As China executed a father-daughter duo of the banned religious cult, 'The Church Of Almighty God', on Monday for beating a woman to death when she spurned their bid to recruit her, the focus is back on the infamous group, which is run in China by a couple living secretly in the United States.
Six members of the group, including Zhang Lidong and his daughter Zhang Fan, beat and kicked a 37-year-old woman and even stamped on her head for refusing to give them her telephone number as they sought to recruit her to the group when she sat alone at a McDoanld's restaurant in China's Shandong province.
Lidong showed no remorse for his actions while in jail, calling the woman a "demon" who had to be "destroyed."
"I beat her with all my might and stamped on her too. She was a demon. We had to destroy her," he was quoted saying on television.
While the two were executed, the others were handed out long-prison terms
The 'Evil Cult'
The Church of Almighty God was banned by the Chinese government in 1995, which labelled it an "evil cult".
While the group is known for its anti-Communist Party agenda, its core belief is that Jesus resurrected as a Chinese woman, Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder, Zhao Weishan.
Weishan, a former physics teacher, is the only one believed to have direct contact with the god, also known as the Lightning Deng.
The two fled to the United States immediately after founding the cult, churning out religious material online, available through their website, though little is known about their whereabouts.
The website details a version of how the Chinese woman came to be 'God'.
'Christ was born in an ordinary family in the north. From childhood, she knew in her heart that there is God. She gradually grew up as an ordinary person does. In 1989 just when the Holy Spirit was working greatly in the house churches, Christ gave up her studies and formally entered the house church. At the time, Christ was fervent in her heart and extremely thirsted to serve God and perform her duty. Two years later, Christ began to express words, writing down words in her heart and giving them to the church. Afterwards, as the words expressed by Christ testified and disclosed, Christ was known and exalted by people and became the Practical God venerated and loved and esteemed by mankind'.
Often called the 'Eastern Lightning', the group uses the 'lightning' sign as its symbol, a mark which has reportedly appeared in several crimes and murders associated with the group in the past.
The group claims to have millions of followers across China since it was founded in 1989, and persistently attempts to expand across the country, often by force, as was evident when things went wrong in the McDonald's restaurant last May.
Members of the cult have reportedly abducted locals to force them into their group in the past, and several Chinese have claimed to have lost family members to the cult.
The group is also known to turn violent on its own members who attempt to quit, as was proven when a young nephew of one of the members was murdered in 2010 as punishment for his attempt to leave the cult.
'Slaying the Red Dragon'
The group stands vehemently against the government, accusing the party of persecuting its followers.
Referring to the party as the 'Great Red Dragon', the group believes its ultimate aim is to 'slay' it, and propagates murder of party members, citing it as the only way to ensure "the spirit of the Great Red Dragon will no longer possess them."
A passage from its website reads as - 'Since the Communist Party of China came into power in 1949, religious belief in Mainland China had been completely suppressed and banned. Millions of Christians suffered public criticism and denouncement and imprisonment. All the churches were thoroughly sealed up and confiscated'.
China has cracked down on 14 religious groups, including 'The Church of Almighty God', referring to them as 'evil cult', and arresting thousands of its members in a crackdown that began in 2012, when the group circulated pamphlets prophesying a doomsday apocalypse in December that year.
Authorities have arrested hundreds more following the McDonald's incident that had sparked national outrage.
However, it is believed that it is China's suppression of religious freedom that has caused millions of people to follow underground religions such as the notorious cult.