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.

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