More discretion is neededPresident Lee Myung-bak and the first lady fell to their knees in worship during the National Breakfast Prayer Meeting at COEX, southern Seoul, on Thursday. Rev. Gil Ja-yeon, chairman of the Christian Council of Korea, invited everyone to join him in kneeling and praying.
The president, as well as Democratic Party head Sohn Hak-kyu, got down on their knees. The TV broadcasts of the scene - the first-ever public religious ritual performed by a president - stunned viewers in a country with diverse religious backgrounds.
The president had attended the breakfast congregation not because of his religious beliefs, but as the head of state. Since President Park Chung Hee, all presidents, regardless of their individual beliefs, have visited the country’s biggest Protestant church congregation.
President Roh Tae-woo was a devout Buddhist, but he joined the annual prayer meeting at the Protestant church because he was invited as a head of state.
As is widely known, President Lee is an elder at a Presbyterian church in Seoul.
But regardless of his individual desires, he should have exercised restraint in the presence of the public attention.
His private religious rituals away from the public’s eyes are his own business.
But he must consider state dignity and remember his official status when attending public ceremonies in respect for Korea’s non-Christian population.
The president must not kneel publicly for any reason.
The president and government are currently in hot water for giving in to intimidation by the Christian society.
Christian leaders had threatened to boycott the government and legislative members if they passed a bill revising the tax code to pave the way for the country’s first issuance of Islamic bonds by Korean companies.
If the president and the Christian society had any consideration for provoking public ire, they should have displayed more modesty and restraint. Rev. Gil, who led the prayer meeting, has been inconsiderate.
President Lee should be cautious in his actions so that his religious faith does not affect his role as the head of state. He must not spark unnecessary misunderstandings and worries.
As Seoul mayor, he caused a controversy by “devoting the city of Seoul to God.”
The Christian society - if they really care for the president - should show more discretion.