A cult that employs Christian elements in its beliefs is enticing Catholics to its cause by means of persuasion, incentives, threats and even violence, according to Church people in China.
Catholic Church workers in China are warning about Dongfang Shandian (Eastern Lightning), a cult outlawed by the Chinese government, through websites, publications, letters and homilies.
Sister Jiang Jiefang of Nanning recently told UCA News that 20 of the 90 parishioners in Guigang, another city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, had joined the cult. Guigang is 2,020 kilometers southwest of Beijing.
Eastern Lightning emerged in the early 1990s. Its founder, Deng, a middle-aged woman from Henan province, central China, claimed to be the "second Christ," according to mainland Chinese Protestant preacher Samuel Lamb (Lin Xiangao)´s booklet "Heresies in China," published in 2002.
In support of this claim, the cult cites the passage from St. Matthew´s Gospel (24:27) that says: "For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be."
Various reports have accused cult members of beating people or abducting and brainwashing them, seducing them through sex with group members and offering TV sets. Chinese government officials have identified the cult as using illegal and violent means, and have issued orders to curb its activities.
Sister Jiang said the Guigang parishioners who joined have "warded themselves off," refusing to meet her or other Catholics. "I keep knocking on their doors as I consider them my friends," she said. "I would not talk with them about their joining of the sect because I don´t want them to feel embarrassed (in case) one day they would return to our Church."
She said she heard that some even have "committed suicide by jumping into the river or crashing their vehicle, claiming it would get them to heaven."
Though the nun has no idea how many followers of the cult exist in the area, she said middle-aged female parishioners seem to be the cult´s main target. "We have reminded our Catholics to have faith in God and be firm on their Christian belief," she added.
A priest from the "underground" Church community in northwestern China told UCA News in June that some months ago he narrowly escaped "abduction" by Eastern Lightning followers who feigned interest in the Catholic Church.
After he explained some Church doctrine, they would not let him leave and insisted he have dinner with him. After some hours, he said, he realized they were cult members and diverted their attention enough to run away.
The priest also cited the case of a Catholic family living in an isolated place. The family sought his advice about joining the cult. After he warned them not to join, some cult members threatened to "take his life," he said.
According to the priest, he has been wary of the cult´s activities for a few years and reminded parish leaders to "take good care of our flock." He and other priests distributed leaflets alerting Catholics to the cult. The priest added that parishioners spread the message through theatrical performances last Christmas.
A lay leader in Tianjin diocese, eastern China, told UCA News the cult targets mostly underground Catholics and Protestants, who are not affiliated with government-approved Church structures, because they will not file police reports, even if threatened with violence.
In Anhui province, eastern China, catechist Joseph Yue told UCA News he was lured into the cult in 1999. One day, he recalled, two strangers came to his house, inviting him to talk about Catholicism at their place.
At first, he said, he argued with them about Christianity, but later he felt "perplexed." He began preaching their ideas and then he left the Church and joined them as preacher for four months. "Fortunately God has not forsaken me. One day I woke up with a lucid mind and escaped," he said.
Catholic sources told UCA News that some priests, nuns and laypeople from Shaanxi and Hebei provinces were lured into this cult over the past few years.
Lamb, in his booklet, observed that Eastern Lightning followers do not believe in Jesus Christ or the Trinity, and say it is outmoded today to study the Bible, which is only a book written by human beings, not by God. "Then, they would burn the Bible, church hymnals and the crucifix," he wrote.
Commonly, the pastor said, members first spy on a church group to understand its structure and pattern. Then they begin speaking to individuals to win them over to the cult.
Apart from the places mentioned above, Lamb wrote that the cult is also influential in Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Shaanxi, Xinjiang and Zhejiang provinces. It has also spread outside mainland China, including Hong Kong and the United States.