Christianity in Korea
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The practice of Christianity in Korea revolves around two of its largest branches, Protestantism and Catholicism, accounting for 8.6 million and 5.3 million members respectively. Roman Catholicism was first introduced during the late Joseon Dynasty period. In 1603, Yi Gwang-jeong, Korean diplomat, returned from Beijing carrying several theological books written by Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary to China. He began disseminating the information in the books and the first seeds of Christianity were sown. In 1758 King Yeongjo of Joseon officially outlawed Catholicism as an evil practice. Roman Catholicism was again introduced in 1785 by Yi Seung-hun. Korean Christians were subject to persecution and hardship.
Many were martyred, especially during the Catholic Persecution of 1801 and later. Joseon nobility saw the new religion as a subversive influence and persecuted its earliest followers in Korea, culminating in the Catholic Persecution of 1866, in which 8000 Catholics across the country were killed, including nine French missionaries. The opening of Korea to the outside world in the following years brought religious toleration for the remaining Catholics and also introduced Protestantism. The first Protestant church in Korea was established by Seo Sang-ryun and the first Protestant missionary to enter Korea was Horace Newton Allen, both events occurring in 1884. Horace Allen was a North Presbyterian missionary and American diplomat, and remained in Korea until 1890, by which time he had been joined by many others.
The growth of both was gradual before 1945. In that year, approximately 2% of the population was Christian. Rapid growth ensued: in 1991, 18.4% of the population (8.0 million) was Protestant, and 6.7% (2.5 million) was Catholic. The Catholic Church has increased its membership by 70% in the last ten years. Anglicanism in Korea has also experienced significant growth in the recent decades. Protestantism has been a dynamic force, providing a dynamic standard against which Catholics and Buddhists have been forced to compete. It was the inspiration for numerous sects, such as the Unification Church, founded in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon.
The influence on education has been decisive as Christians started 293 schools and 40 universities including 3 of the top 5 academic institutions. Protestantism is seen as the religion of the middle class, youth, intellectuals, and urbanites, and has been central to South Korea's pursuit of modernity and emulation of the United States after the end of World War II (liberation of Korea). In recent years, the growth of Protestantism has slowed, however, perhaps due to scandals involving church leadership and conflict among various sects, as well as what some perceive as overly zealous missionary work.
As of 2014, about 30% of South Korean population is declared as Christian.
- 1 Cultural significance
- 2 Growth of Christianity
- 3 Political and social issues
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Professor James H. Grayson from the School of East Asian Studies at University of Sheffield states that Protestantism has been a dynamic force in Korean life, and had a positive impact on other religions. It made for a dynamic competitor against which Catholics and Buddhists had to compete, as well as the inspiration for numerous smaller sects. They adopted many of the methods pioneered by the Protestants. The influence on higher education in Korea has been decisive as the Christians started 293 schools and 40 universities including 3 of the top 5 academic institution. Sukman argues that since 1945 Protestantism has been widely seen by Koreans and the religion of the middle class, youth, intellectuals, urbanites, and modernizers. It has been a powerful force supporting South Korea's pursuit of modernity and emulation of the United States, and opposition to the old Japanese colonialism and Communism of North Korea.
Prior to the Korean War (1950–1953), two-thirds of Korean Christians lived in the North, but most later fled to the South. It is not known exactly how many Christians remain in North Korea today, and there is some uncertainty about the exact number in South Korea. It is known that by the end of the 1960s there were around one million Protestants in South Korea, but during the "Conversion Boom" period ending in the 1980s, the number of Protestants increased faster than in any other country. The 2005 South Korean census showed 29.2 percent of the population as Christian, up from 26.3 percent ten years previously. Presbyterian Churches are the biggest Protestant denominations in South Korea, with close to 20,000 churches affiliated with the two largest Presbyterian denominations in the country.
South Korea currently provides the world's second largest number of Christian missionaries, surpassed by the United States. GMS, the missionary body of the "Hapdong" General Assembly of Presbyterian Church of Korea, is the single largest missionary organization in South Korea. South Korean missionaries are especially prevalent in 10/40 Window nations that are hostile to Westerners. In 2000, there were 10,646 Protestant South Korean missionaries in 156 countries, along with an undisclosed number of Catholic missionaries. According to an article published in 2004 "South Korea dispatched more than 12,000 missionaries to over 160 countries in comparison to about 46,000 American and 6,000 British missionaries, according to missionary organizations in South Korea and the West". According to an article published in 2007 "Korea has 16,000 missionaries working overseas, second only to the US". In 1980, South Korea sent 93 missionaries and by 2009 it was around 20,000.
