[Viewpoint] Price and perspective: a balanceAchurch based in Seocho District, southern Seoul, has walked into the eye of the storm with a plan to build a new chapel at a cost of 210 billion won ($188 million).
The Presbyterian church that started out in 1978 in a small community building has expanded to a congregation of 45,000. It needs a bigger space to contain its growing membership. The church’s growth is a blessing to the community and its congregation. The pastoral vision and devotion together with the worshippers’ unwavering faith must have generated today’s prosperity. The church may have wanted to emulate the golden era of King Solomon by building a grand new temple to honor and express gratitude for the creator’s grace and blessings.
Still, 210 billion won is a lot of money.
Individuals, corporations, local governments and religious organizations are all entitled to freedom in a free society. But at the same time they constitute the broader community organism. Each community member must consider and respect other members for coexistence and prosperity. Compassion and consideration are elements as important as rules and ethics to sustain a social community. The community can reveal fissures and struggle if weaker and underprivileged members feel deprived and cast aside. The Christian community is required to have a noble and strong sense of community due to its sacred mission for humanity. An individual or corporate member is expected - to some extent - to act out greed and self-interest and other human motivation. But a religious institution should be holy and venerable so that the weak and flawed human being can seek to fill voids and deficiencies through teachings from the church, cathedral or temple. We would have no need for religion if it were no different from secular institutions.
Lee Wan-koo, governor of South Chungcheong, after handing in his resignation, lamented over the gap between the capital and other regions. “A satellite city near Seoul built a city hall at a cost of 320 billion won. A district in Seoul spoke of a plan to spend 85 billion won to build a community center. There are 16 cities and districts in South Chungcheong. A year’s tax revenues from 12 areas combined don’t amount to 80 billion. There are areas without a decent hospital. And can you still talk of regional balance?”
The spate over the Sejong City project in essence sprouted from the wealth gap between capital areas and other regions. Many insist on the original outlay even though they agree that separating administrative organs to different places is wasteful and dangerous. Despite inefficacy, if the prime minister’s office and other nine powerful government organs are based in the new city in South Chungcheong, it would be a gesture that the government will to work toward a balance of wealth and power. We cannot ignore the reality that such resentment exists. No regional taxpayers will understand how two years of their tax payments would not be enough to build a church in southern Seoul.
We therefore need communal wisdom when trying to solve the Sejong City predicament. We cannot break the administrative capital into two. Technology advances allowing satellite video conferences and a day’s commute via express rail service is not sufficient to run a government. A government decision is brought about by elbow grease and sweat in a room. A video conference is like a cold pizza. We cannot settle for cold pizza when we can have a balanced meal of state affairs. Germany has the technology to run video conferences and commute by expressway, but they still regret having multiple administrative capitals. To salvage reason from the grip of emotion that would break up a capital, our entire community must work together.
The role of the church is important. The president of the country belongs to a church in a rich area in southern Seoul. Excessive expansion and spending probably are not the goals of the Christian community. Early foreign missionaries turned to the lowest on this soil when attempting to spread the Gospel. Early evangelist Samuel Moore preached to butchers, street performers and female entertainers. His follower Park Sung-choon, a butcher, became the church’s first presbyter and his son the country’s first surgeon.
A church to be built on a budget of 210 billion won in Seoul and a city under construction called Sejong 120 kilometers from Seoul are a part of our big community picture. The bulging price does not paint a pretty sight.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jin