[Viewpoint] Pastor Kiel’s misguided idol worship

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[Viewpoint] Pastor Kiel’s misguided idol worship

Not just the lands and the oceans crack and gape. Human minds can become cleaved and destroyed too. Religion is especially vulnerable to the tsunami of discord, and humanity has experienced religious catastrophes because of the contest between Islam and Christianity.

In that sense, the special prayer offered at the National Prayer Breakfast on March 3 is reason for concern. The image of the president praying on his knees has become notorious, but a more serious concern is the special prayer offered by Kiel Ja-yeon, president of the Christian Council of Korea, which I was shocked to see after watching the video of the meeting.

Pastor Kiel defined the 5,000-year history of the Korean people as a history of idol worship. He said, “For 5 millennia the Korean people have committed the sin of idol worship but God saved us through powerful work.” Then he said, “I confess the sin of idol worship on behalf of the nation,” and “I confess to God the sin of 5,000 years.” He mentioned the sin of idol worship three times in his prayer. It was a clear reference to another religion.

The Christian Council of Korea, which represents 66 church orders and 19 Christian organizations, is the mainstay of the Korean Protestant church. Kiel is a respected Protestant leader who is now serving his third term as CCK president. But in front of the nation and the president, he defined the history of Korea as “a sin of idol worship.”

President Park Chung-hee liked to visit temples, including Bulguk Temple in Gyeongju. President Roh Tae-woo was a devout Buddhist. Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun also visited Buddhist temples. Is Kiel saying all these Korean presidents visited the land of idol worship?

According to Yun Won-cheol, professor of religion at Seoul National University, Buddhism has made a great contribution to the advancement of the Korean people. Until the 4th century, the Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla Dynasties had been tribal communities. Glorious civilizations had blossomed in Europe and China by that time, but the Korean Peninsula had been left behind.

At the end of the 4th century however, Buddhist scriptures were introduced to Korea through China. The advanced Buddhist culture gave the tribal communities a more expansive perspective of the world. The three kingdoms took on a more sophisticated form that continued into the Unified Silla and Goryeo Dynasties. In the Joseon Dynasty, Buddhism was overshadowed by Confucianism but monk soldiers fought for the nation during the Japanese invasion.

Confucianism also played a key role in Korean history as the governing philosophy of the Joseon Dynasty. The class-based system had its limitations, of course, but Confucianism was a useful spiritual guide for an agricultural country with a less advanced economy. Thanks to the Confucian value that prioritizes community over individuals, Korea was able to focus on economic development from the 1960s to ’80s.

Christianity was introduced to Korea in the late 19th century and made crucial accomplishments in the modernization of Korea. Missionaries led Korea into the world of Western civilization, particularly in medicine and education.

President Syngman Rhee, himself an elder of a Protestant church, was introduced to Christianity. He brought American democracy into Korea and established a solid Korea-U.S. alliance. The Christian spirit of valuing human rights and democracy became an important driving force of the democratization movement in the 1970s.

The religious and spiritual culture of Korea stands on a tripod of Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity. Which of the three legs is idol and which is worship? A true idol is nothing but the misdirected historical perspective of Kiel. In advanced Christian theology, idol worship is not about a superficial concept of bowing to an object but about believing in a false truth.

The theme of the prayer gathering was “be strong and courageous.” God told Joshua, Moses’ successor, to be strong and courageous. Against whom does Kiel need to be bold and courageous? Does he want to stand against Buddhism and Confucianism in the South or the idol worship in the North? Is it the religion of other people or the idol of distortion in his mind?

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin
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