CHEN TAO TIMELINE
1955 Hon-ming Chen was born in Pei-pu, Hsin-chu County, Taiwan.
1993 Chen Tao was founded in Taiwan (under the name The Soul Light Resurgence Association).
1995 Chen and about 25 of his followers emigrated from Taiwan to San Dimas, California.
1996 Chen wrote and privately published The Practical Evidence and Study of the World of God and Buddha.
1997 (March) Chen Tao headquarters moved from San Dimas, CA to Garland, Texas.
1997 Chen wrote and privately published God’s Descending in Clouds (Flying Saucers) on Earth to Save People.
1998 (March 25) Chen predicted God would be seen on Channel 18 across North America.
1998 (March 31) Chen predicted God will descend in human form at the Garland, TX headquarters.
1998 (April) Chen and a few followers travel to Lockport, NY before settling in Olcott, New York.
1999 Chen wrote and privately published The Appearing of God and Descending of the Kingdom of God –Saving Human Beings by Means of God’s Space Aircrafts.
1999 Chen Tao opened a second branch in Brooklyn, New York City.
2002 Schism occurred leading to the exile of Chen and the rebirth of Chen Tao into the Great True Way.
Born in Pei-pu, Hsin-Chu County, Taiwan on April 22, 1955, Hon-Ming Chen lost both his mother and father at an early age. Despite the loss of his parents, Chen completed grade school and went on to receive his Bachelor’s in Political Science and his Master’s in Social Science. By the age of 28, Chen worked as an associate professor for Chai-Nan Junior College of Pharmacy teaching social science from 1983 until 1993.
In 1992, Chen received a revelation from God urging him to pursue the religious life although he had considered himself to be an atheist previously (Covert 1997). After studying the Sutras, the Bible, and the Tao-Te Ching, Chen turned to the new age movement. He joined a UFO religious group in 1992 only to leave with a few other members who agreed with Chen’s claims of corrupt leadership and his disappointment with the large fees associated with the group. Chen and fellow student Tao-hung Ma then formed the Soul Light Resurgence Association (SLRA) in Taiwan (Prather 1999).
Chen wrote and privately published his first book, The Practical Evidence and Study of the World of God and Buddha in 1996. In this text Chen spoke of the “Jesus of the West” whom he claimed lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Chen envisioned the “Jesus of the West’ would be six feet tall, between 27 and 30 years old, and resemble Abraham Lincoln. In an attempt to find the Canadian Christ, the group placed a personal ad in Vancouver Sun and The Province (Rogers 1998).
Believing that North America was the “Pureland of God,” Chen and 25 members of SLRA moved to San Dimas, near Las Angeles, CA in early 1997. While in San Dimas, Chen and his followers established God’s Salvation Church (Prather 1999). In March, 1997, Chen announced that the headquarters for God’s Salvation Church would relocate from San Dimas to Garland (near Houston), Texas. Chosen because Garland sounded like “Godland” (Baker 1998), a home was purchased at 3513 Ridgedale Drive. After becoming the new center for the church, followers living in San Dimas and Taiwan moved to Texas between March, 1997 and December, 1997.
While in Garland, Chen wrote and privately published God’s Descending on Clouds (Flying Saucers) to Save People. In this text, Chen prophesied God would announce his descent into the physical world by appearing on television airwaves of Channel 18 across North America at 12:01 a.m. on March 25, 1998. Furthermore, Chen prophesied that six days later, March 31, 1998, at 10:00 a.m. God would descend in human form at the Garland headquarters (Chen 1997: 74-78). This human incarnation of God would have all the physical features of Chen, but would be able to speak all languages, walk through walls, and replicate himself as many times as necessary to greet everyone (Verhoveck 1998). God’sDescending on Clouds (Flying Saucers) to Save People prophesied other significant world events to occur in both 1998 and 1999. The additional prophesies became components of the group’s belief system.
On April 1, 1998 Chen announced that he and his followers would travel to the Great Lakes area to prepare for the coming tribulation in 1999 and that by May 10 all of his followers would be gone from Garland. On the following day Chen and nine of his followers flew to Buffalo, NY and rented a minivan before travelling to Lockport, NY. Chen had had a prophetic vision in which he had seen the numbers 17 and 78. From Lockport the group travelled to Olcott, a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario (Stephens 1998), which is located at the junction of highways 17 and 78.
