Down From the Mountain

A Taiwanese sect takes on the government





Mountains loom large in the lore of Christianity, Judaism and Islam--so why should Taiwan’s New Testament Church (NTC) be any different? Twenty years ago members of the Protestant fundamentalist sect began flocking to a promised land south of Taipei that they dubbed Mount Zion. A few years ago, however, government officials began evicting them, claiming that the summit was a “restricted zone.” Tensions reached a peak of sorts last December, when a contingent of NTC members from Malaysia arrived at the Taipei airport. What happened next is still in dispute. The members contend that they were barred from entering the country and then beaten by police, a charge the authorities deny. Whatever the case, twenty-seven local church members were arrested and another five were hospitalized--and the government discovered just how quickly a molehill of a dispute can assume mountainous proportions.

In fact, the bizarre controversy over the NTC does pose some potentially serious problems for the Taipei regime. For years Christian fundamentalists in the United States have been among the most loyal supporters of the Nationalist government. Officials in Taipei fear that even a hint of religious persecution could strain those important ties. Given the sensitivity of the case, the government has done everything possible to quash any local mention of the NTC. Editors of local newspapers say that officials in the department of cultural affairs told them not to use any wire-service stories on the airport confrontation.

By most standards, the practices of the NTC certainly qualify as unusual. The church was founded by a movie actress in Hong Kong named Kong Duen Yee who claimed to have been visited by Jesus and commanded to form a new ministry. Thanks to Kong’s charisma and indefatigable proselytizing, the church took root in many Asian countries; Taiwan emerged as the strongest branch, with more than 10,000 members. During services members sometimes begin to speak in an unintelligible tongue that, church leaders maintain, only God can understand.

Legal loopholes: It is an open question whether the Taiwan authorities really have it in for the NTC. The leaders of the church say all they want is to return to Mount Zion, something the government insists is out of the question. Many mountains in Taiwan are in fact designated as “restricted zones,” closed to settlement for security and other reasons. Members of the NTC contend that various loopholes in the law seem to grant them squatters’ rights. Prosecutors have now shelved the court case against the 27 members arrested at the airport, and the government seems to be hoping that the controversy will simply blow over. That is unlikely. Church leaders have vowed to fight for the right to live on Mount Zion--despite their realization that it will be an uphill struggle.

© 2013 Paul J. Mooney