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Buddhist-Christian Conflict in Korea PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 29 August 2008 17:20

There has been nothing in the Korean media about the violence in India, at least not that I’ve seen. It truly is awful and tragic what is happening there. But a kind of parallel situation is happening in Korea, although nonviolently. Two days ago, as I boarded a plane with my friend for Jeju Island, the largest of the Korean islands and a vacation destination for Japanese, Chinese and Korean tourists, I picked up a copy of the Korea Times, a national newspaper printed in English. The headline read, “Buddhists Urge Lee to Apologize,” and the article covered a protest march of 200,000 Buddhists led by thousands of Buddhist monks. They came to Seoul, the capital, to protest what they call president Lee Myung-bak’s administration’s discrimination against one of the country’s largest religions. The Buddhists represented the four branches of Buddhism that are popular in Korea, and demanded an official apology from the president to Buddhists, reprimands for public officials involved in religious discrimination, including National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheon-soo; and legislation to ward of discrimination because of religion.

The Korean constitution protects the freedom of religion, but Lee, a Christian and an elder at a Seoul Protestant church, has been suspected of discriminating against non-Christians even when he was mayor of Seoul. His cabinet is filled with Christians, and he has called for the conversion of Buddhist adherents.

According to the Korea Times,
“The dispute erupted after police officers searched the car of Ven. Jigwan, the chief executive of the country’s largest Buddhist order, Jogye, in their search for anti-U.S. beef protest organizers taking shelter at a downtown temple. Following the incident, Buddhists cited dozens of examples of anti-Buddhist discrimination. For instance, a transportation data system provided by the government inJune omitted locations of Buddhist temples [M.F., but not Christian churches]. Maps of Cheonggye Stream, a body of water reopened while President Lee was mayor of Seoul, also excluded temples. Meanwhile, the Seoul City government decided to impose a fine on rally organizers as they staged the protest rally without permission.

A Jogye Temple Buddhist refuted the allegation, saying, ‘We sent an official note to the office on Aug. 17 to request approval.’ He added the city government has never restricted the holding of a religious event.”
Part of what caught my attention was the accusation that Lee’s actions were seen as impeding social unity. Korean culture is very homogenous, and it is a secular society, even though about 40% of Koreans are Buddhist and 26% Christian. The remainder are non-committed, like my friend, Cha. Ancient Buddhist temples are common tourist destinations, and their foundations date often to more than 1,000 years ago, when the Goryeo dynasty promoted it over Confucianism.

More protests are planned around the country if the President doesn’t apologize. It is very unlikely, however, to lead to violence. My friend’s response, I imagine, is similar to what many Buddhists and non-religious Koreans would make. “Why can’t President Lee allow Christians to exist in harmony with non-Christians?” Evangelization is a grassroots endeavor, as one’s personal faith, expressed in action and words, generates curiosity in people who trust us. The spreading of belief in Jesus is impeded by proclamations from on high – whether by Christian public officials or Church leaders – because they tend to make trusting an ordinary Christian more difficult.
 

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