In May, 1998 the majority of members did leave Garland, TX on schedule. Around half of the members had visa problems and returned to Taiwan; the remaining members moved to upstate New York. While in Olcott, Chen wrote and privately published another book entitled The Appearing of God and Descending of the Kingdom of God –Saving Human Beings by Means of God’s Space Aircrafts in 1999.
A second branch of the group was opened in Brooklyn, New York City in 1999 which served as a counseling center for the surrounding community. Gathering in Central Park, Chen and his followers offered salvation to people with AIDS and cancer, having deemed the source of the diseases to be spiritual rather than physical (Wojcik 2004). By this time membership of the group had dropped to approximately thirty members.
A schism occurred within the group in 2002, and Chen was exiled from the group due to conflict between Chen and other “high-ranking members.” The schism led to a rebirth and restructuring of the group as the “ Grand True Way” (Cook 2005). According to Cook, the Grand True Way is still located in Lockport, NY and has shifted its religious ideology toward a more “ conventional Chinese Buddhist organization” (personal communication, October 10, 2011). After this time the fate of the Brooklyn office and Chen personally were unknown to those studying the group (Cook, personal communication, October 10, 2011).
The Chen Tao belief structure is informed by Buddhism, Taoism, UFOlogy, and Taiwanese folk religions (Baker 1998). Borrowing from Christian theology, Chen Tao also included an apocalyptic world view. According to Chen Tao, God is one in the same with the “magnetic field of Void (heaven)” and divides his spiritual light energy into separate beings, creating the origins of all life (Chen 1997:4). Transmigration, or reincarnation, gives each living being the chance to evolve into a higher life form, depending on the purity of his or her “main soul light”.
Chen Tao teaches that each living being has three souls, with the “main light soul” operating as the primary soul in conjunction with “temporal conscious soul” and the “physical soul.” The main soul light, which is the record keeper for a being’s life, is measured by its “spiritual light energy” (Chen 1997:11, 17, 19). Void is listed as having a spiritual light energy of twelve million degrees (Chen 1997:27), while divine beings (ex. Bodhisattvas and angels) have a spiritual light energy of nine million degrees. According to Chen, religious figures such as Jesus Christ and Ju-lai Buddha have a spiritual light energy commensurate with Void. Purity of the “main light soul” is obtained by following the basic principles of transmigration.
The three souls of living beings separate at death. A being with a pure main soul light, registering at nine million degrees and above, will unite its spiritual energy with the Void and consequently with God (Chen 1997:8, 18, 54). If the main soul light is not pure, the other two souls will follow the reincarnated being until the being has atoned for the sins that have accrued through previous lifetimes. This process is described as “causal retribution” and will continue indefinitely until karma is erased, leaving a pure “main soul light” (Chen 1997:62-64).
Besides the accumulation of karma, two other types of entities, “outside souls” and “devils,” impede the spiritual evolution or reincarnation of beings. Outside souls are described as malevolent, temporal, conscious and physical souls who became lost upon death of the being to which they were attached. Outside souls sustain themselves by feeding off the spiritual light energy of human beings, in addition to feeding on the spiritual air of mountains and rivers (Chen 1997:35-39).
“Devils” seek to possess beings so that they may increase the amount of unrest, evil, and violence in the world. “Heavenly devil kings” or “King Satans” are fallen angels who are described as greedy and corrupt (Chen 1997:62-64, 68). According to Chen, 47 percent of the population in Africa and Asia are possessed by King Satans (1997:70). King Satans also have been responsible for all the past great tribulations that have occurred in humankind’s existence (Chen 1997:68).
In Chen Tao doctrine, existence history has witnessed over 888,800,000 tribulations and five great tribulations. According to Chen, the first great tribulation occurred “at a place called Armageddon in the Hebrew tongue” ten million years ago. This first great tribulation was waged by dinosaurs; the remaining great tribulations resulted in battles in the area of modern day Israel. During each tribulation, beings living in the Americas were rescued by God in a flying saucer (Chen 1997:132-33).
The God of Chen Tao “includes all beings; He has the inexhaustible, endless energy, and His energy is the original source of all existence and permeates everything . . . He is omnipresent, He is both in form and non-form” (Chen 1997:3). Chen Tao’s prophet and leader Chen is viewed as one of the original divine creatures fractured from God’s spiritual light energy into the being Ju-lai Buddha. Ju-lai Buddha and several other Bodhisattvas came from Void to populate the earth (Chen 1997:8-9).
