Yup, another former member with something to say. Found this forum in the comments section of the WSJ article about this whole debacle.
My credentials and background: My family attended the first State-side gathering of EBC in 1979 in Indiana... I was in the upper single digits in age that year. My parents are still involved with the church. I have not actively participated in the church since the late 1990s and consider myself agnostic. A lot of that has to do with my experiences with EBC and its influences on my family. I'm probably much older than the other former/current members that have posted here. I was very active in the church throughout the 80s and early 90s. I still have many friends who are actively involved in the church, people who I've known for over 30 years now. Some of those friendships have already suffered because of the Sewol incident and its fallout on EBC. Some seem to have survived (so far). I am trying to keep this account as anonymous as I can because I'm pretty certain a lot more friendships would end if people know who I am and I'd rather not see that happen.
To be fair, most of my experiences are from a State-side POV. However, I have been to Korea many times to attend the summer conferences there in the 80s, 90s and only stopped by Anseong in the 2000s when I was in Seoul for business to see my parents who would attend and other friends who happened to be there. I personally know many of the personalities involved with this whole sordid affair so it's very very surreal for me to read about all this in western news outlets. I will also be very upfront and say I have very negative views of EBC. So I'll just get that out there.
The WSJ article hit it on the head of the nail for me when it said this whole affair involves the unholy trinity of business, church and politics. This is spot on. Throughout my family's entire involvement with EBC, there has always been church + business. It was IMPOSSIBLE to separate the two. My parents' relationships with their own siblings who weren't already in EBC greatly suffered because of that. Money was always involved. The party line was always that these businesses were started to give brothers and sisters a place to work. To those of us who became cynical about that relationship between church and Mr. Yoo's businesses, we saw it as a way for cheap and unqualified labor to feed the Yoo family. You cannot deny that this is a family that definitely liked the finer things in life.
Many have likened Mr. Yoo as a messiah or Moses-like figure. I wouldn't go that far but there was definitely a low level feeling of cult of personality at the very least. Big time deference was given to Mr. Yoo and his son Hyuck-kee who seemingly took over the pastor reins for a bit in the 2000s but has since concentrated more on the business side of things.
There is a very intricate and complex web of relationships between EBC the church and the myriad of businesses that the Yoo family and other church members own. Someone else here was adamant that businesses were doing business things totally not related to the church. I had to literally laugh out loud at that one. One example was that the business that owned god.com simply donated that domain name to the church. It's more complicated than that, as with all these relationships are. The cybersquatting company that owned god.com is owned by Kevin Ham, a long time EBC member. His younger brother Michael Ham is the "spokesman" for Ahae.com, and has been quoted defending Mr. Yoo on media outlets ever since this story has gone wide. It's not a coincidence and just one example of how it's all inter-related in the Yoo world of EBC.
I know families who give a lot of money to the church and are fine with it. What the church does with it, they don't care... it's for the church. I know other families who gave everything they had to the church, especially in the late 1990s during the IMF crisis to bail out the Yoo family businesses and lost everything, became embittered and left the church with lots of bad feelings.
The church also suffers a lot from being so ingrained in Korean culture. I had to laugh at someone else's account of shilsup in Korea here. The "hazing" and "tough guy" stuff was not particular to EBC... that is just Korean culture. Altho today, maybe things are bit more softened but all that type of stuff definitely happened at the shilsups I attended. I just chalked it up to Koreans like to show how tough they are. People also can never really leave the church without bad blood being involved, especially with the immigrant generation of my parents. I never understood that. God forbid if you left the church, especially for another Korean church, it's like you decided to become a Satanist. EBC very very VERY much likes to think its way is the ONLY way for salvation. But again, I think that's also partially a Korean thing. Other Korean churches even here in the States are like that. I actually hate patronizing small businesses that I know are owned by Koreans because I know, once they find out I am Korean, it's going to be full court press recruiting process to get me to come to their church.
Inherently, I don't think EBC is a bad organization... if you are able to limit your own financial exposure to it. Whatever new thing that Mr. Yoo dreams up, whether it be paper soap, shark liver oil, pineapple extract, silver lined enema bulb, lavendar lemonade, WHATEVER... the church will fully push it on you to buy. It does NOT let up. But if you can ignore that, the people are nice and welcoming and the message, while kinda scary, can be uplifting if you buy into it. They're big into the whole rapture thing. To me, it's all fairy tales but that's just me.
I will say the whole EBC network was tightly controlled by Yoo and his confidants. When EBC was headquartered in Samgakgi in Seoul and there had to be some decision made about something in the States, people always had to wait for the official word from Samgakgi to come down before they would do anything. Now, it's all headquartered in Anseong but same iron rule applies.
In the end, every person in EBC, including the Yoo family, are human. So if all these allegations of embezzlement from the church and businesses to feed the Yoo family appetite are true, it doesn't surprise me because they are human. People in EBC like to be very adamant that Mr. Yoo couldn't have committed suicide or drank alcohol. Well... he's human. ANYTHING is possible, especially when someone is pushed to the brink. Something like... being the MOST HUNTED MAN IN A COUNTRY. I've had to deal with those afflicted with addiction of all kinds, a person will do anything when pushed past a certain line in their life. So to say anyone would never do anything, that to me is very naive.