Seoul contains 11 of the world's 12 largest Christian congregations. A number of South Korean Christians, including David Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church, have attained worldwide prominence. Aaron Tan, director of the Hong Kong architectural firm called Research Architecture Design, described the night scene of Seoul as "full of glowing Christian crosses".
Growth of Christianity
Appeal in the North
Christianity, especially Protestantism, had a special appeal to Koreans in the North. Between 1440 and 1560, there were migrations to the northern provinces designed to strengthen the border. This created a society of mixed backgrounds without an aristocracy and without long-standing religious institutions. However, it did have a strong and ambitious merchant class, as well as a strong military tradition. Local elites gained administrative positions and adopted Confucian literati lifestyles but were still unable to attain high-level positions. During Japanese colonial rule, the north became the more industrial region of Korea. The area was highly receptive to Protestant missionaries, who brought Western knowledge, hospitals, schools, and a window to the wider world. The middle-class elites sent their sons to the Protestant schools and in turn the sons became strong nationalists who saw the United States as the rallying point in opposition to Japanese colonial imperialism. In a reversal with the south, the north then produced many influential figures in Korean history. After 1945, most of the Christians fled to South Korea in pursuit of religious freedom.
Matteo Ricci's books provoked academic controversy when Yi Gwang-jeong brought them into Korea, and academics remained critical for many years. Early in the 17th century, Yi Su-gwang, a court scholar, and Yu Mong-in, a cabinet minister, wrote highly critical commentaries on Ricci's works, and over the next two centuries academic criticism of Christian beliefs continued. Some scholars, however, were more sympathetic to Christianity. Members of the Silhak (실학; "practical learning") school believed in social structure based on merit rather than birth (see class discrimination), and were therefore often opposed by the mainstream academic establishment.
Silhak scholars saw Christianity as an ideological basis for their beliefs and were therefore attracted to what they saw as the egalitarian values of Christianity. When Christianity was finally established in Korea, there was already a substantial body of educated opinion sympathetic to it, which was crucial to the spread of the Catholic faith in the 1790s. An 1801 study indicated that 55% of all Catholics had family ties to the Silhak school.
As a result of the influence of the Silhak school, Christianity in Korea began as an indigenous lay movement rather than being imposed by a foreign missionaries. The first Catholic prayer-house was founded in 1784 at Seoul by Yi Seung-hun, a diplomat who had been baptized in Beijing. In 1786, Yi proceeded to establish a hierarchy of lay-priests. Although the Vatican ruled in 1789 that the appointment of lay-priests violated Canon law, Christianity was introduced into Korea by indigenous lay-workers, not by foreign prelates. Since Christianity began as largely a grassroots effort in Korea, it spread more quickly through the population than it would if it had originated with outsiders with no initial popular support.
Hangul, literacy and education
Hangul, a phonemic Korean alphabet invented around 1446 by scholars in the court of Sejong the Great, was used little for several centuries because of the perceived cultural superiority of Classical Chinese (a position similar to that of Latin in Europe). However, the Catholic Church became the first Korean organization to officially adopt Hangul as its primary script, and Bishop Siméon-François Berneux mandated that all Catholic children be taught to read it. Christian literature printed for use in Korea, including that used by the network of schools established by Christian missionaries, mostly used the Korean language and the easily learned Hangul script. This combination of factors resulted in a rise in the overall literacy rate, and enabled Christian teachings to spread beyond the elite, who mostly used Chinese. As early as the 1780s, portions of the Gospels appeared in Hangul; doctrinal books such as the "Jugyo Yoji" (주교요지) appeared in the 1790s and a Catholic hymnal was printed around 1800.
John Ross, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary based in Shenyang, completed his translation of the Bible into Korean in 1887 and Protestant leaders began a mass-circulation effort. In addition, they established the first modern educational institutions in Korea. The Methodist Paichai School for boys was founded in 1885, and the Methodist Ewha School for girls (later to become Ewha Womans University) followed in 1886. These, and similar schools established soon afterwards, helped the expansion of Protestantism among the common people, and Protestants surpassed Catholics as the largest Christian group in Korea. Female literacy rose sharply, since women had previously been excluded from the educational system.
Christianity under Japanese occupation, 1910-1945
Christianity grew steadily, with the Catholic population reaching 147,000, and the Protestants 168,000 in the mid-1930s. The stronghold for both groups was the North. The Japanese-controlled police made systematic efforts to minimize the impact of the missionaries, which had a depressing effect during the years 1911–1919. The idealistic pronouncements of American President Woodrow Wilson contributed to the rapid growth of Korean nationalism in the 1920s, but disillusionment set in after the movement failed to achieve meaningful reform. In 1924, Protestants founded the Korean National Christian Council to coordinate activities by dividing the country into regions assigned to specific Protestant denominations. Korean Protestants also founded overseas missions to Koreans in China. By 1937, the Presbyterian Church of Korea was largely independent of financial support from the United States; in 1934 the Methodist Church became autonomous and elected a Korean bishop. The most active missionaries among the Catholics were the Maryknoll order, which opened the Maryknoll School of Nursing in Pusan in 1964; it is now the Catholic University of Pusan.
