Christianity by SCJ in South Korea may seem new and surprising to most people who only think of the country as global entertainment producers and tourism hotspots. For those who are acquainted with their news and have experienced their culture first hand, you can see the devotion of these Korean Christians. They can be more passionate than any other religious group on the planet.
The country has half of its population believing in no god or entity. More than half of the believers have put their faith in Christianity while the other focuses on other religions, mainly Buddhism. To understand how Christianity gained a strong footing in South Korea, let us trace back its history.
From Persecution to The Resurgence
200 years ago, during the time of the Joseon Era, the Christians underwent severe persecution. It was due to the influence of Chinese Confucianism and the monarchs were not thrilled to entertain Christianity’s goal to preach.
For 75 years, many have been killed. By the time the Joseon Kingdom was about to collapse, the Chinese influence gradually decreased. During that time of drastic changes, Protestantism had been a very welcoming concept to most depressed Koreans and embraced it consistently.
Arrival of American Influence and The Dominance of Protestant Church
The arrival of American Protestant missionaries, such as Horace Allen and the famous Underwood family, brought so much movement within the Koreans. The social discrimination was heavily discouraged and the translation of the Bible to the Korean native language was done.
Even at the time of Japanese rule in World War 2, Protestantism had been the comfort of the oppressed Koreans. After the war ended, Americans were viewed as heroes and their influence spread like wildfire to the mindsets of Koreans, especially about Christianity. During the Korean War, the US became South Korea’s allies and the relationship grew even deeper.
In the period between the late 1950s and 1980s, the concept of political propaganda was seen as compatible with the evangelical Protestantism. This became the formula for pastors to entice large groups towards the religion.
The Rise of Megachurches
As the race for gathering the most number of believers ensued, one rose from the top: Cho Yong-gi, the founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church. The church grew so big that the worshipping halls took up a block of the megacity Seoul and boasted more than 800,000 followers.
Koreans liked the idea of joining a megachurch rather than a neighborhood chapel because of the “anonymous” identity on such a very large crowd. However, such a sudden rise to the top couldn’t escape all the dirt hidden below.
Controversy Concerning Shamanism
In 2014, controversy about corruption and embezzlement in Yoido Full Gospel Church became global news and the leaders were held accountable. Since then, a growing distrust began to surface from the minds of the believers and also Korean non-believers.
Meanwhile, Catholicism grew stronger because of its gentler approach compared to the formula employed by popular Protestant pastors. The style of Church services promoted by the said pastors could be traced back to the ancient ways of shamanism, wherein such “presentation” translates to displaying of faith to God.
Future Growth and Politics
Since the controversy, the growth seemed to have stagnated. If you factored other world issues like the LGBT movement, North Korea’s power, and the spread of Islam, Protestantism has not handled it well compared to the Catholic movement.
Also, the blind faith of sending missionaries to terrorist-filled countries had proven to be disastrous as dozens were taken as hostages. Political leaders have relied on their religious groups for biased decision-making instead of being impartial.
Koreans had the fourth-largest number of canonized saints at 103. With such a small population, their commitment to the faith is astounding.
Religious groups have similarities with the governments wherein among those in power, abuse and corruption are tempting. Unlike governments who ruled over the land, the religious groups, if used as leverage, can rule over the hearts and minds of the people.