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10 Disturbing Facts About the Church of Almighty God

by Brittani Jefferson
fact checked by Jamie Frater

China is infamously known for its censorship within the religious sector because the government can’t actively monitor the theological teachings of churches or actively incorporate these religious teachings within China’s communist agenda. The People’s Republic of China has an active running list of ongoing cults that Chinese citizens should be aware of.

The Church of Almighty God, aka Eastern Lightning, was created in 1991 by former physics teacher Zhao Weishan. Its primary belief is that a woman named Yang Xiangbin, also called Lightning Deng, is the female reincarnation of Jesus and has returned to Earth to guide her followers. She is also alleged to be Zhao’s mistress. This cult is notoriously dangerous.

The group teaches that in the Old Testament God was known by the name Jehovah. In the New Testament era, God was known as Jesus Christ. Now, in the last days, He is properly known as Almighty God. His work, through the female Christ, is qualitatively different from the work of the apostles. Although God used the apostles, they could only do what men who are used by God can do. The Church of Almighty God is the work of God Himself. According to their official website, the group “was entirely founded by Almighty God personally, and is personally led and shepherded by Him, and it was by no means set up by any man.” Currently, in the Kingdom Age, God is carrying out His White Throne Judgment. All Christian denominations and sects have lost the Holy Spirit, and His power is now concentrated in the Church of Almighty God.

10 They Primarily Recruit Women

Photo credit: Unknown

It’s no surprise that cults actively seek broken individuals they can mold and shape. In China, the stakes are even higher. Women are still considered an “at-risk” demographic due to the discrimination they often face within the workforce and the external pressures they face from society. The cult often caters to and tends to housewives, the poor, and Christians of different churches.[1] Husbands recall their wives no longer being home but all their belongings still being present. At one time, the cult used to primarily focus on citizens from the countryside, but now it has begun to diversify by recruiting educated students and men, who are being more actively pursued.

Often, men are trapped by younger women who can entice them with sexual advances or even blackmail. Some former members recall being introduced by family members or even in-laws. Members will even target priests and people within high-ranking Christian positions, making the group even more dangerous, as they have members who are willing to do anything for the cause.

Kidnapping is also very prevalent in the cult, as they often will abduct potential members and attempt to brainwash them through torture and breaking them down mentally. The cult kidnapped Chinese Gospel members for two months and had them endure their teachings and other brainwashing tactics.

9 Zhao Weishan and Yang Xiangbin Live in the U.S.

Photo credit: Myanmar Times

After seeking and being approved for political asylum in the U.S., Zhao and Yang currently oversee and run affairs from abroad.[2] They’ve created a website and a series of videos to further reach other parts of Asia. The couple has settled down in New York and are currently building up a following within Chinatown, where cult members can be found passing out flyers. They also have a strong presence in San Francisco and Hong Kong.

The lack of U.S. effort to capture the two controversial figures is due to the political asylum they were granted because they were persecuted for their religion. Zhao can conduct his plans and contact members through e-mails. The couple also makes a lot of money because every one of their devout followers must pay dues of around $320. It is believed that Zhao and Yang make millions every year off all the operations and scams they run.

8 Zhaoyuan McDonald’s Murder

Photo credit: An Xin/Imaginechina

On May 28, 2014, in Zhaoyuan, Shandong province, a woman was brutally murdered by Eastern Lightning cult members at a McDonald’s. The members’ reasoning was the victim’s refusal to give her phone number to be further contacted about activities. After being arrested and interrogated, they said the women had a demonic presence. The victim was beaten to death with chairs and a metal mop handle.[3] One of the members referred to the crime as “just.” Zhang Lidong and Zhang Fan, two of the assailants, were executed. The others were imprisoned.

The Church of Almighty God has a huge following in Shandong province and has become a hot spot for the notorious cult. The entire incident was recorded on video, revealing that during the altercation, no one bothered to help the woman while she was brutally beaten to death. Public outrage at the cult and the bystanders persisted, and people were on high alert over the threat this terrorist group posed.

7 They Want to Dismantle the Chinese Communist Party

Religious sects and Christians have always been on the opposite side of the Chinese government’s agenda. Most religions don’t really align with any communist values and often place importance on the value of the individual’s salvation before any group. In a collectivist society like China, this type of thinking can be considered detrimental to just about every facet of society. In addition, Confucian teachings, the backbone of the Chinese government and often well-quoted by President Xi Jinping are considered to be just Chinese moral values.

The Church of Almighty God has been known to actively criticize the communist government, whom they refer to as “the Great Red Dragon,” which is a biblical reference to Revelation.[4] They believe the Chinese government is going against their holy mission to save the masses. According to the Bible, the red dragon signifies the end of the world or one of its precursors.

In fact, the Chinese government is very aware that it often forces most religious organizations underground, hence the term “underground churches,” which are places of worship for Christians held at a member’s house. Often adding insult to injury, religious cults like Eastern Lighting cannot be tracked or regulated until they resurface or make headway in the news. A lot of Christian organizations suffer because of the government’s one-size-fits-all policy and often get caught up in police stings which lead to their unfair imprisonment. Political dissidents are sent to labor camps, and Christians are no different. While there are public places of worship, their teachings are often laced with propaganda in favor of the Chinese government.

