News of Pastor David Yonggi Cho's indictment has spread like wild fire among the global Christian communities, where followers of the disgraced South Korean megachurch pastor searched for an explanation on how did their spiritual leader became entangled in the crime of breach of trust and corruption, embezzling $12 million of church funds.
Dr. Bob Rodgers Sr., pastor of Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville, Ky., is a close confident of Cho, and he and his father have served on his church growth board for a combined 38 years. With the hope of restoring the public's trust towards Cho, he published a letter disclosing details surrounding the case that were disclosed behind close-door meetings which have not yet been made public.
Cho's eldest son, Hee-Jun, was indicted for the same charge and sentenced to three years in prison. He was immediately taken into custody following the court order, because he was considered a flight risk, Rodgers wrote.
"Cho has three sons. The second and third are very productive and work in church-related ministries. His eldest son has been the prodigal. He has been married four times and has been involved in sexual scandals with national personalities," he said, noting that he has closely followed the trial in Seoul. "In addition, he has served prison time for investment scams and embezzlement. His scandalized life has been an embarrassment to his family and the church."
In 2002, while serving as chairman of a church-affiliated newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, Hee-Jun sold the church 250,000 shares of stock in 1-Service, a cleaning company, at four times more than the market price. He "purposely defrauded" the church of more than $12 million, according to Rodgers, president of Church Growth International of the Americas.
"[David Yonggi] Cho testified that he trusted his elders and son and didn't check and read the thousands of pages of paperwork, which was prepared for him to sign," he wrote. "Because Cho relied upon the direction of his choice elders and son, he signed the paper. He never received any monies from the transaction."
However, the prosecutors, representing a group of elders from Yoido Full Gospel Church, had identified Cho as an accomplice to his son's embezzlement scheme, claiming that he used the money to help his son recover losses made in stock investments, the hankyoreh reported. In addition, they claimed that Cho had allegedly directed the transaction to be dealt with as quietly as possible despite his full knowledge of the potential "uproar" from the elders and congregation.
In light of these reports, Rodgers provided the presiding judges' final ruling, "The court considered that even though Pastor Cho had the final say in the church, he never took the lead in any of the crimes, including tax evasion, committed on the suggestion of the accounting firm.
"The court also considered Cho's life journey as a religious leader and his long-term contribution to social welfare as mitigating circumstances on his behalf. The court ruled that his son, Cho Hee-Jun, was the instigator of the crime related to the purchase of the shares of 1-Service stock."
Cho, 78, founded Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1958 and it now claims more than 450,000 followers. His disciples have built their own "disciple churches" across the country, creating a congregation of roughly one million people, with Cho as the leader.
Rodgers shared in conclusion that Cho lives a simple life in a 1,000-square-foot- church apartment and does not own a car, and he has raised and given personally to the church more than $170 million.
Taiwanese Pastor Mao-Song Chang, who pastors Top Church in New Taipei, Taiwan, has close ties with Cho and his church, released a statement, providing further details of the court verdict. He said that one of Yoido's church elder (林益周) had visited him in January and explained in detail about the case to him. Then, Pastor Lee (李永勳牧師) also visited him in mid-Feb.
"First, when the elders filed a lawsuit against Cho, accusing him of embezzling $20 million, Cho knelt before the congregation and apologized, admitting his mistake for not having a good family testimony, resulting in the harm to church," he wrote.
Second, Cho faced the court honestly, he wrote. "Some elders from the incident have either passed away or no longer work as elders; some said that they don't remember. However, around 1,000 other elders testified that 'Pastor Cho is innocent,' and they asked why the judge doesn't believe in the testimonies of 1,000, but of 30."
"Third, the presiding judge once told Cho, 'We know that this case is not your problem. You just need to blame it on your son, then you will have no responsibilities,'" Change wrote, adding that Cho refused, "My son can be unrighteous to me, but I cannot be unrighteous to my son."
"Fourth, Yoido Full Gospel Church's position is to continue their full support of Pastor Cho, advociating for his innocence!"
Chang urged all to maintain an objective perspective towards the case and not to judge Cho because of his son's crime.
Meanwhile, during this weekend's Sunday service, Cho said in his sermon that it was the hardest day of his 50 years of ministry when he heard the court's ruling on Thursday.
"Through this suffering, I've learned a homework. An individual shouldn't possess anything," he said. "Besides health, status, fame, authority, money... these are all matters that are outside the body and unworthy of any pursuit."
However, Cho maintained his faith in God who justifies the sinners through faith in Jesus Christ.
"God forbid, if God calls me back today, I will still be able to go to the Kingdom of God," he said.