One of the most important factors leading to widespread acceptance of Christianity in Korea was the identification that many Christians forged with the cause of Korean nationalism during the Japanese occupation (1910–1945). During this period, Japan undertook a systematic campaign of cultural assimilation. There was an emphasis on Showa, so the Koreans would revere the Japanese emperor. In 1938, even use of the Korean language was prohibited. However, the distinctly Korean nature of the church was reinforced during those years by the allegiance to the nation that was demonstrated by many Christians. While the subsequent constitution of South Korea guarantees freedom of religion as well as separation of church and state, the South Korean government has been favorable to Christianity, regarding the religion as an ideological protection against their Communist neighbor.
On 1 March 1919, an assembly of 33 religious and professional leaders known as the "March 1 Movement" passed a Declaration of independence. Although organized by leaders of the Chondogyo religion, 15 of the 33 signatories were Protestants, including figures such as Gil Seon-ju, and many of them were imprisoned. Also in 1919, the predominantly Catholic pro-independence movement called "Ulmindan" was founded, and a China-based government-in-exile was at one time led by Syngman Rhee, a Methodist.
Christianity was linked even more with the patriotic cause when some Christians refused to participate in worship of the Japanese Emperor, which was required by law in the 1930s. Although this refusal was motivated by theological rather than political convictions, the consequent imprisonment of many Christians strongly identified their faith, in the eyes of many Koreans, with the cause of Korean nationalism and resistance to the Japanese occupation. Catholics and Methodists complied with demands to attend Shinto ceremonies.
The Christian concept of individual worth has found expression in a lengthy struggle for human rights and democracy in Korea. In recent years, this struggle has taken the form of Minjung theology. Minjung theology is based on the "image of God" concept expressed in Genesis 1:26–27, but also incorporates the traditional Korean feeling of han, a word that has no exact English translation, but that denotes a sense of inconsolable pain and utter helplessness. Minjung theology depicts commoners in Korean history as the rightful masters of their own destiny. Two of the country's best known political leaders, Kim Young-sam, a Presbyterian, and Kim Dae-jung, a Roman Catholic, subscribe to Minjung theology. Both men spent decades opposing military governments in South Korea and were frequently imprisoned as a result, and both also served terms as President of the Republic after democracy was restored in 1988.
One manifestation of Minjung theology in the final years of the Park Chung-hee regime (1961–1979) was the rise of several Christian social missions, such as the Catholic Farmers Movement and the Protestant Urban Industrial Mission, which campaigned for better wages and working conditions for laborers. The military government imprisoned many of their leaders because it considered the movement a threat to social stability, and their struggle coincided with a period of unrest which culminated in the assassination of President Park on 26 October 1979.
Many Korean Christians believe that their values have had a positive effect on various social relationships. Traditional Korean society was hierarchically arranged according to Confucian principles under the semi-divine emperor. Women had no social rights, children were totally subservient to their parents, and individuals had no rights except as defined by the overall social system. This structure was challenged by the Christian teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God and thus that every one of them is equal and has essential worth. According to Kim Han-sik, this concept also supported the idea of property being owned by individuals rather than by families (or by the heads of families).
Christians regarded the emperor as a mere man who was as much under God's authority as were his subjects, and Christian values favored the social emancipation of women and children. The church permitted the remarriage of widows (as taught by the apostle Paul, not traditionally allowed in East Asian societies), prohibited concubinage and polygamy, and forbade cruelty to or desertion of wives. Christian parents were taught to regard their children as gifts from God, and were required to educate them. Arranged child marriages and the neglect of daughters (who were often regarded as less desirable than sons in Asian culture) were prohibited.
South Korea's rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s is usually credited to the policy of export-oriented industrialization led by Park Chung-hee to indigenous cultural values and work ethic, a strong alliance with the United States, and the infusion of foreign capital. Many South Korean Christians view their religion as a factor in the country's dramatic economic growth over the past three decades, believing that its success and prosperity are indications of God's blessing.
A 2003 study by economists Robert J. Barro and Rachel McCleary suggests that societies with high levels of belief in heaven and high levels of church attendance exhibit high rates of economic growth. Barro and McCleary's model has been influential in subsequent scholarship and, to some observers, it supports the belief that Christianity has played a major role in South Korea's economic success. The study has been criticised by scholars such as Durlauf, Kortellos and Tan (2006). There is a tendency to build megachurches since 2000, that leads some churches to financial debt.
