‘In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal’ Explained: Who Are Jeong Myeong, Park Soon-Ja, Kim Ki-Soon & Lee Jae-Rok?


The new Netflix true-crime docuseries “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” is exactly what its title suggests: a collection about self-proclaimed godmen turning out to be shameless criminals. Perhaps the general subject of religion causing people harm would result in decades of footage for any series, and so this Netflix series is bound to just four cases in South Korea alone. It presents detailed accounts of investigations held against four religious preachers and the ultimate consequences that they and their followers faced. “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” is just outright disturbing to watch at moments due to the content it presents and can be considered a good overall coverage of the events.

What Is ‘In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal’ Docuseries About?

The name JMS was extremely popular among college students in the 1980s as the name of a new church and Christian new religious movement headed by the charismatic Jeong Myeong-seok. Young men and women flocked to the church both out of religious and spiritual interest as well as because of its comparatively liberal ideologies. However, the world of all JMS followers was shaken when their leader Myeong-seok was sentenced to a 10-year prison term in 2008 for having raped three of his female followers. While Myeong-seok’s prison sentence is now over, and the man continues to be a free preacher, the allegations of sexual misconduct against him have not stopped.

On the 29th of August 1987, people in the Gyeonggi-do province of South Korea were in for a shock when an under-construction factory was found to be a house of horrors. Thirty-two men and women were found dead together inside the ceiling of the cafeteria in the factory. What was believed to have been a mass suicide out of religious fanaticism did pose the possibility of being something more sinister. After all, the thirty-two men and women had been members of a religious group and trading business called the Five Oceans, a company which was suspected of having wiped out nearly ten billion won.

Around 1996, the South Korean police started to investigate a religious cult called the Baby Garden and its leader Kim Ki-Soon based on charges of extortion, physical assault, and murder, as reported by some former members. While the Baby Garden sect had existed since the 1980s as a commune of people earning and growing their own resources, there were claims of minors being sexually exploited and children being starved and beaten up. By the time Kim Ki-Soon was in police custody, more horrific accounts of the commune, which was supposed to have been a safe haven for children, had been revealed.

Lee Jae-rock and his Manmin Central Church are extremely well-known for their ability to magically cure and heal the toughest of sicknesses only through faith and religion. Although there had been claims of the Manmin Church being a stronghold of false and illegal activities for much of the past, the followers of this church showed their violent nature on one night in 1999. During this time, the Korean public broadcasting channel MBC had prepared a show based on the allegations against Jae-rock Lee and his church. Throngs of Manmin followers flocked to the MBC office that night to unlawfully stop the live broadcast. Unfortunately for these followers, the revelations about their leader that would follow later were enough to end their blind faith.

The Netflix original series “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” picks up on these four cases and presents a documentary telling of them. Making use of TV footage, interviews old and new, of investigators and victims, as well as records from anonymous contributors who were once part of these religious cults, the show drives home the scary possibilities of having faith turned blind in the hands of a self-proclaimed religious leader.

How Did Jyeong Myeong-Seok Take Advantage Of His Female Followers?

After having founded the Jesus Morning Star (JMS) church in 1980, Jyeong Myeong-seok’s first targets to preach religion to and therefore gain popularity with were the youth. Targeting college and university spaces, he garnered interest and support by conducting sports and entertainment events that immediately attracted teenagers and young adults. There was also the fact that, despite being a religious group, JMS was not as stringent and conservative with regard to clothing and behavior as the other churches. But Myeong-seok’s true intention was something more dangerous—he started preaching himself as the Second Coming of Christ. Interpreting the Bible as a symbolic tale of more probable events and principles to be followed, the JMS heavily used numerology to make tall claims. Jyeong Myeong-seok is known to have predicted the South Korean presidential election results, not just in terms of who would win but in terms of the detailed standings of first, second, and third. With an aura and charm that was greatly revered by many, Myeong-seok also preached internationally outside of South Korea as well. However, this decision to go international was also forced for a different reason.

Around 1999, allegations of sexual assault and harassment finally started to take a definite shape against the self-proclaimed godman. There were apparently more than 100 female followers who had claimed to have been raped by the religious leader, who kept telling them that they were doing God’s work. There have been reports suggesting that Jyeong Myeong-seok apparently also claimed to some of his close followers that it was his mission to have sexual intercourse with 10,000 women. Although he preached to his followers to stay away from such carnal acts, the man claimed himself to be “pure Adam,” meaning that it was just fine for him to have intercourse with his followers. The entire setup was such that most of the women willingly agreed when they were asked to go meet their leader in private in order to be blessed by him. There were even some women appointed to bring more women into the act, and sexual exploitation was almost institutionalized, with each individual having a role to play. After reports of such acts came out in the open, though, Jyeong Myeong-seok immediately fled South Korea, and the JMS officially claimed that he was now going international with his preaching.