In God’s Descending in Clouds (Flying Saucers) on Earth to Save People Chen made numerous predictions of events during the 1990s. For example, Chen predicted that China would attack Taiwan either during February, 1999 or on April 22, 1999 (Chen 1997: 87,115). The February attack included a vision of simultaneous “war of unification” between North and South Korea. The April 22 attack would include a “thousand million of human-devils” who would initiate a mass slaughter in Chen Tao’s “Holy Land” of Pei-pu, Taiwan (Chen 1997:80). A second prediction was that a “Noah’s Ark” flood of 40 days would devastate Eastern Asia in June and July, 1999, resulting in food shortage that would lead Asians to commit cannibalism (Chen 1997:132-33, 87). Following the flood and fueled by widespread destruction throughout East Asia, China and Japan would join forces to invade Australia and New Zealand, eventually conquering Southeast Asia (Chen 1997:115-119). European and African nations would join the war through territorial alliances, and all the nations would finally destroy each other at Armageddon (Chen 1997:115-119), leaving only 20 percent of the world’s population alive after this final tribulation (Baker 1998).
Chen Tao began in Taiwan as the Soul Light Resurgence Association but has used various other names through its history. Other names used by the group have included God Saves the Earth Flying Saucer Foundation, was used to describe Chen Tao prior to the failure of the two publicized prophecies, and within its own literature, the God and Buddha Salvation Foundation and The Chinese Association of Light of Soul. Once the central group moved to North America, it became the God’s Salvation Church, while still connected to followers in Taiwan.
The Soul Light Resurgence was founded under the co-leadership of Chen and Tao-hung Ma. Chen and Ma parted ways prior to Chen and his group’s emigration to the United States. Chen remained the central leader of the movement from the inception of the God’s Salvation Church until the schism within Chen Tao in 2002. Movement governance also included “high ranking” members and Richard Liu, Chen’s former chief translator, who at one point became a co-leader for the movement. After the schism in 2002, Richard Liu became the new central leader of the Grand True Way.
In both Chen Tao and the Great True way, the group organized itself geographically with members occupying multiple homes within a neighborhood or multiple apartments within the same building. Under Chen Tao, the leader’s (Chen) home served as the group’s church and religious center. Through its history Chen Tao’s membership ranged between 30 and 150. The current membership of the Grand True Way is unknown but believed to be small.
Most of the controversy surrounding Chen Tao involved sensationalized media coverage in response to the 1998 prophecies. The media, police, and public officials were immediately concerned with Chen’s March 25, 1998 and March 31, 1998 prophesies. Those prophecies were announced in the aftermath of the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide, which had occurred on March 28, 1997. Observers speculated the possibility of a mass suicide in the Chen Tao community should Chen’s prophecies go unfilled. A flurry of media activity followed the story (Bromley 1999).
In response to the media attention Chen and Richard Liu held a press conference on March 12, 1999. Issues addressed included any connections between Chen Tao and Heaven’s Gate (including possible suicide), details of Chen’s prophecies, and allegations of questionable behavior within the group (Bromley 1999). Chen denied any connection to Heaven’s Gate and any intention of mass suicide; he also allowed reporters to inspect the religious shrines and iconography inside the church (Chen’s home) in Garland (Glines and Punzet 1999).
Despite the press conference, extensive media coverage continued, and city officials in Garland planned for extensive crowd control. On Tuesday, March 24, group members prepared for God’s arrival by baptism-like rituals that included some of the male members shaving their heads (Prather 1999). However, at 12:00am on March 25 th, channel 18 showed nothing more than static (Wright and Greil 2011). Chen emerged from his home in Garland at 12:25am to reassure onlookers and media personnel who still believed in the possibility of a mass suicide. Addressing the reporters, Chen announced his intent to still lead his church. One reporter addressed the issue of the false prophecy; Chen replied that he had “never referred to…[himself] as a prophet” (Prather 1999). Additionally, Chen stated “I would highly recommend anybody not believe what I said anymore” (Bachman 1998).
