(ANS) Due to the relatively low educational level and low
understanding of faith among many rural believers, sects and
heresies are able to spread fairly quickly in some areas of
China. In the past couple of years, the "Eastern Lightning"
sect has spread like a scar across the whole of China (for
an account of the beliefs of this sect, see ANS 97.12.3).
In May's issue of Tian Feng, the magazine of the Chinese church,
Hong Wen describes the damage this sect brought to her small
rural community in Shandong Province after it arrived there
in Winter 1997.
After arriving in Hong Wen's home town, the
sect managed to claim 300 believers and completely take over
four churches within the space of only one year. The sect
is unique in that it only tries to recruit members among already
established Christian congregations, converting people who
are already believers. The group does not try to evangelize
among unbelievers, saying that "Heaven's doors are already
closed", and so only those who already believe in God
can be saved by re-aligning their beliefs toward those of
the sect and believing in the "right" way. In order
to win over new converts, the sect infiltrates church groups
and tries to locate those whose faith is particularly weak
and not grounded in solid teaching. Group members often lie
about their names and addresses while evangelizing, and even
send single women to young single males' homes to seduce them
into embracing the sect. Sect members only operate at night
or behind closed doors during the day.
The sect does not believe in Jesus Christ or
a trinitarian God. Its central belief is the "second
coming in the body" of a so-called "female Christ".
The sect preaches reincarnation instead of heaven or hell.
Sect members reject the Bible, saying it is only written by
humans and not divinely inspired. Many churches in China like
to display the character "Love" and the word "Emmanuel"
at the front of the sanctuary. After taking over four churches
in Hong Wen's locality, the sect members forced their congregations
to erase all such signs.
Once someone enters the "Eastern Lightning"
sect, they are forbidden to breath a word of this to family
members or anyone else. The sect distributes three "sacred"
texts to members, and anyone who has received all three books
cannot then back out of the group. If sect members try to
leave the group after receiving the third book, they are attacked
physically, often violently. Therefore, many wish to leave
the group but are afraid to do so, and in this way the sect
resembles certain underground mafia societies.
After being trapped by the sect, many members
give up their jobs and livelihoods. In Hong Wen's locality,
the sect members sold their orchards and vegetable plots,
land and livestock, tractors and farm machinery, even their
land and houses. One woman wanted to donate her family's RMB3,000
(=US$ 360 approx.) life savings to the sect. When her husband
tried to stop her, she separated from him. Another woman tried
to sell her husband's tractor while he was out, but fortunately
the family's grandfather stopped her. Sect members give all
the proceeds from such sales toward the "female Christ",
saying that they are just waiting for the year 2,000 to usher
in the "End Times". In Hong Wen's locality, many
people have heard of mass suicides in other places due to
so-called "millenial" movements, and they are afraid
of what the sect members might do next year.
Hong Wen reports that it has been particularly
bad for families in the local area where some become members
of the sect and others do not. Hong Wen tells stories of women
who used to stay at home to look after young children and
old relatives but who, after joining the sect, abandon the
home entirely, going out for days on end without telling anyone.
After his wife suddenly left home without telling him, one
husband feared for the worst and informed the police. After
a long period of time, the wife suddenly returned. When she
tried to leave again, the husband stopped her, whereupon the
wife bit a huge chunk out of his hand before leaving again.
The husband was so distraught that he had to be hospitalized
for a time. Another couple Hong knows entered the sect at
the same time. Since they were instructed that the "End
Times" would soon come, they have since withdrawn their
child from school and refuse to let him go back.
Th struggle with the "Eastern Lightning"
sect continues in Hong Wen's home town. Hong Wen describes
the havoc which the sect continues to wreak as an example
to others of what can happen when they are not watchful.