FaithWorld

South Korea’s religious harmony put to the test by Christian president

By Reuters Staff
June 26, 2011

(South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential Blue House in Seoul June 9, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak)

Many South Koreans concerned about the country’s increasing religious polarisation are haunted by a single image – their president on his knees. While attending a national prayer breakfast in March, President ??Lee Myung-bak knelt to pray at the urging of Christian leaders.

Footage of the event shocked many in this pluralist country, where about half the population professes no particular faith and the remainder is split between Buddhists, Christians and homegrown creeds. The main Buddhist Jogye Order called the scene “unforgiveable,” and even right-leaning media outlets generally supportive of the conservative leader expressed reservations.

The Joongang Ilbo daily in an editorial urged Lee, a devout Protestant and an elder at Seoul’s Somang Church, to keep his beliefs private and avoid provoking public ire. “(The prayer breakfast) convinced people how dangerous the current situation really is,” said Park Gwang-seo, head of the Korea Institute for Religious Freedom, a civic group that works to promote the separation of religion and state. “We’re at a peak as far as the relationship between politics and religion is concerned.”

South Korea’s constitution stipulates that there is no official religion and bars the country’s leaders from elevating one faith above others, but analysts say Lee’s outspoken religious beliefs and strong links with the Christian community have opened the administration to charges of bias.

“We have for the first time very high-level conflicts going on, particularly between the Christian community and the Buddhist community,” said Hahm Sung Deuk, a professor of political economy at Korea University. “And most of these conflicts can be attributed to President Lee.”

Read the full story by Jonathan Hopfner here.

.

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

rss buttonSubscribe to all posts via RSS

Comments
2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

So what is wrong? I don’t understand!

Posted by Ibrothers | Report as abusive
 

welcome to democracy and freedom of religion. all the pro-NK ilk complaining about Lee’s religious beliefs need to defect to NK and live in their religion free wonderland.

Posted by mungmungi | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/