Eastern Lightning: China’s doomsday cult
Religion can inspire people to acts of great kindness. However, it can also justify unspeakable violence. Unfortunately for the people who run afoul of an illegal religious group in China, Eastern Lightning typically encourages the latter.
Eastern Lightning, whose name come from the book of James, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be,” is a relatively new group dedicated to the belief that Jesus has been reincarnated on Earth in the form of a woman from northern China named Yang Xianbin.
Though the group maintains that the woman is the reimbodied savior of humanity, the Chinese government maintains that she is a dangerous provocateur who has been diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses.
In order to spread the message that Yang is the second coming, Eastern Lightning resorts to methods that many international observers have condemned. One of these is a staple of cult groups termed “Flirty Fishing” by the American “Children of God” in the 70s. Essentially the group sends out young, attractive members to target lonely men and seduce them in order to draw them into the fold in a practice that many have declared to be essentially prostitution.
The group is also not opposed to using violence when their efforts at evangelism are frustrated. In May of 2014, a woman was dining at a McDonalds in Eastern China when she was approached by a member of the church and his family. They asked her for her phone number, presumably so that they could contact her later about joining. The woman refused, at which point the group began beating her mercilessly as onlookers watched and recorded the encounter on their mobile phones.
By the time the police arrived to apprehend the assailants, the woman was dead. At trial, Zhang Lidong, the man who lead the attack told the media, “She was a demon, she was an evil spirit, so I beat her relentlessly and stomped on her head with my heel. She wouldn’t let me have her phone number, and my daughter said she was no good. She told me to kill her.”
Eastern Lightning maintains that the apocalypse is near at hand and focuses most of their hatred against the Chinese government, which they identify as the “Red Dragon” alluded to in the Book of Revelation. The groups estimated one million members operate by infiltrating the underground churches of China which operate in opposition to the officially sanctioned churches approved by the Chinese government. From there they use a variety of methods to induce others into joining.
One such method is kidnapping, which the group has employed since the late 1990s. According to the pastor of one such church, he and 33 other members were kidnapped by the group and moved to a safe house. There he was plied with drugs and in this state seduced by a member of Eastern Lightning, who then threatened to reveal this unfaithfulness to his wife unless he agreed to direct his congregation to join them.
The group is led by Yang who currently resides in New York’s China town where, safe from extradition, she directs the actions of the church as it engages in a struggle to the death against the Chinese Government, which is equally dedicated to arresting every member of the group.
With the intense persecution directed against the group, admittedly with at least some justification, it is easy to see why the group has taken such an apocalyptic attitude to their struggle. And the state has obliged in turn, intensely cracking down on people identified as members or known to be distributing church printed materials. Government organized churches have been instructed to warn their congregations of the danger of cult recruiters.
The persecution in China has driven many members, including Yang, to other countries, even America. Cult recruiters have been seen in numerous cities in the West, seeking converts.
Perhaps the only way to dampen the appeal of this growing movement might be for China to loosen its grip of religion. The ability of the church to tell its members that the government is engaged in a war to destroy them lends a great deal of credence to its message. Yet, in a country where the government is still reluctant to allow unsanctioned religious movements, it doesn’t seem like that will be happening anytime soon.