It seems wherever money and power are, corruption is sure to follow, often with sexual exploitation. Whether at the hands of beloved British TV icon Jimmy Savile or online scum bags like Hunter Moore, there always seems to be a pattern of sexual abuse and crime that follows in the wake of influential individuals. It’s the most tragic however when it’s witnessed in religious institutions with the people who should be upholding the highest standards of morality. We’ve seen our own fair share in Malaysia with Muslim preacher Ebit Lew.
In Netflix’s “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal”, you’ll dive deep into the insane world of Christian cults. The most popular one being Christian Gospel Mission, also known as Providence and called Jesus Morning Star (JMS) in South Korea. This docuseries follows not one but four cults, their rise and their downfall.
So does “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” do justice to its disturbing source material? Or is it as boring as a six-hour sermon on a Sunday morning? Let’s find out!
Right off the bat, this docuseries lets you know what it’s all about. It’s not here to dance around the subject matter and dance between the aisles as so many Netflix documentaries tend to do. They won’t jerk you around with the whole did-they-didn’t-they gimmick. They get right into the meat of it and it’s chilling stuff. The docuseries is split up into four sections. The first three episodes of the docuseries follow the story of Pastor Jeong Myeong-seok and JMS. Captured in chilling detail is the sexual abuse Jeong Soo-Jeong, also known as Maple, and other victims suffered at the hands of Jeong. All captured in a seemingly endless barrage of strange footage. We’re talking recordings of the pastor’s harem of naked women and sermons about how the fruit in the Garden of Eden was actually an allegory for genitals.
Then there’s the chilling story of Park Soon-Ja leading the congregation of the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) of Korea into a mass suicide a’la Jonestown. When the South Korean police came looking for her, they found them hanging from the rafters like animals at a slaughterhouse. All wrapped up in this suicide pact is financial corruption within the Five Oceans Corporation. While only a single episode is dedicated to the story of Park Soon-Ja and Five Oceans, it still proves to be one incredibly engaging roller coaster ride as we uncover the criminal motive that eventually led to the madness. The Odaeyang mass suicide still haunts the community in South Korea to this day.
Out of the four remaining episodes, two are dedicated to the story of Kim Ki Soon and her Baby Garden Commune. Starting off with good intentions, it soon devolves into a nightmarish hellscape, especially for the children. One of the most shocking stories is of a seven-year-old child being beaten and starved to death at the hands of Kim and her organisation Aga Dongsan. The episode “The Baby Garden of Death” will leave you in tears as witnesses and law enforcement agents recount the heart-breaking details.
Concluding the docuseries is a two-parter of Pastor Jaerock Lee of the Manmin Central Church. Much like Jeong, the story of his church is one rife with sexual abuse with the pastor himself being responsible of raping at least eight members of his congregation. All this while selling books and being invited across the world for pentecostal rallies and conventions. While his story lacks some of the more explosive details of Jeong’s, the docuseries still manages to end on a strong, sobering note.
In terms of content alone, “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” warrants a watch. Bolstered by primary sources of photographs, TV interviews and recordings is a line of credible witnesses and relevant authorities speaking on each of the monstrous ministers within the docuseries. So many times, documentaries like “Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich” will touch on an intriguing angle but never dive any deeper into it because there isn’t a lot of footage worth discussing. In this docuseries, though, no stone is left unturned as it lays out an effective timeline of the events with the perspectives of both victims and perpetrators being peppered in.
There are dramatised scenes in the docuseries to fill the visual gap of the interview segments but honestly, we don’t mind at all. They’re incredibly well done and they convey the tone of the situation perfectly without coming off as hammy or exaggerated. We supposed that some of the K-drama glamour was injected into these scenes. The only minor gripe we have is the way the docuseries is structured as a sort of anthology series with at least four cult leaders sharing the spotlight.
In terms of narrative cohesion, there isn’t a lot of commentary on how one religious lunatic leads into the next. It also would have been interesting to see how the wider Korean Christian community feels about the scandals and abuses taking place within these churches. Or perhaps a brief history crash course on how Christianity became such a force in South Korea. Still, in light of all that it gets right, it’s very easy to look past it.
Netflix’s “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” shines bright on its grim and controversial subject matter with both reverential clarity and engaging intrigue. While the entire docuseries lacks a particular narrative thread linking these four prophets of doom together, the pacing is impeccable and the level of detail afforded in the entire project is as ambitious as it is haunting. Members of faith communities, and not, will find a frightening window into the world of organised religion that cannot be turned away.
P/s: Be warned that those sensitive to child abuse and sexual exploitation may find it a bit much at times.
For those interested, you can now catch “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” on Netflix today!
Netflix's "In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal"
Netflix's "In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal" shines bright on its grim and controversial subject matter with both reverential clarity and engaging intrigue. While the entire docuseries lacks a particular narrative thread linking these four prophets of doom together, the pacing is impeccable and the level of detail afforded in the entire project is as ambitious as it is haunting. Members of faith communities, and not, will find a frightening window into the world of organised religion that cannot be turned away.
Netflix's "In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal"