God's Salvation ChurchJason Barker
"But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:20, 22)
Teacher Chen, the prophetic leader of Chen Tao (also known as God's Salvation Church), assured the public that he was willing to be executed if his prophecies concerning God's coming in late March failed. On March 31, 1998, after being protectively surrounded by six police officers during a press conference in Garland, Texas, Chen gave reporters ten minutes in which to stone or crucify him. No one obliged.
Teacher Chen's Failed ProphecyThe press conference in which Chen offered himself for execution followed a widely publicized failed prophecy.
The first part of the failed prophecy involved God's predicted appearance on television. According to Chen, God announced that He would appear on channel eighteen (in a body identical to Teacher Chen's) on every television set in the United States beginning at midnight on March 25, 1998. God would have used these appearances to educate Americans about His scheduled incarnation on March 31, 1998, and the impending world holocaust in August of 1999. Because people would become bored simply listening to God speak, Chen Tao spokesperson Richard Liu stated that God would also show movies and other entertainment programming (March 12, 1998 Press Conference).
The second part of this prophecy involved God's predicted incarnation at 10:00 a.m. on March 31, 1998 in Garland. Chen prophesied that God would materialize in a body identical to Chen's and engage in "duplication" (splitting into hundreds of bodies in order to personally greet followers) and speak in all the different languages of His devotees.
At approximately 12:30 a.m. on March
25th, shortly after the failure of his prophecy
that God would appear on television, Chen held a press conference in
which he announced that his prophecies "can be considered nonsense" and
that he was dismissing his followers ("Texas Sect Leader Calls Off God
Teacher Chen's Latest ProphecyDespite this debacle, Teacher Chen remained undaunted. At 10:00 a.m. on March 31, 1998 (the date of his failed prophecy concerning God's incarnation), Teacher Chen announced that his prophecy was fulfilled by the presence of the reporters, each of whom is God (Dallas Morning News, April 1, 1998, <http://www.dallasnews.com/metro%2Ddfw%2Dnf/dfw91.htm>). This prophecy was preceded by the entrance of Chen and his followers, who genuflected eighteen times to the reporters (Ibid.).
Chen also prophesied that God, again in the image of Teacher Chen, will appear to followers in their dreams. Animals eaten by non-vegetarians will also appear in the dreams of their consumers to demand that their lives be returned. Finally, Chen prophesied that inanimate objects, such as refrigerators and shoes, will converse with their owners (March 31, 1998 Press Conference).
In a unanimous show of hands, the members of Chen Tao proclaimed their trust in their leader's new prophecies by affirming that they will follow Teacher Chen to a new location in Michigan in May, 1998 (March 31, 1998 Press Conference).
Who is Teacher Chen, and what is the religious basis for his prophecies? From where do his followers come, and what does Chen demand from them? Will Chen Tao become another Heaven's Gate? The remainder of this article will examine the history, religious underpinnings, and possible future of Chen Tao.
Chen Tao History
Chen Tao ("The Right Way") was founded in 1993 in Pei-pu, Hsin-chu County, Taiwan (God's Descending in Clouds (Flying Saucers) on Earth to Save People, 1997, p. 79; hereafter, God's Descending), by Hon-ming Chen, a former professor of sociology (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 7, 1998, p. B1). Pei-pu was selected as the initial site for the group because, according to Chen, the city will become the only place on earth where the spiritual energy of God ("the inexhaustible light of the Grand Way") flows from heaven (God's Descending, p. 79).
Chen and 140 of his followers immigrated to San Dimas, CA, in 1995 in order to board God's flying saucers when they land in the United States in 1999 (The Austin American-Statesman, March 6, 1998, p. B11; "GSC Cult Leader Urged to Let Followers Return to Taiwan," Central News Agency, December 29, 1997). Complaints from Taiwan followed the group to America. According to a report in The China Times Express, Chen may have manipulated his Taiwanese followers to pay $60,000 as a fee for joining Chen Tao, and an additional $30,000 to $60,000 passage fare to board the spaceships (China News, December 23, 1997). Police deputies returned a sixteen year-old member to her mother in Taiwan after her mother expressed fears that the girl would never return (St. Paul Pioneer Press,December 24, 1997). Other family of members expressed fears that the group will kill themselves, as did the members of the Heaven's Gate cult in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, CA, prompting an investigation by Taiwanese police into videotapes and documents that allegedly support accusations against Chen of group manipulation and potential violence (China News, December 25, 1997).
Members of Chen Tao began moving to Garland, TX, in June or July of 1997 to prepare "the headquarters for God's Kingdom in Texas" (God's Descending, p. 79). In September members rode in bicycle convoys through Garland distributing flyers expressing the group's appreciation "of your tolerating our activity in the neighborhood as well as your magnanimous acceptance" (Children of God's Kingdom flyer). According to a report in the December 24, 1997, St. Paul Pioneer Press, the majority of the group moved from San Dimas to Garland in December after seeing the number "007" in the sky - an advertisement for a James Bond movie. Garland was allegedly chosen because it sounds like "Godland" (Fort Worth Star-Telegram,March 7, 1998, p. B4).
