Michelle Gebo, ‘21, was walking down to E.W. Fairchild-Martindale Library one evening when a woman stopped her near Packer Avenue.
“Do you have a minute to talk about how God is our mother?” the woman asked.
Gebo didn’t want to be rude.
“Okay. I’ll talk to them,” she thought.
Gebo said it had slipped her mind that she’d seen a message a few weeks before that warned students to “watch out” for solicitors on campus.
Several students have experienced—and some have reported to LUPD—being solicited for information by individuals sharing material about “God the Mother.”
“God the Mother” is the female image of God, as recognized by the World Mission Society Church of God, a Christian non-denominational church.
According to its website, the World Mission Society Church of God has registered members in 175 countries. The church believes in Elohim God—God the Father and God the Mother.
The religious movement began in South Korea when Ahn Sahng-hong, Christ Ahnsahnghong, founded the church in 1964.
The church made news when former member Michele Colon told People Magazine the World Mission Society Church of God was actually a cult.
The National Council of Churches in Korea condemned the World Mission Society Church of God as heretical.
More recently, students have seen posts shared on social media warning them of the church’s presence on college campuses.
Brett DeWeese, ‘21, had seen a warning post on Instagram over the summer, which was shared by a friend who attends Syracuse University.
When some of her Lehigh track and field teammates told her they talked to a “weird person” who mentioned “God the Mother” this fall, she remembered the social media post.
Another one of DeWeese’s teammates said she had talked to a woman sharing “God the Mother” information over the summer.
“(My teammate) said the woman was totally harmless,” DeWeese said. “She just really wanted my teammate to give her her number or go to a meeting to talk more about it, but she said she talked to her, and nothing came of it.”
LUPD Chief Jason Schiffer said his records show three reports of possible related incidents at Lehigh. For one of the instances, however, his department does not have enough information to directly connect the World Mission Society Church of God to the situation.
He said though there were three official reports, LUPD could have received more calls or tips, but the amount of detail given determines whether the instance culminates in a police report.
The three reported instances occurred during September and October this year.
Schiffer said Lehigh is a private property and does not allow solicitation from outside groups. An outside group can fill out the paperwork to register to hold an event on campus, for example, but it has to go through the proper channels.
“So what we tell anyone who is trying to solicit anything—if they’re trying to sell things to our students or solicit information or anything like that—(is) … they can do that stuff on the sidewalk off campus, but not here on our campus,” he said.
Schiffer said it is legal for individuals or organizations to stand on a public sidewalk off campus and talk to people as they pass by. If the behavior starts to cross into harassment, however, the situation could rise into criminal behavior.
Schiffer said it is relatively rare to have outside solicitation on campus.
Gebo said the “God the Mother” solicitor advised her to give her time to talk to others.
“She was saying, ‘If you ever run into people, you should give them 10 or 15 minutes of your time to talk to them,’” she said.
Gebo said the woman asked if she wanted to know more, and though Gebo said no, she assumes the woman would have asked her for her information if she had been interested.
Schiffer said if students question the legitimacy of an individual or group on Lehigh’s campus, they should call LUPD so the officers can take appropriate action. He said students should ask individuals if the organization they represent is authorized and connected to the university.
He said it is safer to ask an individual or organization for its contact information instead of giving out your own.
“Now, you can check up on them without giving your personal identifiable information away,” Schiffer said.