Freedom Writer - October 1995 _In_Korea,_world's_largest_churchhas tremendous political cl
Freedom Writer - October 1995
_In_Korea,_world's_largest_churchhas tremendous political clout_
By Ju-lan Kim
Over the past century, the world has been witness to the growth of
Christianity throughout Western and non-Western nations alike. However,
few countries can rival the expansion rate demonstrated by South Korea
during the last several decades. Some within the Christian church
would herald the spread of the Christian faith in Korea as a remarkable
achievement. Yet, one must not forget to examine the full-scope of
effects that Christianity has had on the native way of life on the
Religious tradition in Korea had been dominated by Buddhism and Confucianism;
but, by the end of the 1800's, the number of Catholic followers began
to escalate. The late 1800's through the early 1900's was a period
of great political chaos with the Choson government, the last ruling
Korean dynasty, falling under the power of Japanese colonization.
The government, growing uneasy with the advance of Western influence
over Asia, began to treat missionaries within their country with hostility.
One major source of conflict was the important long-standing tradition
in Korea of paying homage to ancestors during the Dan-o festival.
This practice of expression of ancestral respect had been an extremely
valued practice in Confucian society. The Catholic church declared
this custom to be paganism and converts were banned from taking part
in the ceremony. The stand-off between the Confucian Choson dynasty
and the newly emerging Korean Catholic Church served to escalate the
fear of cultural disintegration due to Western influences.
In 1910, the Japanese annexed Korea and implemented a harsh cultural
policy with the intent of wiping out the Korean sense of identity.
Publication of Christian writings into Korea's native language, Hangul,
allowed the people another means of keeping their language and writings
alive. This brought together the mission of restoring the Korean government
and spreading Christianity. By combining these two goals, the missionaries
were able to manipulate the explosive anger of the Korean people against
the Japanese for their own gains.
The Christian church experienced tremendous growth, the results of
which are evident in contemporary Korean society. Korea, in the span
of a few short decades, has become the home to the world's largest
Christian church. The Yoido Full Gospel Church, led by David Yonggi
Cho, has approximately 750,000 members. David Yonggi Cho is a popular
speaker among many Christian groups in the United States.
In Seoul and its surrounding cities, Yoido Full Gospel Church has
the ability to wield tremendous political power, due to the sheer
number of its followers. In recent local government elections, many
candidates chose to campaign on platforms emphasizing their relationship
to various religious organizations in Korea. With new parties moving
into the government, many special-interest groups are now gaining
access to the channels within the developing bureaucracy. The Christians
have proven themselves to be well-positioned political figures capable
of marshaling their followers on any issue they believe action is
Seoul has also been the playground of the well-known Unification Church
led by Rev. Sun Myung Moon. With membership circling the globe, a
fervently faithful following, and a seemingly unending financial supply,
the Unification Church has been very forward in its attempts to influence
the politics of the emerging international system, both in its home
country and abroad.
In the United States, the Unification Church has been a significant
contributor to Radical Right. Using its extensive treasury and its
establishments in all fifty states, the Unification Church has aided
presidential, congressional, and local campaigns since the Nixon-era.
In return, many of the Moon-supported politicians began to push for
overseas interests that have proven to be very profitable for corporations
affiliated with the Unification Church. Additionally, the Unification
Church has shown itself to be a strong lobbyist in favor of a continued
U.S. military presence in South Korea.
In the years following the Japanese occupation, Korea found itself
in the unfortunate position of relying upon the U.S. and other countries
for much needed foreign aid. Economic growth plans called for the
development of Korea as a primarily exporting nation.Consequently,
Korea's relationship with the U.S. became very important as investment
capital and open exportation laws with the U.S. became Korean priorities.
By increasing its influence with the United States government, the
Unification Church has been able to meet many of its own objectives,
as well as those of its allies.
Many churches in Korea are patterning themselves after the Unification
Church and the Yoido Full Gospel Church in their efforts to reach
a wider audience. The spread of Christianity in Korea has begun to
have its effects in the international political sphere. The effect
of religion on government has demonstrated itself to be dangerous
in Korea where political rifts caused by religion are becoming more
commonplace. Christianity has begun to destroy the Confucian cultural
foundation upon which Korea was built by threatening the freedom of
individuals who wish to practice traditional Asian religions.
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