Kyoungyoon, a member of the K-pop band DKZ, has admitted his affiliation to scandal-ridden cult JMS, but denied he attempted to spread the religious beliefs to his bandmates.
Local entertainment outlet Dispatch on Monday released an exclusive interview with Kyoungyoon and his parents, through which the K-pop singer broke his silence about his connection to Christian Gospel Mission, better known as Jesus Morning Star. The interview comes around a week after Kyoungyoon initially denied that he was aware his family was a part of JMS.
JMS has been at the center of shocking revelations in Netflix's latest documentary series, “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal," that alleged cult leader Jeong Myeong-seok raped women and sexually assaulted his followers.
Kyoungyoon's affiliation with the cult was exposed after his parents' cafe in North Gyeongsang Province was discovered among the list of businesses suspected of having ties to JMS.
In the interview, Kyoungyoon said he was born into a JMS family and had always been a part of the religious group for as long as he could remember.
"I didn't get the chance to choose my religion because my family believed in it (JMS)," the 23-year-old said.
At first, he tagged along with his mom on the weekends when she went to pray at her sister's house. Kyoungyoon's aunt is a JMS pastor, the DKZ member revealed in the interview.
"My aunt said JMS (Jeong) was the Lord's messenger. She described him as a great person who had read the bible 2,000 times," he said.
Kyoungyoon said he'd believed it was just a normal church until after he saw the Netflix docuseries.
"I recently watched 'In the Name of God' and saw the part where (Jeong) says 'I'm the Messiah.' I thought then that he's crazy, but before, I just couldn't see that," Kyoungyoon said.
Kyoungyoon claims he was brainwashed.
"He says 'I'm the Messiah' after rambling on (beguiling sermons) for two or three hours. So his followers would respond fervently when he says the phrase. ... It's a sort of gaslighting," he said.
"Although I didn't actually believe that he was the Messiah ... I was gradually brainwashed.'"
The DKZ member said he began singing in JMS. He took part in various cultural activities inside the religious circle and was part of a JMS vocal team for two years during middle and high school.
Most activities were held online through messenger app platforms and the team would gather in person once or twice a year, the singer said.
"We didn't hold any concerts. I think JMS took advantage of teenagers' interest (in singing) to evangelize or propagate. I wasn't suspicious back then and just thought they were teaching us music," he added.
Kyoungyoon debuted as a member of six-piece boy band DKZ in April 2019. He was born and raised in Yeongdeok of North Gyeongsang Province and moved to Seoul when he joined Dongyo Entertainment in July 2018 as a trainee.
It took time for Kyoungyoon to come forward. At first, he denied being aware of his family's connection to JMS. Dongyo Entertainment released a statement on Wednesday saying, "Kyoungyoon thought his parents were a part of a normal church until he came across the documentary and reports about the religious group."
"I was scared at first when the controversy first started. I made excuses for myself, thinking I didn't know. I tried to hide from the truth because I couldn't stand my faith being denied," he said.
It was the victims' testimonies that made him change his mind.
"I felt sorry for the victims," he said.
"I saw an online comment that said I should 'leave (DKZ) and go back to Jeong Myeong-seok.' I understand why people are saying this, but for now, I hope we could help them (the victims) escape (JMS)."
Kyoungyoon said he had never mentioned JMS to the people around him after his debut, let alone try to spread his faith to them. He said it was because he was bullied for believing in a pseudo-religion when he was a child.
"I swear I didn't (propagate). My closest people are my teammates and the fans, but even to them, I never brought up JMS once. If I did, I would have no right to stay in DKZ nor face my fans," he said.
"I told people I was a Christian if anyone asked about my religion. It's true that we also believe in God."
Kyoungyoon said he is no longer a part of the cult.
"I know it's late, but I'm leaving (JMS). I'm done. There's no more JMS," Kyoungyoon said.
Kyoungyoon's parents also vowed to cut ties with the church during the interview. According to the agency's statement last week, Kyoungyoon's parents closed their cafe, which was suspected of being linked to JMS, after the docuseries' allegations and reports about them emerged.
"Kyoungyoon had called us crying, saying, 'we've all been deceived.' I'm still confused to be honest, but one thing is certain, that no religion comes before our son. Our son is our priority and I would do anything for him," Kyoungyoon's mother said.
His father added, "We will never mention 'church' from now on or go close to one. Please believe us."
The mother denied in the interview accusations that they had tried to spread the religion to DKZ fans by playing religious songs in their cafe when they visited.
Despite the confession, Kyoungyoon faces harsh backlash from fans. On DKZ's official online fan community, fans have posted messages hitting out at the family for trying to deceive them with false statements, with some calling on Kyoungyoon to leave the group.