Jyeong Myeong-seok took shelter in Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan and continued with his vile acts in all the countries. Through his religious façade, he would bring in college students as followers, call some of them for private meetings, and then rape them. Among all the women he had sexually abused throughout all the years and countries, many were minors as well. Soon his crimes were found out, and his passport was seized as well, but the man still managed to illegally flee to China. The followers at JMS, which included many extremely wealthy and influential Korean citizens, ensured that their leader was kept safe by threatening and beating up the family members of the victims. Finally, in 2008, Jyeong Myeong-seok was arrested by the Chinese authorities and sent back to South Korea, where he was given a ten-year prison sentence.

What is perhaps more shocking than whatever had already happened was the fact that Myeong-seok continued to carry on his sexual misconduct even while in hiding and in prison. With the help of an effective network of followers, he would literally choose out some women among his followers, who were then sent to Hong Kong or China or even to prison later on in order to have sex with him. None of the women knew before what was going to happen and were simply excited to meet the man they looked up to as God himself. Such was the stronghold of the JMS over them that nobody ever let out about all this to anyone else, and some even took on the role of enablers for more such exploitation while remaining victims themselves. It was finally a woman named Maple who spoke out about it to the public in recent times, after Jyeong Myeong-seok was officially released from prison in 2018. Over a period from 2019 to 2021, Maple had been sexually abused by the godman more than ten times. Maple features extensively in the Netflix documentary series, and there is even clear evidence of men following her around in cars, definitely on the orders of Myeong-seok.

At present, Jyeong Myeong-seok continues to be a free man and a rather wealthy one. Despite being questioned by the South Korean police so far, Myeong-seok and his church and followers claim his innocence. The JMS, which was also called the Providence, has been renamed the Christian Gospel Mission, but still continues to exist and preach its leader’s innocence. With the hiring of a large law firm, Jyeong Myeong-seok has succeeded in staying out of trouble so far, but his reputation is sure to take a hit after this documentary. In fact, Jyeong Myeong-seok and the JMS had also filed for a court injunction to prevent the release of the Netflix documentary, claiming that the tarnishing views presented in it against him are all fictional. The court has, however, turned down the injunction and allowed Netflix and MBC to air the show without any trouble. 

What Was The Reason Behind The Five Oceans Mass Suicide?

The exact events of the Five Oceans mass suicide case are still being debated by different sides of investigators and witnesses, but the Netflix docuseries does a fair job of presenting them in its 70-minute-long episode. The Five Oceans company had originally started in Daejeon as a manufacturer of craftwork, appointing artisans and workers who were highly skilled but had no social or financial exposure. The founder of the company, Park Soon-ja, was considered not just a successful businesswoman but also a philanthropic and charitable person. She told her workers to bring their children along to work so that they could be looked after and cared for in a proper manner. Even when Five Oceans made the switch to a trading company, nothing seemed out of place or concerning. Park Soon-ja’s husband was a fairly rich and influential director of the construction bureau, and perhaps with the power and the wish to serve the common masses, Five Oceans was also made into a religious group. To the residents at the place, Park Soon-ja was like the Holy Mother, who toiled and sacrificed for their benefit. But there was also the fact that Five Oceans also asked for funds and donations from its members and anyone related to them. These funds were taken in the form of loans, with Park Soon-ja promising interest rates as high as 20% to 40%. As more people started to pour all their life’s savings into what they believed to be an investment, the shadier side of Five Oceans started to be revealed. It was when one man was beaten up when he asked for his money back that the police first started investigating the company. Soon after, the workers and their leader, Soon-ja, went missing from their usual address in Daejeon and were not found until the 29th of August, 1987, at the site of the mass suicide or murder.

