By Kimberly Smith
Point Park News Service
All Zack Durkin wanted was to meet his friend for lunch at Noodles & Co. in Market Square when he was approached by two men professing about the “female image of God.”
The men continued walking down the block with him, pulling out Bibles with highlighted passages in the hopes of convincing 20-year-old Durkin about the “word” they believed in.
“I told them about five times that I wasn’t interested in talking,” Durkin said. “But they were relentless—it was borderline harassment. They kept asking me to come do a Bible study with them on the spot.”
The men belonged to a group called the World Mission Society Church of God, a religion founded in Korea that believes in God the Mother. While Durkin had never heard of the group before being approached, he said he has heard of the idea.
“I know there are groups and people that dislike the idea of God being assigned the male gender, but some of the connections they were trying to make were just bizarre,” he said. “They were trying a little too hard.”
The female image of God comes from specific passages and anecdotes used throughout the Bible to avoid the stigma of God having one specific sex within Christianity. The Rev. Tom Hall from the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh says this trend has been increasing over the past decade.
“Within the last ten years, people have been digging to rediscover metaphors to correct this male dominance,” Hall said. “About six to eight years ago, there was a major study that looked into the naming of the Holy Trinity because of how repressive the early church was towards women.”
The World Mission Society Church of God was founded in North Korea in 1964 by Anh Sahng-hong, whom the members believe to be the second coming of Christ, according to their website. Church members were unavailable to comment for this story.
Christ Anhsahnghong, as he is referred to, passed away in 1985, leaving the church under the power of his wife, who is called “Heavenly Mother,” and the two are believed to be the earthly representation of the heavenly family, the website states.
The church expanded into the United States in 1997, opening a church in Los Angeles, Calif., and in 2008, reached one million registered members worldwide.
While the only church located in Pennsylvania is north of Philadelphia, its members frequently send short-term mission teams to Pittsburgh, where they reach out to people by walking the streets in attempts to spread their beliefs and recruit new members.
This approach has been used by other denominations and religions as well—specifically Mormon’s and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their success is evident in their growing numbers, and while the approach doesn’t appeal to everyone, it does have an effect, Hall said.
“You can find all kinds of different approaches that play into religion and different groups of people,” he says.
Katherine Sikma, advisor and on-campus minister for The Body, an on-campus ministry group at Point Park University, said she believes this method could just be a result of the church members’ passion coming out a little more furiously.
“As someone who has strong beliefs, I want to spread the message of my faith to people as well,” she said. “However, the way they’re going about it is a little pushy. They should encourage discussion instead of just telling you that it’s the truth.”
Sikma said she also believes that they use Bible passages out of context to try to prove validity. She also questioned their belief that Anhsahnghong is the second coming of Christ.
“Their ‘Second Christ’ has passed away,” she said. “That should be something that they realize as an error in their beliefs.”
Hall also raised questions about the group’s tactics.
“If people try to manipulate you, that’s a sure sign they are more of a cult than a legitimate church,” Hall said. “The Christian faith is reasonable, and it does all real believers a disservice when people use these practices.”