Chen Tao came to national attention in December after announcing that photographs of clouds are proof that God would assume a physical body identical to Chen's and would materialize in Garland at 10:00 a.m. on March 31, 1998 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 23, 1997). Media attention increased as the deadlines for the prophecies concerning March 25th and March 31st came and passed; Chen believes that the media coverage is part of God's plan to promulgate the prophecies (Dallas Morning News,April 1, 1998, <http://www.dallasnews.com/metro%2Ddfw%2Dnf/dfw91.htm>).
All life originates from the energy of God, who is one with the "magnetic field of Void" and can thus divide His spiritual light energy into separate beings (God's Descending, p. 4). Through the process of transmigration (reincarnation), each being can evolve into a higher life form: from animal, to human, to the divine status of Bodhisattva or enlightened one (pp. 11, 19).
Evolution of each being depends upon its developing purity in the "main soul light," the primary of three souls including the temporal conscious and physical souls (God's Descending, p. 17). The main soul light is the eternal record of every moment in a being's lives; Chen compares its memory to that of a computer (p. 17). The main soul light develops the conscious soul so that the conscious soul is capable of "conscious awareness, judgment, and expression of feelings" (p. 17). The physical soul enables the being to engage in physical activity (p. 18).
The purity of the main soul light can be measured through its "spiritual light energy" (God's Descending, pp. 17, 19). The spiritual light energy of heaven (or Void) is twelve million degrees (p. 27). A small animal, which is spiritually impure, has less than 1,800,000 degrees of spiritual light energy, whereas a large animal has between 1,800,000 and three million degrees (p. 19). Humans have between three and nine million degrees of energy (p. 19). Divine beings, such as Bodhisattvas and angels, have nine million degrees of spiritual light energy; a few divine beings, such as Jesus Christ and the Ju-lai Buddha, have twelve million degrees of energy (p. 11, 19).
Purity is attained through the evolutionary process of transmigration. During each life, beings attempt to erase the karma of previous lives. Poor behavior and attitudes result in an accrual of "causal karma" in the main soul light, lowering the spiritual light energy; this negative record is maintained in both the magnetic field of the Void (heaven) and the magnetic field of the underworld (hell) (God's Descending, p. 31). The three souls separate upon death: if the main soul light is pure (above nine million degrees), this soul will be united with the Void and escape further purification (pp. 8, 18, 54). If the main soul light is not pure the old conscious and physical souls will reattach themselves to the transmigrated being until the being has atoned for the sins of lives in which the attached souls were involved. This process of "causal retribution" continues until the karma is erased (pp. 62-64). Chen also refers to these "old" souls (conscious and physical) as "outside souls" and "devils" (see below).
The evolutionary cycle of transmigration is extremely long, because the number of lives experienced by a being renders increasingly less likely the possibility that the causal karma will be erased (God's Descending, p. 155). Because of this residual karma in each current being's main soul light, each being has transmigrated at least ten times (p. 30), and ninety percent of the current world population was at one time born as an animal (p. 132). In fact, of the eighty percent of the world's population whose low spiritual light energy leads to their death in the great tribulation of 1999, some will be transmigrated later as animals on Mars in order to continue their purification (p. 142).Outside Souls and Devils
Two major obstacles in the evolution of beings are the hindrances presented by outside souls and devils. These malevolent entities feed on the spiritual light energy of transmigrated beings, reducing the beings' ability to erase their karmic records.
Outside souls are those conscious and physical souls who did not report to the underworld upon death. These souls become lost after suffering a violent or unexpected death (God's Descending, pp. 35-38). Rodney Perkins and Forrest Jackson note that these "lonely ghosts and wild spirits" are a common theme in Taiwanese folklore (CESNUR's Watch Page of Chen Tao - God's Salvation Church, <http://web.tin.it/cesnur_org/Chen.htm>). Outside souls exist by draining human beings of their spiritual light energy, as well as consuming the spiritual air in mountains and rivers (p. 39). According to Chen, the Buddhist temples in Taiwan are controlled by a "head outside soul" who rules over lesser souls (p. 39).
Devils present a more active threat in Chen Tao theology. Devils are "devoted to bewildering the world," and seek to possess transmigrated beingsin order to increase the level of evil and violence in the world (God's Descending, pp. 62-64). Devils frequently are the previous souls of a being who combine with the being's current souls until the sins of past lives are atoned (p. 62). They are also frequently "debt claimants," enemies from past lives who combine with a being's current souls until the wrongs committed against the claimant in past lives are rectified (pp. 63-64).