While it is unanimously agreed that the site of the mass suicide was extremely strange and a number of details did not match, different sides have different views on it. The official police declaration was that 31 men and women had been strangled to death by the manager of the factory in Gyeonggi-do province, and the man then committed suicide by hanging himself. The lack of physical struggle suggested that the manager had been asked to kill the rest of the members before killing himself. However, the fact that Park Soon-ja had been killed first raised questions about the act being any sort of ritualistic suicide or murder, for in such cases, the leader always sacrifices themselves at the very end. The whole truth that came out later, or at least the official version of it, had more to do with money than any religious beliefs. Before the incident, the authorities had calculated that Five Oceans owed around 10 billion won to its innumerable creditors, and there was no sign of this money anywhere. By now, the police had announced Five Oceans to be a large-scale scam company hiding behind the façade of a Christian religious group, and they were on the lookout for the missing members. After an extensive investigation of the murder scene, it was found out that Five Oceans was actually working as a front for another trading company called Samwoo. This Samwoo business was owned by a popular man named Yoo Byeong-un, who was also the leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church of South Korea (Salvation Sect). After having founded the church, Byeong-un wanted to earn millions for himself, but doing so only through donations seemed impossible to him. He then started to raise money through illegal loans and branched out to various different companies and organizations to ensure this. Five Oceans and Park Soon-ja used to raise money for Yoo Byeong-un and transfer it to him from time to time.

Being wanted by the police, Soon-ja and her workers go into hiding at the factory, and they had also asked for one last final favor from Byeong-un. The man refused to help, saying that Samwoo was in financial distress too, making it clear to Soon-ja that she could not avoid the law. As an ultimate attempt to flee the law, Park Soon-ja decided and convinced her followers to commit suicide before being found out by the police. Despite these findings and theories of the police, the court could not find any evidence of murder against Yoo Byeong-un, and he was given a prison sentence of just four years for financial fraud. Yoo Byeong-un was later involved in the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, and his dead body was found on a hill later that year.

What Were The Allegations Against Kim Ki-Soon And The Baby Garden?

Kim Ki-Soon was the charming founder of a Christian sect called the Baby Garden, or Aga (baby in Korean) Garden, for she called herself Aga and told her followers to do so as well. Unlike the other cults presented in the documentary, the Baby Garden sect targeted very normal and even downtrodden people without much financial backing. Also, unlike the other cults, this sect did not intend to bring in more members to grow in number but was satisfied with all they had. Kim Ki-Soon had been a follower of a preacher named Lee Kyo-bu, who had a fairly large number of followers. At one point in time, Lee Kyo-bu had been imprisoned for a few years, and Kim Ki-Soon instantly took on his role among the followers, claiming that Kyo-bu had himself asked her to continue preaching on his behalf. Ki-Soon quickly became popular among the followers and took on the entire crowd to her own new sect, called the Baby Garden. They initially started as a usual religious sect, with 200–300 followers, but within some time, they turned Baby Garden into a communion where all stayed together. Ki-Soon claimed that an apocalypse was soon going to hit human civilization, and only her followers would survive it and make it to the new world. There were a number of rules and regulations that felt odd to the resident followers, like married couples also not being allowed to stay with each other and children not being allowed to call their parents mom or dad. But the followers did not really take any of it too seriously.

But with rampant exploitation of labor in return for very meager food or facilities, some of the ex-followers decided to go public with their experiences after leaving the group. It was only around 1996, when a significant number of people had spoken out, that the real extent of the horrors at Baby Garden was revealed. Kim Ki-Soon had established herself as the one and only ruler and parental figure in the lives of each of her followers. What she said and wanted was final, and anybody denying following her orders was severely beaten up and physically tortured. Although she always preached abstinence to her followers, Ki-Soon herself sexually exploited many of the young boys and teenagers at the communion. She made them believe that they were lucky subjects who had been chosen to witness God, and none of them ever said anything against it. Ki-Soon would make many of her followers go out to the cities and sell food and other items, all the money from which she kept for herself. Each of the children at the communion was made to go out and beg, and the money from this was also kept by her. Not only were the beatings regular, but the Baby Garden sect had even murdered three followers upon the instructions of Ki-Soon.

First was a forty-four-year-old man named Yoon Yong-Ung, who just simply vanished from the place one day, never to be seen again. How or why he had been murdered still remains unknown, and Ki-Soon had only told his daughter that he had died after drinking pesticide. Next was a twenty-one-year-old woman named Kang Mi-Gyeong, who was popular in the communion for her gentle nature and beautiful appearance. Ki-Soon’s own son had grown attracted to Mi-Gyeong, and some claim they were lovers as well. Kim Ki-Soon was terribly upset when she heard of this, as she feared a scandal among her followers. She publicly shamed Mi-Gyeong for being romantically involved with a man and ordered her to be thrashed to death. Her body was then dumped somewhere inside the Baby Garden area. Third, and arguably most gruesome of them all, a five-year-old boy named Choi Nak-Gwi was termed possessed by the devil by Kim Ki-Soon. This was because young Choi had possibly wanted to be with his mother, who was out in the fields working, and he had defecated and thrown it on the walls. Choi was apparently very expressive about his dislike towards Ki-Soon, and for this reason, she wanted him removed. The little boy was tied up in the pigsty and kept without food for days before he was thrashed to death by some of the followers, including his own aunt.