Media attention continued in anticipation of the March 31 st prophecy. In an attempt to prove the transformation of himself into God, Chen stared at the sun directly for a few moments, later explaining to reporters that a mortal would have been blinded by the activity. Media officials noted that Chen appeared to be adversely affected by the demonstration as he blinked copiously afterwards. At this point Chen blamed the media coverage for disrupting the group and incorrectly conveying his religious messages. Chen then said that he would allow anyone to crucify or stone him to death for the next ten minutes in an attempt to reclaim his religious credibility (Glines and Punzet 1990). According to Prather, Chen made similar statements on other occasions, offering to accept the death penalty in the event of a failed prophecy (1999). Media coverage of Chen Tao dropped dramatically after the second failed prophecy.
Bachman, Justin. 1988. “Predicted TV Showing by God Draws a Crowd.” Fort Worth Star Telegraph, March 25, A3.
Baker, Jason. 1998. “God’s Salvation Church.” Accessed from http://www.watchman.org/cults/godsalvationchurch.htm on February 3, 2005.
Bromley, G. David. 1999. “News on Chen Tao.” Accessed from http:// www.people.vcu.edu/~dbromley/god’ssalvationchurchLink.htm on February 3, 2005.
Chen. 1997. God’s Descending in Clouds (Flying Saucers) on Earth to Save People. Garland, TX: Privately published.
Chen. 1996. The Practical Evidence and Study of the World of God and Buddha. Garland, TX: Privately published.
Cook, J. Ryan. 2005. “Chen Tao.” December 2010. Accessed from http://www.anthroufo.info/un-chen.html on September 28, 2011.
Cook, J. Ryan. 2003. “Chen Tao.” Pp. 161-62 in The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions, edited by James R. Lewis. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Cook, J. Ryan. 2002. “Chen Tao.” Pp. 68-70 in UFO’s and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth, edited by James R. Lewis. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Covert, James. 1997. “Group believes God to appear here, save the world March 31.” Garland News, December 25.
Cowan, E. Douglas. 2003. “Confronting the Failed Failure: Y2K and Evangelical Eschatology in Light of the Passed Millennium.” Nova Religio: The Journal of New and Emergent Religions 7(2): 71-85.
Geier, Thomas. 1998. “Is there life after death for Heaven’s Gate? a year after mass suicides, the cult carries on.” US. News & World Report, March 30, 32.
Glines, Lina and Bernard Punzet. 1999. “Chen Tao”; Accessed from http://myweb.lmu.edu/fjust/Students/ChenTao/main.html on February 2, 2005.
Hylton, Hilary and Stephanie Low. 1998. “Lone Star Loonies. (Taiwanese UFO cult in Texas).” Time International, March 30, 41.
Perkins, Rodney and Forrest Jackson. 1998. “Spirit in the Sky: The Transmigration of Dr. Chen.” Fortean Times, April, 109.
Prather, Houston Charles. 1999. “God’s Salvation Church: Past, Present and Future.” Marburg Journal of Religion 4 (1). Accessed from http://www.unimarburg.de/religionswissenschaft/journal/mjr/prather.html on February 5, 2005.
Rogers . D. David. 1998. “TrueWay/God’s Salvation Church Defined.” Trancenet.org News, March 26. Accessed from http:// www.trancenet.org/groups/gsc/index.shtml on February 1, 2005.
Ross, Rick. 1998. “Chen Tao/God’s Salvation Church.” Accessed from http://www.rickross.com/groups/chen-tao.html on February 1, 2005.
Shaeffer, Robert. 1998. “Apocalypse foiled again; UFOlogists shoot for the moon. (Chen Tao cult’s prediction; Citizens against UFP Secrecy).” Skeptical Inquirer, September-October, 51.
Stephens, Paul. 1998. “Is God Coming to Olcott?” Lockport Journal, April 2
Verhovek, Howe Sam. 1998. “UFO cult waits for God in Texas town.” New York Times, March 5.
“Waiting for God. Oh. (Members of Taiwanese church move to Garland, Texas to witness the appearance of God).” 1998. The Economist (US), April 4, p. 29.
Wojcik, Daniel. 2004. “Chen Tao (God’s Salvation Church).” Pp. 408, 415 in New Religions: A Guide, edited by Christopher Partridge. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wright, Stuart A. and Arthur L. Greil. 2011. “Failed Prophecy and Group Demise: The Case of Chen Tao.” Pp. 153-72 in How Prophecy Lives, edited by Diana Tumminia and William Swatos. London: Brill.
22 October 2011