Japanese media is failing to cover a scandal involving the Kobe Disciple Church for political reasons
Members of the Unification Church attend a rally in Seoul on Aug 18 to protest against the media coverage the group received in Japan following the assassination in early July of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. (Photo: AFP)
What I will describe is a scandal of potentially huge proportions, which the Japanese media is failing to cover, and the news is mostly spreading via Twitter.
Police in the port city of Kobe recently detained a pastor on suspicion of using illegal drugs. Yasuhiko Mori, after a life in organized crime, founded the Kobe Disciple Church in 2010 — part of the Jesus Japan World Mission (started in 1995) — with many branches nationwide including Tokyo, where he currently serves as head pastor.
The 64-year-old former yakuza, whose resume includes criminal activities of all sorts, was ostensibly responsible for providing spiritual guidance and support to members of the church, as well as organizing services, delivering sermons and leading Bible studies.
As much as we would like to think this story came out of a script for a movie, this is not the case.
At the moment anyone in Japan can start their own “religious organization,” all you need is a permit from the Agency of Cultural Affairs. But what are these, we suppose, strict requirements?
You need a track record of being active as a religious organization for at least three years and probably because this was a branch of an already established minor religion, it was not hard to meet this requirement.
“This organization named after a biblical expression of adoration and praise was discovered doing the exact opposite of its stated goal”
Another prerequisite is the need to be spreading doctrines and performing ceremonial functions. Those seeking official recognition must also own a place of worship and appoint three or more responsible officers.
It seems that in Japan it’s easier to start a religion than to get a spouse visa approved. In fact, to wed a Japanese national a foreigner needs tangible photographic material — over the span of a few years — to corroborate that the couple has been engaged in a romantic relationship. Hundreds of people get rejected over this requirement every year.
After creating his own church out of thin air, the former gangster established Hosanna House, a non-profit that helps troubled youth, including those who have experienced abuse or have used drugs in the past. Ironically, this organization named after a biblical expression of adoration and praise was discovered doing the exact opposite of its stated goal. Mori allegedly used his status as a pastor to drug the women he was supposed to help and sexually assault them.
Not only that but this was carried out with the financial help of public funds. Now, do we start to understand why the mainstream Japanese media is not happy to share this story.
There are several problems with having a large number of minor religions as is the case in Japan. These are often founded by individuals with no religious background or spiritual vocation.
They often lack authenticity, indeed many of these minor religions are not based on genuine spiritual beliefs or practices. This leads to confusion and disillusionment among followers, who may be genuinely seeking spiritual support.
“The proliferation of minor religions can lead to the misuse of public resources”
The potential for exploitation is huge. Without a genuine spiritual vocation, the founders of these minor religions may be motivated by personal gain or more harmful and selfish interests, as in this case.
But there is also the broader aspect of the loss of trust in religion itself. If these minor religions are found to be fraudulent or exploitative, it can lead to an erosion of trust in religious institutions altogether, especially among Christians who have a two-century record of violent persecution for spreading beliefs allegedly counter to the national interest.
And finally, the proliferation of minor religions can lead to the misuse of public resources, most egregiously in Mori’s case.
It is essential for religious institutions and communities to carefully scrutinize such religions and ensure that they are authentic and not exploiting those who seek their guidance.
And is kind of ironic that the Unification Church financial scandal has sparked a massive debate over far less grave charges, while this truly horrifying case has been deemed not even newsworthy.
The reason is simple. The media that came after the Unification Church has its own political agenda. It was biased from the start because the ultimate target was not the deviant practices used by the church to finance itself but the political party at the head of the Japanese government.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.