Despite such heinous crimes, Kim Ki-soon got away easily by making use of her power and money. She made Choi Nak-Gwi’s mother sign a death certificate, which stated that the boy had died from a heart attack, and also made her testify to this as the truth in court later on. After staying in hiding for some time, Ki-Soon eventually surrendered to the police in 1997, as advised by her lawyers, who said that she would not get arrested at all. However, the police did detain her, and a court case followed, but in 1998, the court ruled that the death of five-year-old Choi was accidental and not intentional. The two other murders could not be charged since the bodies were never found. The court sentenced Kim Ki-Soon to a prison term of four years for charges of financial fraud. The series does not make any mention of what happened to Ki-Soon or the Baby Garden after this.

How Had Lee Jae-Rock Managed To Create His Cult Of Blind Followers?

Pastor Lee Jae-rock’s financial extortion and exploitation were arguably more systematic and planned than the rest of the cults, as his Manmin Central Church still exists with a number of followers. His specialization, and that of his Manmin church, has been spiritually healing patients and worshippers through self-proclaimed magical and spiritual powers. Jae-rock also claimed himself to be the Second Coming of Christ, and he often used camera and lighting tricks as well as psychological methods to make his followers believe that God came down to meet him. His words have been as ridiculous as his claim that the Holy Father and the Holy Son both come down to meet and walk with Jae-rock on a particular day every year, which is celebrated by the followers as the day of the spirits party. Along with throwing extravagant birthday parties for himself, Jae-rock also had an ill reputation for his sexual misconduct.

It was for these very reasons and claims that the MBC recorded a program on the pastor in order to expose the lies he spread through his sermons. By this time in 1999, the Christian Council of Korea had already ejected Jae-rock and his church, calling him a dangerous heretic and not a proper preacher of Christianity. However, the members of the Manmin church, a total of at least a few thousand at the time, flocked to the MBC office to forcefully stop the telecast. The Korean government cited this as a risk to national security, but nothing worthwhile happened with regard to stopping the pastor. Instead, his reputation, as well as his church, grew in size in the 2000s as he branched out internationally. Jae-rock conducted healing programs and sermons in places including Pakistan as well as the Madison Square Garden in New York.

Lee Jae-rock had a real tight-knit business plan in place at his Manmin church, for he had quite ironically managed to quantify one’s faith. All his followers were regularly assessed based on their religious scores and were handed out these scores based on five levels. One would obviously start from level one and wish to reach level five someday by earning credits through activities that proved their faith. However, it was quite apparent that those men and women who paid higher amounts of money through official as well as unofficial donations moved up in the rankings much quicker and more smoothly. It was all about making money for pastor Jae-rock, as he even charged millions of won to those who wanted to take photographs with him. The Manmin church had a number of stores set up across the country, in which photographs and items with the pastor’s blessings were sold for high prices. There was even one product called Muan Sweet Water, which was basically some holy water from a well that had been blessed by Jae-rock, and it was supposed to solve all problems, from complex physical ailments to a jammed door. Through his preaching and sermons, Jae-rock convinced his followers that going to a hospital for any illness was almost equivalent to committing a sin, and he even indirectly caused some deaths in this manner.

While Lee Jae-rock told his followers about the ill effects of sexual desires and claimed that he was devoid of any such distracting desires, his very disgusting sexual appetite led to his downfall. The man was eventually investigated by the police for having raped nine female followers from his church. What was perhaps even more perverse was the fact that all these women had grown up regularly visiting the Manmin church with their parents, meaning that Jae-rock knew them from the time they were babies. The pastor would call the women to his private house with the promises of special blessings and access to God and then sexually abuse them. He would also then give the women large amounts of money from the church donations, possibly to ensure that they would not talk about it. Even then, a significant number of followers stuck with the church, claiming his innocence and shaming the victims as simply promiscuous and evil. But what finally changed the perception was when a taped phone conversation of a prominent woman in the church ranks was leaked, in which she told another woman how Jae-rock had been sexually exploiting women followers for many years now. In 2018, the court also found the man guilty of the rape charges and sentenced him to fifteen years in prison. The very mortal signs of the corrupt and vile man, who once claimed himself to be immortal and ageless, were now out in the open. As Lee Jae-rock spends time in prison in a more comfortable fashion than any usual criminal, some of his ardent followers at the Manmin church still wish for his return and continue to honor him through cardboard cutouts of the man.

“In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” is a 2023 Crime Documentary Series streaming on Netflix.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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