UFO Cults: Chen Tao
Chen Tao (or ''True Way'') was a UFO religion that originated in Taiwan. It was founded by Hon-Ming Chen (born in 1955), who first associated it with UFO's and later had the group misrepresented as a New Age UFO cult. Chen was a former professor who claimed to be an atheist until he joined a religious cultivation group that dated back for two generations to the original female founder, Teacher Yu-Hsia Chen. But he broke with the group in 1993 and created, with another fellow-cultivator, Tao-hung Ma, their own groups. It was later, when he broke with Ma and decided to move to the US, that new elements, such as the pseudo-scientific information of cosmology and flying saucers as well as Christian motifs of the prophecy of the end and the great tribulation, were introduced to the group.
Chen developed his cult, published texts and works on his doctrine, and according to some sources, convinced his followers to give him money to gain passage aboard the spaceships -disguised as clouds - that would land on earth in 1999 and take them away. He also persuaded these followers to move to San Dimas, California to await God's second coming. They migrated in 1995. He then became convinced that Garland, Texas would be the place where God would come, for to his ears ''Garland'' sounded like ''Godland.'' He and his followers then moved to Texas in 1997. In Taiwan, the group was officially registered as The Chinese Soul Light Research Association. When the group moved to the United States from Asia, it was registered in the US as God's Salvation Church.
This New Religious Movement was a mix of Buddhism, Taoism and UFOlogy. Chen laid out a complex theology based on ideas of spiritual energy which was a variation of Chinese ch'i-kung thought, modifying traditional Chinese popular ideas in accordance with his reading of Western physics and Asian and Western ideas of demonology. It emphasized transmigration of souls (with three souls per person) and placed great emphasis on spiritual energy. Adherents also believed in ''outside souls'', who basically acted as bad influences, or even as demons, in the human world.
Preaching that much of the world is dominated by these evil spirits, he integrated Christian millennialist and eschatological ideas into his theology, calling himself a prophet who was able to chart the course of the coming conflagration and the road to individual salvation. Chen believed that Earth went through five tribulations going back to the age of the dinosaurs. Each of these tribulations was survived by beings living in North America who were rescued by God in a flying saucer. He believed the solar system is 4.5 trillion years old, or roughly 300 times the age science gives for the Universe. He also taught that the solar system was created by a nuclear war.
The group is best known for a highly publicized, and failed millennial prophecy. Shortly after moving to Garland in 1997, Chen predicted that at 12:01 A.M. on March 31, 1998, God would be seen on a single television channel across North America. Whether or not the person had cable service was irrelevant to God's appearance on that channel, as he would be formally announcing his Second Coming.
At the time the group had roughly 160 members, 40 of which were children. Members purchased more than 20 homes in a upper-middle-class south Garland neighborhood. Like their neighbors, these followers were white-collar professionals, some of whom were reportedly wealthy. ''They dressed in white, wore cowboy hats and drove luxury cars,'' according to The Dallas Morning News. They reportedly believed that two young boys in their group were the reincarnations of Jesus and Buddha. They told reporters they had come to Garland to watch ''God come to Earth and take human form at 10 A.M. on March 31, 1998, at the home of Mr. Chen, a former college professor.'' The Garland Police Department, understanding the potential gravity of the situation, coordinated resources, including Southern Methodist University religious studies professor Lonnie Kliever, and were on stand-by when the international media began arriving in what had previously been a upper-middle-class section of the Dallas suburb.
''Its presence unsettled many Garland residents,'' wrote Adam Szubin in a law enforcement case study. ''They did not understand the group's different style of dress and behavior, and many feared violence.'' Throughout the group's stay, the police department maintained contact with community members and informed them of investigation developments and contingency plans for the community's ''well-being.'' When the predicted appearance did not occur, the group became confused. ''The Chen Tao leader announced that he obviously had misunderstood God's plans, and members quietly returned to their homes,'' wrote Szubin. ''Because we did not see God's message on television tonight, my predictions of March 31 can be considered nonsense,'' Chen stated. He offered to be stoned or crucified for the event, but no one took him up on this offer. He had earlier made a false prediction of finding a ''Jesus of the West,'' who would look like Abraham Lincoln.
Unlike other millennial religious groups, Chen Tao seems to have effectively fallen apart after its leader's prophecies wen unfulfilled. Immediately after the failed prediction, some of the members had to return to Taiwan due to visa problems. In total, roughly two-thirds of the members abandoned the group. Later, the remaining members moved to Lockport, New York. They continued to wear cowboy hats but began stating that a war between China and Taiwan would lead to a nuclear holocaust that would result in much death, but also God's arrival in a ''God plane'' to save the members. They originally stated that this would occur in 1999, but later revised the date. Later the group moved to Brooklyn, New York, where a ''counseling center'' was organized. Services promising to heal from AIDS and cancer were offered daily in New York's Central Park, now recognized as God's new main base. Whether Chen Tao still exists is uncertain. The group entered a sharp decline after the failed prophecies, and virtually nothing was heard of it after 2001. The current whereabouts of Hon-Ming Chen are unkown. Preston Miller's movie God's Land takes an imaginative look at these events.