Unverified accusations against a religious organization in the Oxford area sparked viral social media rumors around the Ole Miss campus.
A religious group that originated in South Korea and consists of 20 members in Oxford has had numerous false accusations of recruiting students on campus into human trafficking.
The rumors aimed at the World Mission Society Church of God were fueled by social media posts going viral on Twitter and Facebook.
Jason Ahn, the pastor of the Southaven church, said the members have been receiving texts and calls leaving them with an overall feeling of embarrassment.
“I realize how falsehood can quickly spread and people actually believe that deception,” Ahn said. “I wish people can see the truth and receive salvation.”
The group’s pamphlets read, “Do all things testify about God the Mother?” and “Is God Male or Female?” Students said they have been approached by members of the church in the library and the Student Union.
Sophomore exercise science major Mackensie Faulk said she spoke to members of the church for a few minutes when they knocked on her door at The Connection apartment complex.
“They asked if I was religious, and I said yes, but they sort of looked at me like I had the wrong religion or something and kept trying to tell me about God the Mother,” Faulk said. “They invited me to Bible studies, and when I said I was busy, they insisted I take a pamphlet and she wrote a phone number on it.”
Both the Oxford and University police departments have investigated the rumors of criminal activity, and released separate statements Wednesday afternoon.
“We have investigated and determined that the church, World Mission Society Church of God, is a legitimate church looking to expand to our area,” the Oxford Police Department said.
According to the Freedom of Religion Act, it is legal to go door to door sharing information about one’s religion.
“We have received numerous calls and messages about a religious group going door to door, but nothing incriminating has been reported,” Oxford Police Chief Hildon Sessums said.
The 54-year-old religious group’s nearest church is located in Southaven. Ole Miss seniors Jake and Sheneria Miller have been members of the church for more than a year and were alarmed to see the viral posts.
Sheneria said her first thought was “How can we let everyone know it’s false?”
Jake said he was disappointed in how quick people were to jump to conclusions and discredit their religion.
“People are hearing it and not giving it any thought, not researching it themselves,” Jake said.
Oxford encountered a human trafficking incident last April. Two people were convicted of sex trafficking after transporting a victim from Atlanta to Mississippi for commercial sex purposes.
The recent human trafficking rumors involving World Mission Society Church of God appear to have been sparked by unfounded claims on social media.
David Newman, the president of International Justice Mission on campus, said even though the accusations are false, human trafficking remains an issue.
“However, incidents like the one we have just witnessed, despite the fact that they are false accusations, do shed light on the issue of human trafficking, from which Oxford is not completely immune,” Newman said. “It saddens me that a church would be held suspect of such horrific crimes when trying to simply expand their sphere.”
Katie McLeod, a senior psychology major, was approached by members of the church at the beginning of the semester.
“I thought it was odd being approached in Walmart, but being a religious person myself, I thought they were doing what they thought was best,” McLeod said.
However, McLeod said she understands why some people might easily believe such allegations.
“I think people jumped to that conclusion because it is a popular fear among young women,” McLeod said. “Hearing of a potential secret cult that lures members via Bible study invitations causes anyone to jump to conclusions, and it’s usually to the most extreme possibility.”
Similar rumors about church activity have spread rapidly on other college campuses, such as the University of Louisville, Vanderbilt and the University of Georgia, only to be confirmed as false by their local police forces.
This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.