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Moon hosts luncheon to appease Protestants

July 04,2019
President Moon Jae-in, center, hosts a luncheon with a group of Protestant leaders at the Blue House on Wednesday [YONHAP]
President Moon Jae-in hosted a luncheon with a group of Protestant leaders on Wednesday after public complaints about his absence at its recent annual prayer event.

Twelve leaders representing major Protestant denominations, including Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Anglican, communities attended the luncheon. Moon and senior officials including the chief of staff and the culture minister attended the event to represent the government.

In his opening remark, Moon lauded Christian leaders’ efforts to serve the country.

“Christianity has a great presence and influence in our society,” Moon said. “It not only has many believers but also played a crucial role in developing our country.”

Moon then asked the leaders to work on initiatives to promote peace between the two Koreas and national unity.

Rev. Lee Seung-hui, the head of the Presbyterian Church in Korea’s HapDong denomination, gave a speech at the luncheon in which he proposed the Christian community serving as a communication channel between the government and the people to unite the nation.

It is the first time that Moon hosted an event for a particular religious community, although he invited leaders of seven major religions to the Blue House in February. Protestants are the largest religious group in Korea. According to the census statistics in 2015, there were 9,675,761 Protestants in Korea.

The Blue House said a luncheon with Buddhist community leaders is also scheduled for later this month.

Wednesday’s luncheon took place amid growing complaints from Protestants that Moon had bypassed its major event, the Korea National Prayer Breakfast. Since its launch in 1968, all presidents, starting with Syngman Rhee, have attended the event with a few exceptions.

In 2004, President Roh Moo-hyun did not attend the prayer breakfast because his impeachment was approved by the National Assembly. The motion was later reversed by the Constitutional Court. In 2017, Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn attended the event, because President Park Geun-hye was undergoing her impeachment trial.

Last year, Moon attended the event as it celebrated its 50th anniversary with 5,000 participants, the most ever.

He did not attend this year’s event on June 17, and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon attended on his behalf. It was the first time that the prime minister attended the event when the president could have participated.

Moon took a day off on June 17, following his return from a trip to three Nordic nations. He spent the day to rest and make strategies for North Korea and domestic political issues.

Following his absence, the Protestant community, particularly conservative groups, complained fiercely. They said Moon skipped the event deliberately because it was largely attended by conservatives.

The United Christian Churches of Korea, the largest Protestant group in Korea, said it is not right to interpret his absence politically, and asked its members to refrain from emotional reactions. It also said the breakfast prayer is not to show off the Christian community’s power to the world or to win gains by intervening in politics.

A radical reverend who has demanded Moon’s resignation over the past few weeks was not invited to Wednesday’s luncheon. Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, head of the Christian Council of Korea (CCK), is leading a drive to force Moon out of presidency, criticizing him as a “pro-North” politician. Jun is also leading street rallies to demand Moon’s resignation by the end of this year.

The Blue House said that CCK and Jun were left out of the luncheon not because of their attacks on the president but because they fail to meet its standards. Groups with more than 100 members whose leaders have solid career histories were invited to the luncheon, and most of the guests were from the United Christian Churches of Korea, a presidential aide said.

“The CCK is a small church group,” said the official. “We invited major denominations with long histories. All the invited denominations are conservative groups, so it is not fair to say that the CCK was left out because of its political inclinations.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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