Cho Yong-gi: Founder of scandal-hit South Korean mega-church dies

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Cho Yong-gi’s family was hit by multiple scandals in the last decade, resulting in his conviction in 2017 for breach of trust and causing financial losses (AP)
Cho Yong-gi’s family was hit by multiple scandals in the last decade, resulting in his conviction in 2017 for breach of trust and causing financial losses (AP)

Reverend Cho Yong-gi, who founded the biggest South Korean church and a string of popular megachurches, died on Tuesday at the age of 85 in Seoul.

The pastor, better known as David Yonggi Cho or Paul Yonggi Cho abroad, died at a Seoul hospital where had been admitted in July 2020 after he collapsed due to cerebral hemorrhage, the church said in a statement.

Cho is survived by three sons. The church will start receiving mourners from Wednesday ahead of the funeral scheduled for Saturday, it said in the statement.

Lauding Cho’s contribution, the church said: “He conveyed the gospel of hope to the Korean people who fell into despair after the Korean War.

“He was instrumental in growing the Korean church, particularly developing Yoido Full Gospel Church as the world’s largest church,” the statement added.

Known for his significant contributions to the Korean church community, Cho’s achievement of founding Seoul’s Yoido Full Gospel Church was marred by corruption and scandals in the last seven years.

Born in 1936, Cho started his church with five worshipers in 1958 in the South Korean capital Seoul, which was grappling from the fallout of the 1950-53 Korean war.

Cho championed the growth of the church community in a largely Confucian country and building his following, as a result of which his church community expanded exponentially.

He went on to build the world’s largest church congregation, which is now recognised as the largest Protestant church in South Korea.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the church recorded more than 700,000 members in 1993, a historic achievement attributed to the pastor. Church officials, however, said membership has gone down to 600,000 since then and cannot confirm if it is still the largest church globally.

The church has 400 pastors in South Korea and 500 missionaries abroad.

Cho’s family was hit by multiple scandals in the last decade, resulting in his conviction in 2017 for breach of trust and causing financial losses. The pastor avoided jail, but received a suspended prison term.

Cho and his family also faced accusations of dominating key roles and posts at the church and related organisations. In 2013, one of Cho’s sons was accused in a paternity suit by a female politician.

Additional reporting by agencies

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