because Pastor will train leaders himself when they come to Olivet, the learning our members receive here is another dimension from the world like the difference between clouds and water in a lake.

The group also sometimes describes itself as playing a role parallel to the early apostles. For instance, in a lesson on how to evangelize, members are reminded of the importance of keeping good notes:

When we write down the messages we must do it with awareness of history. The future generations are going to look at out notes and they will see this is what they studied and learned.... the letters of apostle Paul became part of the NT. You think he knew? It’s not like that. Later the future generation and the Holy Spirit, because in the letters there was such precious meaning, it became part of the bible that the next generations could read. Even our notes, the future may look at it.

This desire to preserve the group’s early teachings as something approaching holy writ is probably the explanation for some of the stranger documents I’ve seen. In March 2004, for instance, David Jang visited California, and spent time with some members of the group. They apparently recorded and later transcribed some 13 pages of Jang’s ramblings, so that future generations might be able to share in such edifying pronouncements as:

Do you know about our history? We should know our history. Do guys teach these things in SD? Tennis player, I should play tennis with them before they go. SF and here is so different. It feels like I came to a different country. There is like jet lag. Atmosphere and climate is different. It’s really strange. Same state. In America, it’s 50 countries. In California, even within same state, I drove all the way down from Vancouver, it was so difficult…

And there’s more. But after a while, more evidence just becomes more evidence. And if this isn’t enough to convince someone that the group has very shaky foundations, I can’t quite imagine what will.

I should reiterate that this belief was not universal amongst members of the community, even before 2006; and indeed, some members from that time seem to have been kept entirely in the dark about what the others believed. I’ve heard this sort of thing from lots of people, but most recently one of my sources wrote this (names changed):

the one I hear that didn't confess that Jang was christ was A, the one that did Jubilee mission for a while... I knew it because B told me that... oh he doesn't know about Pastor...

To return to the question with which I opened this post, given that the belief was present and encouraged, why was it never openly proclaimed? My suspicion is that the community’s tradition of secrecy, circumspection and studied ambiguity was largely pragmatic. I think they knew instinctively that they would have difficulty recruiting new members, and probably even in retaining some existing members, if it was clear to all and sundry that they regarded their leader as a second Messiah. It’s also pretty clear that they were aware of just how controversial such a claim would be, and knew that if wind of it reached the larger Christian world, their group would have difficulty attaining its larger goals. As one of my sources wrote:

David or Borah tell you, “Don’t write this down, if it gets outside…” then there will be “misunderstanding.” They had in mind to censor this from the beginning. They keep all the “history” messages private and do not allow any copies of these controversial messages to be distributed. This is not even revealed to people such as Wagner and the like.

Another motivation may even have been that members of the group harbored greater aspirations for their “King David” than David Jang harbored for himself. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

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