Members of the Yale community practice many faith traditions. But proselytizing by members of one Korean church have left some students feeling a bit disturbed.
Representatives of the World Mission Society Church of God — a religious group based in Korea that has been labeled a cult by Korean political leaders and ex-members — have been approaching students on campus to talk to them about the religion.
The church’s doctrine dictates that the denomination’s late leader, Ahnsahnghong, was the second Christ. Ahnsahnghong founded the Church of God in 1964 after leaving the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Ahnsahnghong died 23 years ago and the church is now directed by Zahng Gil Jah and Kim Joo-cheol. Zahng Gil Jah is called “Heavenly Mother” in the World Mission Society Church of God.
It is unclear just how long the church’s members have been trying to convert Yalies, but it began expanding outside of Korea 10 years ago, according to its Web site. No church members could be found for comment.
Yalies have reported being approached in Sterling Memorial Library, the corner of York Street and Broadway, as well as the Yale Bookstore. Jessica Marsden ’08 said a Church member first began talking to her after she crossed the street in front Au Bon Pain. She said the member was not older than 25 and was Korean.
The woman said she was a Korean student and asked Marsden if she knew anything about the female god, Marsden said.
“At that point, I realized she wasn’t asking for directions and told her I wasn’t interested,” Marsden said. “Then I realized there was another woman standing behind her, and they were together.”
Marsden is a former managing editor for the News.
The World Mission Society Church of God members followed Marsden to Labyrinth Bookstore on York Street, all the while gesturing toward a picture of a female figure who they claimed was the female god, Marsden said.
When she exited the store, the women were gone, but she said they were doing the same thing to another young man. Marsden was later approached by a male member of the church in the Yale Bookstore, she said.
Yale University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said university campuses are often targeted by religious groups looking to recruit members. She encountered similar situations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she served as chaplain until coming to Yale last July.
Kugler said the church will not be very successful at a school like Yale, because the students are generally very busy, and they are smart enough to realize the World Mission Society Church of God is not a recognized religious group on campus.
“The Yale Chaplain’s Office has a specific structure in which all religious denominations, known as the Yale Religious Ministries, have a covenant with each other about appropriate behavior, Kugler said. “This group is not included.”
Kugler urged students to use caution and not to give out personal information to religious solicitors. She said she believes the group is just passing through New Haven and will not cause any long-term nuisance on campus.
Lily Rothman ’08 said she encountered two young male Church members in the music library in SML. The men said they were divinity students and asked if she had heard about the Mother Goddess in the Bible, Rothman said.
“I told them I didn’t have time to talk and put my headphones back in,” Rothman said. “I had been warned about them so I knew not to start a conversation.”
Marsden said although the church members were not coercive, their relentlessness made her feel uncomfortable.
“I was clearly not interested, but they continued to talk to me,” Marsden said. “That was pretty frustrating.”
According to the church’s Web site, the group has over 400 branches worldwide and has sent missions to every continent other than Antarctica.
Kugler said she encourages any student who would like to talk about their experiences with the church to visit the University Chaplain’s Office.
The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania’s daily student newspaper, reported last week similar occurrences on Penn’s campus in Philadelphia.
• Original title: Korean church solicits Elm City