Friday, February 28, 2014

David Yonggi Cho, founder of the world's largest church, is convicted and sentenced for embezzlement

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
I Timothy 6:9-10

For more than 30 years I've been hearing David Yonggi Cho (formerly Paul Yonggi Cho) held up as an example of a Christian leader, the assumption apparently being that the bigness of a church is in direct proportion to God's blessing upon it. Whether or not the doctrines taught in such a big church are biblical doesn't seem to be important. Mr. Cho has a long history of teaching New Age doctrines, such as man creating his own reality through creative visualization. Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahon, in The Seduction of Christianity (1985), critique several examples of Mr. Cho's false teaching.

Mr. Cho's ability to visualize, or, in a word that he likes to use, "incubate," seems to be failing him lately. As reported by Yonhap News, February 20, 2014:

A Seoul court on Thursday sentenced a pastor of one of the world's largest Christian churches to three years in prison with a five-year stay of execution for embezzling large amounts of church funds.

Rev. Cho Yong-gi, the founder and pastor emeritus of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, was found guilty of causing some 13 billion won (US$12 million) worth of losses to the church by instructing church officials to buy stocks privately owned by his eldest son, Cho Hee-jun, at prices four times higher than market value, in 2002.

The elder Cho was also convicted of dodging 3.5 billion won in taxes in the process.

The Seoul Central District Court also ordered the 78-year-old disgraced pastor to pay a fine of 5 billion won.

In the same ruling, the court handed down a prison term of three years to the junior Cho, the former CEO of the church-affiliated local daily Kookmin Ilbo, for colluding with his father in the embezzlement scheme.

An investigation into the Cho family was launched last year after a group of members belonging to the church filed a suit for breach of trust and tax evasion.

The church, which claims it has around 800,000 members, has often made headlines in the recent past over a series of internal feuds and various corruption allegations.
Mr. Cho addressed the church on the first Sunday following the verdict, as reported by the Gospel Herald, February 24, 2014:

Pastor David Yonggi Cho, founder of the world's largest Pentecostal congregation, gave his reflection during the first Sunday Service after a South Korean court found him guilty of breach of trust, corruption and tax evasion, and sentenced him to three years in prison with a five-year probation and 5 billion won (US$4.67 million) in fines.

The 78-year-old disgraced megachurch pastor said that it was the hardest day of his 50 years of ministry when he heard the verdict on Thursday.

"Through this suffering, I've learned a homework. An individual shouldn't possess anything," Cho told his congregation at Yoido Full Gospel Church on Feb. 23, 2014. "Besides health, status, fame, authority, money... these are all matters that are outside the body and unworthy of any pursuit..."

...Cho did not argue against the judgment, but, instead, examined himself from the perspective of faith.

"God forbid, if God calls me back today, I will still be able to go to the Kingdom of God," he said. Cho then asked that the congregation to pray for his successor pastor Young Hong Lee.

In his sermon, Lee apologized to the congregation for the negative impacts that Cho's case have brought upon them. He encouraged them to forget the past and press on towards the future, and to continue the spread of the Gospel to those who have yet to receive the great love of Christ.

Senior pastor Lee said that Yoido Full Gospel Church was purchased with a heavy price - the blood shed by Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore no power of darkness can divide the church. Lee encouraged the congregation to become one body in the Holy Spirit and to be more diligent in the Lord's Holy work.
As might be expected, Mr. Cho's conviction doesn't prevent his supporters from defending him, and blaming everybody but David Yonggi Cho for the scandal. As reported by Luke Leung of the Gospel Herald, February 26, 2014:

News of Pastor David Yonggi Cho's indictment has spread like wild fire among the global Christian communities, where followers of the disgraced South Korean megachurch pastor searched for an explanation on how did their spiritual leader became entangled in the crime of breach of trust and corruption, embezzling $12 million of church funds.

Dr. Bob Rodgers Sr., pastor of Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville, Ky., is a close confident of Cho, and he and his father have served on his church growth board for a combined 38 years. With the hope of restoring the public's trust towards Cho, he published a letter disclosing details surrounding the case that were disclosed behind close-door meetings which have not yet been made public.

Cho's eldest son, Hee-Jun, was indicted for the same charge and sentenced to three years in prison. He was immediately taken into custody following the court order, because he was considered a flight risk, Rodgers wrote.

"Cho has three sons. The second and third are very productive and work in church-related ministries. His eldest son has been the prodigal. He has been married four times and has been involved in sexual scandals with national personalities," he said, noting that he has closely followed the trial in Seoul. "In addition, he has served prison time for investment scams and embezzlement. His scandalized life has been an embarrassment to his family and the church."

In 2002, while serving as chairman of a church-affiliated newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, Hee-Jun sold the church 250,000 shares of stock in 1-Service, a cleaning company, at four times more than the market price. He "purposely defrauded" the church of more than $12 million, according to Rodgers, president of Church Growth International of the Americas.

"[David Yonggi] Cho testified that he trusted his elders and son and didn't check and read the thousands of pages of paperwork, which was prepared for him to sign," he wrote. "Because Cho relied upon the direction of his choice elders and son, he signed the paper. He never received any monies from the transaction."

However, the prosecutors, representing a group of elders from Yoido Full Gospel Church, had identified Cho as an accomplice to his son's embezzlement scheme, claiming that he used the money to help his son recover losses made in stock investments, the hankyoreh reported. In addition, they claimed that Cho had allegedly directed the transaction to be dealt with as quietly as possible despite his full knowledge of the potential "uproar" from the elders and congregation.

In light of these reports, Rodgers provided the presiding judges' final ruling, "The court considered that even though Pastor Cho had the final say in the church, he never took the lead in any of the crimes, including tax evasion, committed on the suggestion of the accounting firm.

"The court also considered Cho's life journey as a religious leader and his long-term contribution to social welfare as mitigating circumstances on his behalf. The court ruled that his son, Cho Hee-Jun, was the instigator of the crime related to the purchase of the shares of 1-Service stock."

Cho, 78, founded Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1958 and it now claims more than 450,000 followers. His disciples have built their own "disciple churches" across the country, creating a congregation of roughly one million people, with Cho as the leader.

Rodgers shared in conclusion that Cho lives a simple life in a 1,000-square-foot- church apartment and does not own a car, and he has raised and given personally to the church more than $170 million.

Taiwanese Pastor Mao-Song Chang, who pastors Top Church in New Taipei, Taiwan, has close ties with Cho and his church, released a statement, providing further details of the court verdict. He said that one of Yoido's church elder[s] had visited him in January and explained in detail about the case to him. Then, Pastor Lee also visited him in mid-Feb.

"First, when the elders filed a lawsuit against Cho, accusing him of embezzling $20 million, Cho knelt before the congregation and apologized, admitting his mistake for not having a good family testimony, resulting in the harm to church," he wrote.

Second, Cho faced the court honestly, he wrote. "Some elders from the incident have either passed away or no longer work as elders; some said that they don't remember. However, around 1,000 other elders testified that 'Pastor Cho is innocent,' and they asked why the judge doesn't believe in the testimonies of 1,000, but of 30."

"Third, the presiding judge once told Cho, 'We know that this case is not your problem. You just need to blame it on your son, then you will have no responsibilities,'" Change wrote, adding that Cho refused, "My son can be unrighteous to me, but I cannot be unrighteous to my son."

"Fourth, Yoido Full Gospel Church's position is to continue their full support of Pastor Cho, advociating for his innocence!"

Chang urged all to maintain an objective perspective towards the case and not to judge Cho because of his son's crime...

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