Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea or simply Evangelical Baptist Church (Hangul: 기독교복음침례회; officially Korean Evangelical Baptist Church) is a South Korean new religious movement founded in 1962 by Yoo Byung-eun with his father-in-law, Pastor Kwon Shin-chan (권신찬; 1923–96). Before a name change in 1981 its name was Korean Evangelical Layman's Church. In South Korea it is commonly known as Guwonpa, meaning Salvation Sect, from the Korean term guwon (구원) meaning "salvation".
Media reports on numbers of followers vary from 10,000 to as much as 200,000 members worldwide with many sources saying the church is believed to have 20,000 followers. The church has alluded to have 100,000 followers.
Church doctrines teach that those who were once saved by God are completely detached from the sins they will ever commit in the future and guaranteed a path to heaven. Unlike other Christian organizations, the group is alleged to focus little on repentance ― a reason why it has been described as a cult. The church was held to be a cult by the conservative Christian denomination, the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches, in 1992. Evangelical Baptist Church is unrelated to the Korea Baptist Convention.
In 1987 South Korean police were investigating accusations against a 48-year-old woman, Park Soon-ja, saying that she had swindled ₩8.9 billion (US$8.7 million) from about 220 people. Her company Odaeyang Trading Co. was a firm that fronted for a religious sect led by Park, which was a splinter group from Yoo Byung-eun's Evangelical Baptist Church. On 29 August, thirty-two members of the sect who believed in doomsday, including Park Soon-ja and her three children, were found dead, bound and gagged. The case became known as the Odaeyang mass suicide. Police assumed the event was a murder–suicide pact, and the prosecution initially suspected that Yoo Byung-eun was linked to the case; but he was never charged, and the police closed the case as a mass suicide. When the case was re-opened in 1991, investigation into Odaeyang Trading Co. revealed a money trail to the company Semo Corp. run by Yoo, he was arrested and, in 1992, convicted of "habitual fraud under the mask of religion" for his role in colluding with one of his employees to collect donations from church members in the amount of ₩1.2 billion (US$1.15 million) and invest them in his businesses. He served a 4-year prison term. In November 2014, report says Incheon District Prosecutor's Office confirm in May there was no connection between Evangelical Baptist Church and Odaeyang incident.
The ferry Sewol capsized and sank on 16 April 2014, resulting in 304 people dead or missing, the second worst ferry disaster in South Korean history. Sewol was operated by the company Chonghaejin Marine, for which Yoo Byung-eun was former chairman. Based on evidence collected during investigation into the sinking of the Sewol, prosecutors concluded that Yoo was the one who directed operation and execution of business in Chonghaejin Marine. Yoo is the head of the family who partially own Chonghaejin Marine, and is believed to exercise influence through a web of company cross-shareholdings.
Yoo Byung-eun is known to mainly reside in a rural church compound called "Geumsuwon" (금수원) located east of Anseong in the Gyeonggi Province some 80 kilometres (50 mi) south of Seoul. Yoo has a photography workshop there, and according to his publicist Michael Ham, managing director of Ahae Press and co-director of Evangelical Media Group, Yoo for four years beginning in 2009 spend every single day focusing on his photography work, allegedly taking about 2.7 million photographs, all through one window. Members of the sect run the 760,000 square metres (8,200,000 sq ft) compound Geumsuwon as a commune where they grow organic produce and run a freshwater fish farm.
On 23 April, investigators of the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office raided the head office of Chonghaejin Marine, and some 20 offices of its affiliates, as well as the office of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Yongsan, central Seoul. Prosecutors suspected that funds from members of the religious group had been used in business operations of Chonghaejin Marine and Yoo Byung-eun. The prosecution found more than 100 bogus companies, many of them set up and operated by followers of a Yoo's religious group, had paid Yoo and his two sons at least ₩100 billion (~US$97.1 million) for their "consulting services," and had purchased photos taken by Yoo.
On 24 April, a financier of the Evangelical Baptist Church was summoned for questioning to trace deals between the sect and companies run by Yoo and his two sons. Transcripts of land registers showed that four days later on 28 and 29 April, Yoo and his family signed over some 24 properties worth around ₩27 billion (~US$26 million) to the Evangelical Baptist Church.
On 28 April 600 followers of the Evangelical Baptist Church staged a protest rally in front of the headquarters of the Korea Broadcasting System in Yeouido, Seoul against media coverage of, and the investigation into the group's links to the operator of the ferry Sewol, denying suspicions that the Evangelical Baptist Church had cross-border transactions with affiliates of the ferry operator.
Prosecutors warned on 24 May, that anyone who helps Yoo in hiding faces up to three years in prison. Four members of Yoo's religious group were arrested 25 May for assisting Yoo to escape detection by the police. On 26 May, Yoo's religious group, in an apparent move to confuse investigators, said that Yoo might have returned early in the morning to Geumsuwon. A spokesperson for the sect later announced that Yoo had not returned, further saying, "We hope Yoo doesn't get arrested. A 100,000 followers will protect Yoo. Even if the entire congregation of 100,000 believers is arrested, we won't hand him over." Lee Jae-ok, another member of Yoo's religious group, chairman of Yoo's foundation Hemato-Centric Life Foundation, and one of Yoo's close aides, was arrested on 26 May on charges of planning Yoo's life as a fugitive and helping him evade detection for weeks.