Christian community, a small number of radicals politicize issues to make their
voices heard. These people have become radicalized since the 2007 hostage
crisis in Afghanistan, which killed two Korean church volunteers and put the
lives of 21 others at risk and ultimately tainted the reputation of the
nation's Protestant churches.
Gwang-seo, president of the Korea Institute for Religious Freedom in Seoul,
said that the radical Protestants have created and spread Islamophobia to
players are back on the stage," he said during a March 30 interview at a
cafe in southern Seoul. "They pretend they work hard to serve the vested
interests of all Protestants, but they don't represent the Christian
this year, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Daegu
Metropolitan City and Gangwon Province announced that they would drop their
plans to establish Halal food zones in their jurisdictions following a backlash
from radical Christians. They had initiated the projects to attract Muslim
tourists from Southeast Asian countries and help local companies export their
processed food products to the Middle East.
is also a retired professor of physics at Sogang University in Seoul, described
the suspension of Halal food zones as a result of those radicals playing
hardball at the expense of the majority's wellbeing. Thus, he said, what they
did constituted an act of tyranny by the minority.
it's sad that their tactic worked.
not fair for policymakers to suddenly change the course of action just because
of the religious group's protests," he said. "They made a quick
decision on their own without even asking for the general public's views on the
zones, which are linked to their wellbeing. This is wrong."
called on policymakers to hold an open debate regarding the Halal food
initiative and invite both proponents and opponents to present their ideas and
then take a survey of residents before making a final decision.
anti-Halal protests mark the second round of clashes between radical Christian
groups and the government. The Christian groups successfully lobbied to boycott
a bill calling for legalizing Islamic funding, called Sukuk. The government
strove to pass it in 2011 following the global financial crisis to help
companies secure financing for their overseas projects. However, the Christian
activists characterized the Sharia-compliant funds as a purse string for
terrorists and pressured lawmakers to reject the measure by hinting that they
would vote against them if they collaborate with the government. Their lobby
succeeded in defeating the bill.
a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Religion and Culture in
Seoul, claimed that radical Protestant groups have used Muslim-bashing as a
tactic to regain their influence. During a seminar on religious freedom in
November 2010, he said some Protestant church leaders felt pressured to fan
Islamophobia owing to their waning reputation and influence as the nation
becomes demographically and religiously more diverse. Lee cited the Afghanistan
hostage crisis as one of the key events that weakened Protestant churches'
influence in Korea.
2007, 23 Korean church volunteers were taken hostage by the Taliban during a
bus tour from Kabul to Kandahar. The volunteers were there for a short-term
summer overseas mission to spread the word of God.
demanded a prisoner swap calling for trading 23 terrorists held by the Afghan
government in return for freeing the 23 Koreans. When the government rejected
the demand, the group killed two male hostages and threatened to kill more. The
government eventually negotiated with the kidnappers, and the remaining 21
volunteers returned home safely in September that year.
hostage drama has since marred the image of Protestant churches. Citizens
criticized the churches for sending volunteers to a dangerous overseas
destination that put their lives at risk.
to Lee, some Protestant church leaders felt the pressure and looked for ways to
regain influence. He said they have chosen Islamophobia as a means to their end
and have been demonizing Muslims.
presentation caused a stir among Protestant churches.
some Christian churches have sought to expand their influence in society, but
their strategy backfired.
mentioned the overrepresentation of Protestant and Catholic believers in the
National Assembly as one of those religions' sources of power. Over 100
lawmakers out of the 299-member National Assembly are Protestants, and some 80
are Catholics. The figures contrast with the country's religious demographic
breakdown — Buddhists account for some 22 percent of the entire population,
followed by Protestants with 18 percent and Catholics with 10 percent according
to a 2005 survey.
claimed that the dominance of Protestants and Catholics in the legislature has
made it easier for their religious leaders to make their voices heard in
fought against religious discrimination, co-founding the KIRF in 2006 to
promote religious freedom. The majority of the institute's founding members are
Buddhists, and some are Protestants.
He played a
role in banning the use of churches for polling stations in 2007 and in a bill
requiring public officials' political neutrality in 2008.
Buddhist, said his religious affiliation made him vulnerable to criticism by
some Protestant leaders, who have called him biased. But Park said such criticisms
His role as
a watchdog also sometimes exposes him to criticisms from within.
leaders have also told me that they feel uncomfortable with me because I have
raised several corruption cases and other illicit activities inside Buddhist
society," he said. "But I do not address internal problems of other
religions and raise issues only when they are related to freedom of religion.
So some Christian leaders' accusations against me about my role as watchdog are
religious discrimination is preponderant in Korea, citing the ongoing Seosomun
Park project funded by the government as a recent example. He is critical of
the plan to transform the Seoul Park into a Catholic site. Following Pope
Francis's visit to the country, the government pledged to spend 51.3 billion
won for the beautification of the area, which houses the Catholic Martyrs'
Shrine. According to the master plan, a Catholic church will be established
underground at the site to commemorate Korea's Catholic martyrs.
questioned the appropriateness of the government sponsorship of the planned
Catholic site, considering that the site is also a memorial for victims from
other religions. During religious repression in the late Joseon Kingdom, many
Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant leaders and martyrs were executed on the
site. Thus, Park proposed that policymakers implement a religiously neutral
don't think the government's decision was appropriate because several Buddhists
and the leaders of the home-grown religion Donghak were also martyred there.
Catholics were not the only victims," he said.