6 China’s Ban List

The Chinese government has created an extensive list of dangerous cults that Chinese citizens should be wary of. One group, Falun Gong, has been linked to several shady activities, such as organ harvesting and kidnapping. Their organization is based on the movement of the body and Qigong teachings, which have origins in ancient China.[5]

The Shouters are also on the list and had quite a bit of clout during the Cultural Revolution. They also may have even inspired most of the Christian cults today. During the Cultural Revolution, they actively protested and gained a huge following. Another listed cult is the True Buddhist School, which has a location in Seattle, Washington, and believes in meditation to fix daily problems. The leader, Lu Shengyan, refers to himself as the “Living Buddha.” Yet another, Bloody Holy Spirit, is actually more active in Taiwan, but they are beginning to expand to neighboring countries.

The Church of Almighty God is considered an influential doomsday cult by the Chinese government.

5 Major Split From Another Powerful Cult

The Church of Almighty God split from the Shouters, who were led by Li Changshou, aka Witness Lee.[6] The Shouters aren’t nearly as active as they used to be in the 1960s and 1970s, but they still sparked the creation of Eastern Lightning. Zhao’s cult borrowed a lot of Witness Lee’s doctrine. It is through this doctrine that the inspiration for many of the current teachings came from. Zhao Weishan also elevated Witness Lee within the church, considering him a powerful figure with high regard and status.

However, Witness Lee’s logic was a bit flawed regarding Christianity, and with the Cultural Revolution in full swing, Bibles and other religious documents were scare and hard to come by. So, the teachings themselves had already been shaped and manipulated by the time they reached Zhao Weishan.

4 Yang Xiangbin Failed the Gaokao

Similar to many other infamous cult leaders and mass murderers, there was a moment in time where Yang Xiangbin could no longer fit in or carry on with daily societal duties. The Gaokao, which translates to “highest test,” is the most important exam Chinese high school students can take if they want to pursue a college education. Like many entrance exams in East Asia, the test itself has triggered a mass of attempted suicides and murders. The test might also mean life or death, as it will decide future career prospects and potential social networking connections.

Lightning Deng did so bad on the Gaokao that she had a mental breakdown.[7] It was at this low point in her life that she turned to Christianity. The failure of this exam signifies her revival as the female Jesus and is when she was recruited into her role as the figurehead of the church.

3 ‘It Started Out Normal’

People of unpopular religious faiths have often been persecuted, tortured, and abducted through history. With the spur of underground churches, which church should a Chinese citizen turn to, and how can they distinguish which organizations are up to suspicious activities and which aren’t?

All former members who joined the Church Of Almighty God willingly don’t recall it starting off any different from any other church, as far as core beliefs go.[8] They introduced the fundamental principles of Christianity, with the only distinguishable difference being the female Christ.

The cult likes to create gift-driven relationships, with members offering recruits money, sex, and even drugs to stay committed to the organization. All of these factors make for loyalty and create a sense of community. This toxic manipulation also leads to the violent and often dangerous acts committed by members.

2 More Incidents and Deaths

Photo credit: Vice

Setting the precedent for attacks on individuals, in 1998, cult members became hostile to civilians, cutting off ears and breaking arms.

In 2010, an elementary school student’s body was discovered, and it is believed that the Church of Almighty God was behind it. The motive behind the killing was because the child expressed a desire to leave the cult. Members never simply walk away from the cult because it is expressed in a written contract that members must have unwavering loyalty, and when this ceases to be the case, they will be punished.

In 2012, the cult made a huge ordeal about the movie 2012, which portrays the then-predicted time of the end of the world. In addition, Min Yongjun, one of the members, killed an elderly woman and wounded many school students.[9] Apparently, he was so inspired by the church’s doomsday teachings that he felt the need to act on their behalf.

Incidentally, the cult also believes that members who act out in any of the ways listed above and are captured by authorities have “left the surrounding” and no longer serve or are affiliated with the church’s message. They often advise members who are exposed to begin to discredit themselves in any way possible.

1 Shangdong Conspiracy Theory

Photo credit: Unknown

The BBC and many other foreign media outlets covered the cult members’ murderous act within that McDonald’s in 2014.[10] Domestic and foreign media entities alike ran with this terrifying tale, helping to push the Chinese government’s agenda against the members. Some critics speculate that the Church of Almighty God may not have been responsible for the horrendous acts that took place. Many of these accusers are also claiming, in an attempt to save face, that the cult essentially disowned Zhang and his accomplices after they completely embarrassed and tarnished the reputation of the church.

According to the interviews conducted by Human Rights Without Frontiers, the cult often contradicts the many statements Zhang Lidong made in an interview with the police and media. The cult members also believe that the “Red Dragon” was quick to link the church stick, such as by planting Church of Almighty God books at Zhang’s house. They also believe the government twisted his words because he exerts the power of “almighty God” but never comes out and says he is a member of the church.

In addition, individuals within the organization say there are many ways to tell if someone is part of their organization because of fundamental beliefs and principles that need to align, along with recommendations from other members to be considered a member. In the church’s eye, Zhang Lidong’s acts were that of a lone wolf, not the organization.

Aspiring interpreter and lover of languages. Fascinated with the world and what it has to tells us. I hope one day to write my dreams into reality. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s all I got!

fact checked by Jamie Frater