The following reflection paper is dedicated to reconsidering my new knowledge and ideas that I have got after most recent classes. In this paper I will address such topics as the developments in Protestantism in Korea over the period from the 19th to 21th centuries; the personalities of major leaders in this movement, as well as considering the reasons behind the Protestantism movement in Korea.
Previously I referred to the fact that it was very exciting for me to observe and compare the development of different religions in Korea. Therefore, recent classes and materials that were uploaded to complement the knowledge we had got during the lessons were of particular interest for me, and now I plan to summarize everything I have learnt about the Protestantism in Korea. Let’s me start by describing my understanding of the reasons that underlie the development of Protestantism in Korea.
Taking into account geographic remoteness of Korea from major centers of world Christianity and the policy of isolation that was conducted by China and Korea, it can be claimed that particularly political factor played an extremely important role in the development of Korean Protestantism. As extra key factor one can mention strong links that have existed between the Protestant churches of Korea and the United States. It seems to me that the establishment of this links can be also viewed as a consequence of the freedom from Japanese colonial regime.
After Korea became free from Japanese supremacy many Korean political emigrants, who have already become Christians, have returned to Korea. Many of them have got important government positions and the opportunity to promote Protestantism at the new level .In post-war times the important prerequisite of further development of Protestantism was concerned with the fact that vast majority of Korean clergy shared the ideology of the government that lied in total anticommunism. At the same time many Korean Protestants played an important role in opposition movements, complicating the relationships that have existed between Protestant clergy, citizens and the state.
While at the earliest period of the development of Protestantism in Korea after the success of March First Movement the influence upon its evolution was exerted only by the USA, many other countries have participated in further spreading of Protestantism of Korea in the middle of the 20th century. Thus missionary activities by the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches have had significant influence on the composition of Protestantism in Korea. Previous isolation of Korea from the wide range of developed countries have played an important role in promoting respect for missionaries as people, carrying new knowledge and new religion that are likely to make a change in people’s lives.
Another important factor that contributed to quickness of Protestantism’s spreading in Korea lies in the fact that it was promoted by a range of charismatic leaders. In the next part of the paper I would like to reflect on the personalities of the leaders of the Protestantism movement in South Korea after Korea’s becoming free form the Japanese supremacy. These people have played a crucial part not only in the history of religion in Korea, but in the history of other spheres of life in the state as they tended to combine different activities and promote not only Christian values, but knowledge. After the classes I have been trying to choose the personality of Korean Christian leader or missioner, whom I liked best. However, it was hard to choose one personality to reflect on.
So, I would like to emphasize my respect and interest towards several personalities, such as Son Yang-Won, Kil Sonju and Robert A.Hardy. The special role of these people lies in the fact that they were not afraid to protect their views, in spite of knowing that these activities can be dangerous for their lives. All three people I mentioned above can be viewed as examples of courage, dedication to particular position and being able to transfer their inner views to others. Korean Protestant movement’s leaders’ devotion to God and the World despite difficulties and lack of support makes me really proud and challenged.
After reading the paper, dedicated to the life and martyrdom of Son Yang-Won, I have been repeatedly asking myself whether I am also able to protect my views, despite difficulties and dangers. Now it seems to me that I still need a more in-depth and personal understanding of religion to be enabled to come a step closer to the courage and great contribution of the leaders I have mentioned above. I hope that after getting-to-know these role models, I will one day be able to determine my position and protect it, regardless of possible consequences.
In terms of additional readings it was interesting for me to learn the ways missionaries used to promote Protestantism in South Korea. Among them one can mention promoting Christianity among representatives of various strata of society; emphasizing the work with youth; opening schools and conducting religious education through them; promoting spreading of Protestantism among Koreans by Koreans and spreading the new religion among the sick in hospitals. These methods allowed missionaries to spread Protestantism in Korea very quickly and effectively.
One of most important activities they conducted was translating the Bible to Korean. It was exciting for me to learn that the Bible was translated into the language of masses; therefore, it became accessible for a wide range of people from all over Korea. Special role was played by special institution that aimed at distributing the Bible in Korean language that took place both in cities and in rural areas. Missionaries and distributors of the Bible were active in promoting educational and cultural values, so they were respected and trusted by the people.
As a result of Christianization of Korea the number of Christians exceeded the number of Buddhists. Furthermore, I see Christianization of South Korea as an important factor in Korea’s westernization and modernization. Such effects were called forth by the fact that missionaries opened many schools and hospitals, as well as brought modern western scientific knowledge to Korea. Sometimes becoming Christian in Korea can be viewed as coming closer to the European and American civilization. As a result of political events Christianity has officially become a leading religion in Korea. It was interesting for me to compare the position of Christianity in Korea with its position in other countries in the East. Surprisingly I learnt that Christianity in other Eastern countries has never had such high positions as it had earned in Korea. To my mind, this phenomenon can be explained by two major points. Firstly, Protestantism in Korea was actively supported by the state. Secondly, it was effectively promoted by missionaries and Koreans themselves.
In my opinion, studying the history of Christianity in Korea is critical for understanding modern religious situation in Korea, as well as studying the impact of Western countries on the development of culture and education in Korea. The example of spreading of Protestantism in Korea can be also viewed as a valuable case study of missionary activities.
Lee, T.S. A political factor in the rise of Protestantism in Korea Protestantism and the 1919 March First Movement. Church History 69 -1 (2000): 116-142. Print