Have you heard of God The Mother?

Portland State students report being approached on campus by World Mission Society Church of God members amid rumors the group is involved in sex trafficking and cult-like behavior.

“Have you heard of God The Mother?” asked a woman who identified herself as Julia, a member of the World Mission Society Church of God on PSU’s campus.

University students throughout the United States have reported being approached by people usually in pairs preaching about “God The Mother” and are invited to Bible study sessions with transportation sometimes being offered. Students have filed reports with campus police over aggressive proselytizing and fear of being trafficked.

At PSU it has been reported to Vanguard that members of the church have approached students at late hours and at odd venues such as in front of bathrooms.

Bode Smith, a PSU student, encountered on the way to the bathroom a WMS member who asked if he wanted to talk about Jesus and later got his phone number. According to Smith, the member showed him a picture of a Korean woman, claiming it was Jesus’ wife, God The Mother.

PSU Campus Police Sergeant Joseph Schilling said they’re aware of the group on campus but action has yet to be taken at PSU and universities nationwide. WMS is considered a legitimate church, therefore the group is afforded protection under freedom of religion.

Human trafficking allegations

Sex trafficking rumors originated at the University of Mississippi Ole Miss campus due to an unrelated case of human trafficking. The claims went viral on Facebook and Twitter and have since spread nationwide.

Mackensie Faulk, a student at Ole Miss recounts her experience with WMS members: “They asked if I was religious, and I said yes, but they sort of looked at me like I had the wrong religion or something and kept trying to tell me about God The Mother,” Faulk said to The Daily Mississippian. “They invited me to Bible studies, and when I said I was busy, they insisted I take a pamphlet and she wrote a phone number on it.”

WMS denied the allegations in a statement posted on their website and social media.

“Recently, we were made aware of a social media post in which someone appears to accuse the Church and its members of being linked to a ring of sex/human trafficking. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are a church of Christian love and denounce any such activities wherever they may be carried out.”

WMS around the world

WMS is a sub-Christian group founded in 1964 by Ahn Sahng-hong and headquartered in South Korea, characterized by the Christian Council of Korea as “a blasphemous heretical cult,” in a statement issued in 2005. WMS is active in 175 countries throughout the five continents.

The group is known for its volunteerism and received the Queens Award for Volunteer Service in the UK. WMS was recently banned from Vietnam after the Committee for Religious Affairs accused church leaders of brainwashing and micromanaging members’ lives. According to the committee, members are required to spend hours studying the Bible and engage in services where Church leaders demand extreme behaviors such as showing disrespect to their parents, becoming estranged from their family, destroying the family’s ancestral altar and defaming the beliefs or religions of relatives, as reported by Asia News.

Origins of WMS

WMS was originally called Witnesses of Jesus Church of God. After the death of Ahn Sahng-hong in 1985, a schism occurred between Ahn’s family and current leading pastor of WMS, Kim Joo-cheol, and Zahng Gil-ja. Gil-ja defined herself as the maternal embodiment of God and bearing the epitaph God The Mother and Jerusalem Mother, among other iterations. Members of Ahn’s family formed the lesser known New Covenant Passover Church of God.

According to their website, WMS differentiates itself from other Christian sects by emphasizing the 2,500 instances of plurality in the bible in reference to god. “Let us make man in our image” is one such verse the WMS uses to rationalize a “God, the mother.” The group considers worship at the cross as idolatry and recognizes the late founder Ahn Sahng-Hong as the Second Coming of Christ and paternal embodiment of God, God The Father.

The group puts particular emphasis on the afterlife. In soliciting new members after introducing God The Mother, discussions typically segway into questions like “Do you want to spend eternity in peace and happiness after you die?”

Cult-like behaviors

The group has been accused of employing cult-like tactics which include sleep deprivation, family separation and behavior manipulation. In a lawsuit filed against WMS, Michelle Ramirez claimed the group “deprived her of sleep and forced or coerced her to work or engage in other activities for extremely long hours for no compensation and alienated her from her family and friends.” She also alleged the identity of Zahng Gil-ja as God The Mother is something that is hidden from most members.

Cathleen Mann, who counsels members of former cults, said WMS is a cult with a “fear-based” doctrine in which the ultimate goal is to receive teachings directly from Mother God, who is a living Korean woman identified as Zahng Gil-ja.

“Fear and guilt, that is what fuels this cult,” former member Michelle Colon said in an interview with People. “They fill you with this fear that the world is going to end at any moment and you feel guilty for not doing enough good before the end comes.”

Cult expert Steve Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control, spoke with former WMS members, their families and their attorneys to learn more about WMS. He determined that WMS controls members’ behavior, information, thoughts and emotions. Hassan said the information he gathered fulfills most of his criteria for what a “destructive cult” is, although he was unwilling to label WMS a cult. WMS is an apocalyptic group that predicted the end of the world in 2012, former WMS missionary Ron Ramos told Hassan.

Examining WMS, a site dedicated to monitoring the group, used Hassan’s cult criteria from his book Freedom Of Mind and concluded “each of the components Hassan lists are present within their organization.” The site has become a haven for former members of WMS, who voice their experiences and concerns.

Laykit, a recent WMS convert wrote, “I was really happy to join this church because we study straight from the Bible, but I’m quite shocked to have found this website and I’m also really not sure about who this Ahn Sahng-hong is that they keep mentioning in prayer. I thought he was just founder of the church but now I’m hearing he is the Second Coming of Christ and I’m very confused now. I don’t know what to do.”

Members are discouraged from using the internet, which church leaders call “indulging in the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” and from getting pregnant due to belief in the end of times.