Particularly dangerous are the "King Satans," or "heavenly devil kings," who are responsible for all the great tribulations that have occurred. These devils are the biblical "fallen angels" whose greed has irreparably corrupted them (God's Descending, p. 68). Fifteen percent of the world's present population has had some of their "old souls" (from as far back as the beginning of life on earth) become King Satans; seventy percent of the population in central and east Asia possessed corrupted souls which became these heavenly devil kings (p. 70).
King Satans are particularly prominent in Asia and Africa, where an average of forty-seven percent of the population is possessed in some way by heavenly devil kings (God's Descending, p. 70). As the King Satans feed on the spiritual light energy of these people, the light energy of the magnetic field around the world (except in America) declines by 100,000 every month. In May, 1997, the energy level in four of the world's five continents dropped below the human level of three million (p. 75). The great tribulation in 1999 will begin when the King Satans attempt to cannibalize each other in an attempt to find spiritual energy from which to feed (p. 76).Eschatology
According to Chen, great tribulations (usually climaxing in a nuclear holocaust) are a regular occurrence in history. There have been five great tribulations on this planet (not including the nuclear war almost 4.5 trillion years ago that resulted in the creation of our solar system (God's Descending,p. 46), and over 888,800 million tribulations since the beginning of time (p. 172). The first great tribulation on this planet was waged by dinosaurs"at the place called Armageddon in Hebrew tongue" nearly ten million years ago (p. 143); the remaining tribulations also ended in final climactic nuclear battles (p. 145). Each tribulation was survived by beings who were rescued by God in a flying saucer, who then concentrated the population"in the continent of America" (p. 145).
The opening of the seals described in Revelation chapter six began, according to Chen, in 1911 with the Western imperialism that resulted in World War I (God's Descending, pp. 130-31). Chen is unclear about the date of China's attack on Taiwan: he predicts both February of 1999 (p. 115), and shortly after April 22, 1999 (p. 87). The prediction of the Chinese attack in February includes a prediction for a simultaneous "war of unification" between North and South Korea (p. 115).
On April 22, 1999, a "thousand millions [sic] of human-devils" will initiate a mass slaughter in Chen Tao's "holy land" of Pei-pu, Taiwan (God's Descending, p. 80). Chen warns that, unless she repents, an anonymous female who betrayed Chen Tao will be the first to be crucified (pp. 80-81).
Chen predicts a "Noah's Arc" [sic] flood of forty days will devastate Eastern Asia in June and July of 1999 (God's Descending, pp. 132-33). The rainfall will be heaviest in Taiwan, with gradually lesser damage away from the storm's center over the island (p. 87). The food shortages resulting from the flooding will ultimately lead Asians to commit cannibalism (p. 87).
The massive death caused by both war and flooding will greatly reduce the spiritual energy upon which the King Satan's can feed, driving the devils into an insane rage. From August first through the twelfth, the devils will then convince the Taiwanese whom they control to explode their three nuclear power plants (God's Descending, p. 115). The fallout will cause widespread destruction throughout East Asia (p. 115). China and Japan will then ally to invade Australia and New Zealand, and will then conquer Southeast Asia (pp. 118-19). European and African nations will join the war through territorial alliances, and all the nations will finally destroy each other at Armageddon (p. 119).
God will command America to remain uninvolved during the warfare to come; the United States will instead welcome refugees into this safe haven of high spiritual light energy (p. 115). Nonetheless, only twenty percent of the world's population will survive the great tribulation. These survivors will once again board God's spaceship.God and the "One"
God "includes all beings; He has the inexhaustible, endless energy, and His energy is the original source of all existence and permeates everything.He is omnipresent, He is both in form and non-form" (God's Descending, p. 3). In other words, God is the perfect energy with whom all transmigrating beings should hope to become one (p. 9).
Perkins and Jackson note that, in The Practical Evidence and Study of the World of God and Buddha, Chen rejects the biblical version ofGod as "cruel, narrow-minded, unable to tell good from evil" (CESNUR's Watch Page on Chen Tao - God's Salvation Church, <http://web.tin.it/cesnur_org/Chen.htm>). Chen instead proclaims that God is "complete love, generosity, mercy, peace, justice, and forgiving" (Ibid.).