"In the 1960s the church reached out to people who were oppressed, such as prostitutes and new industrial laborers. As the Korean economy was burgeoning, the issue of the industrial labor force came to the fore as one of the most important areas of evangelization work. Churches established industrial chaplaincies among the workers within factories. In addition, with military service mandatory for men in South Korea, the part the chaplain's corps in the armed forces became equally important. Many soldiers converted to Christianity during their military service."
There have been various political and social criticisms in the Korean Christian scene since President Lee Myung-bak came into power. The South Korean government proposed to restrict South Korean citizens working for missionary works in the Middle East. Professor Son Bong-ho of Goshin University criticized the president for partaking in a national-level Christian prayers' gathering on March 2011 that signaled a potential danger of the strong Protestant influence in the secular South Korean politics. Increasing acts of hostility by Protestant Christians against Buddhism, the largest religion in South Korea and a major influence in traditional Korean culture, have drawn strong criticism and backlash against Protestant churches by the South Korean public and has contributed in Protestantism's growing decline in Korea.
Seoul Free Lunch Referendum
Former Mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, proposed a referendum in Seoul on 24 August 2011. Pastors of multiple churches in Seoul were found to involve unlawfully with the lay people about the referendum and later being penalized by the Seoul Metropolitan election Commission (서울시선거관리위원회).
October 2011 by-election
A Christian group in Seoul had been indicted by the Seoul Metropolitan election Commission for sending politically motivated emails to the laypeople in order to vote for the conservative candidate, Na Kyung-won, before the South Korean by-elections, 2011.
The Korean Association of Church Communication petitioned Lee Guen An (이근안) to be stripped of his pastoral position due to his past as a torturer of Kim Geun-tae during Chun Doo-hwan's dictatorship.
In South Korea, Christian groups have been involved in the promotion of creationism, especially the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR) which advocates creation following the Book of Genesis, and the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), an alternative translation Committee to Revise Evolution In Textbook (CREIT).[need quotation to verify] It's an independent offshoot of the KACR, and has distanced itself from the KACR doctrine. In early 2008, Seoul Land, a leading amusement park, hosted a "creation science" exhibit, organized by KACR, which was visited by over 116,000 visitors in three months, and as of 2012[update], the park is in talks to create a year-long exhibition.
In 2012, following pressure from STR, the Ministry of Education announced that many high-school textbooks would be revised to remove certain examples of evolution, such as of the horse and the dinosaur Archaeopteryx. The changes were limited to removal or revision of certain examples which were the subject of some debate; also, STR plans to submit further petitions to remove evolution of humans and the adaptation of finch beaks, with the end goal of diminishing the role of Darwinian evolution in teaching.
Fundamentalist Protestant antagonism against Buddhism has been a major issue for religious cooperation in South Korea, especially during the 1990s to late 2000s. Acts of vandalism against Buddhist amenities and "regular praying for the destruction of all Buddhist temples" have drawn criticism. Buddhist statues have been considered as idols, attacked and decapitated. Arrests are hard to enforce, as the perpetrators work by stealth at night." Such acts, which are supported by some Protestant leaders, have led to South Koreans having an increasingly negative outlook on Protestantism and being critical of church groups involved, with many Protestants leaving their churches in recent years.
In contrast, relations between South Korean Catholics and Buddhists and other faiths has remained largely cooperative, partly due to the syncretism of many Buddhist and Confucian customs and philosophies into South Korean Catholicism, most notably the practice of jesa.
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- Koon Sik Shim (2008). Rev. Sang-Dong Han, The Founder of the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Koshin): A Biography. The Hermit Kingdom Press. ISBN 978-1-59689-073-2.
- Mullins, Mark, and Richard Fox Young, eds. Perspectives on Christianity in Korea and Japan: The Gospel and Culture in East Asia (Edwin Mellen, 1995)
- Park, Chung-shin. Protestantism and Politics in Korea (U. of Washington Press, 2003)
- Suh, Kuk-sung () (1983). The Identity of the Korean People: A History of Legitimacy on the Korean Peninsula. trans. Chung Chung. Seoul: National Unification Board.
- Whittaker, Colin (1988). Korea Miracle. Eastbourne, Sussex: Kingsway. ISBN 0-86065-522-9.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Christianity in Korea.|
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- (Korean) 대통령보다 세고 헌법보다 무서운 목사님, Criticizing Fundamental Protestantism in South Korean politics
- (Korean) "한국만큼 ‘종교 장사’하기 좋은 나라 없다", Korean Christianity as a profit made by boom of big church constructions
- (Korean) "결혼 때문에 개종하는 한국인 이해안돼", Korean religion scenes explained by non-Korean religious figures