Chen's depiction of God is heavily influenced by Taoism. God is "void of I," because the "'Tao (Way) begets One; One begets Two; Two Begets Three; Three begets all existence.' The Way (tao) [sic] that begets One is the embodied God" (God's Descending, p. 8). This Taoist phrase indicates the close relation that Chen sees between God and himself. Simply stated, God created Chen (who identifies himself as "the One" (pp. 8-9, 175), who in turn came to earth as the Ju-lai Buddha with several Bodhisattvas to populate the earth (p. 9). God will take the form of Teacher Chen when he appears in followers' dreams to educate them about how they can avoid the coming nuclear holocaust (March 31, 1998 Press Conference). Chen has also stated that he and his followers wear only white because God will be clothed in white when he appears; the members wear cowboy hats because "they help the group fit in" (Austin American-Statesman).Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is one of the primary divine beings in Chen Tao. He helped settle on Pluto the survivors of the nuclear war that created our solar system (God's Descending, pp. 46-47). Chen has allegedly claimed that he fathered Christ, and that one of the children in Chen Tao is the reincarnated Christ (March 12, 1998 Press Conference).The Bible
Chen teaches that the Bible "is neither God's nor Jesus Christ's revelation, but heavenly devil kings' descriptions" (God's Descending, p. 124). In fact, "many believers of the Bible who read those forged contents will become gradually controlled by devils without knowing it" (p. 122). Chen therefore concludes that he needs to "clarify what parts of the Bible are 'devil's words'" (p. 123).
Chen Tao's Future
Prior to the failure of Teacher Chen's prophecies, media reports were filled with speculations that, upon the failure of God to fulfill Chen's prophecies, the members of Chen Tao would commit mass suicide. These reports focused on an alleged letter from a former member stating that members "were set to die in a horrible manner if they believed Chen's teachings" (China News, December 25, 1997), and on Chen's guaranteeing "on [his] life" that his prophecies will be fulfilled (God's Descending, pp. 177-78).
Members vigorously denied that they would commit
suicide. Chen claimed, "We would not take our lives under any
circumstances" (Austin American-Statesman). Dr.
Lonnie Kliever, the chair of the religious studies department at
Southern Methodist University, stated that the media's correlation
between Heaven's Gate and Chen Tao surprised Chen. "Teacher Chen," he
said, "makes it very clear that suicide, far from advancing your
spiritual development, retards it.. He also explicitly mentions that any
priest of a sect who entices his followers to take their own lives as a
way of entering paradise or accelerating spiritual advancement is
really an agent of the devil" (MSNBC - Texas Sect Leader Calls
Off God Watch,
Chen announced that he and nine followers will go to Michigan in April to seek a new "training ground" to prepare followers for the nuclear war in 1999 (March 31, 1998 Press Conference). All the members of Chen Tao will move to Michigan by May 10, 1998 (Ibid.). Chen has also stated that Gary, Indiana, will be base for God's shuttling operations after the nuclear war in 1999 (Sect leaving Texas, expects to meet God in Michigan,<http://www.trancenet.org>). Another news report states that Chen was directed by God to take his followers to Olcott, a small town near Niagara Falls, New York (Taiwanese Garland cult comes to New York State, <http://www.trancenet.org>). Lt. Don Martin of the Garland police department stated that police officers will pull out of the neighborhood by May 10th, adding that providing security for the church has cost Garland approximately $100,000 dollars (Dallas Morning News, April 1, 1998, < http://www.dallasnews.com/metro%2Ddfw%2Dnf/dfw91.htm>).
Continuing prophecies from Teacher Chen may be expected. As demonstrated by his incorporation of the James Bond advertisement into his "revelations,"Chen adapts his teachings to current circumstances. For example, Richard Liu seemed surprised to realize that the large number of airplanes seen by the group over Garland, which they understood to be UFOs, was caused by the city's close proximity to the Dallas-Ft. Worth International airport (March 12, 1998 Press Conference). In his latest prophecy, Chen incorporated this information and proclaimed that a multi-continental shift into the second dimension will result in a dramatic increase in airplane crashes (March 31, 1998 Press Conference).
The Bible makes it clear that only God knows the date for the end of time (Mark 13:32). It is therefore improper for Christians to speculate on the exact date. In fact, the Bible so strongly stresses the importance of avoiding false prophecy that false prophets were put to death under the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
The Bible also refutes the idea of reincarnation; a person dies only once, and then faces judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Christians also know that they do not need to earn their salvation through self-purification; they are instead saved through the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
God is not a void with whom creation panentheistically shares a spiritual light structure and in whom we ultimately hope to be absorbed; Revelation shows that redeemed humanity will spend eternity in an intimately personal, yet physically separate, relationship with God (21:3). Nor is He merely a being of disembodied love without a sense of justice, as Chen's alternative revelation asserts. Instead, the Bible shows that God is both loving and just (Psalms 101:1). The Bible also proves that Jesus is not an equal with the Buddha and the son of Hon-ming Chen. Instead, Jesus is God, and assisted the Father in the creation of the world (John 1:1-3).
In direct contrast to Chen's attack upon the authority of Scripture, the Bible is inspired by God so that the Christian "may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16).
As the year 2000 approaches, an increase in end-time prophecies may be expected. Christians have both the responsibility to refute such false prophecies, and the privilege to proclaim the freedom and eternal security they share through their relationship with Jesus Christ.