Seoul, Dec 29 (DPA) — If there is one thing that the big churches have in common with the country’s conglomerates, it could probably be the love-hate relationship that South Koreans have with the shining stars of their culture.
Business conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai have been the pride of South Korea for their material success and innovations, as well as for providing many employment opportunities.
Likewise, churches have often been a source of pride for the spiritual rise of South Koreans to become an influential Christian community.
Since Christianity’s initial boost in 1907 in the northern city of Pyongyang, about 60,000 to 80,000 churches have set up across South Korea with 16,000 missionaries currently fanned out in 173 countries.
The so-called “good Christians” have formed the country’s largest charity group. An unknown but large number of Christians have secretly fed the hungry, educated children of poor families and sent food to hungry North Koreans.
As with the country’s tarnished corporate star Samsung business group, some South Koreans are increasingly sceptical about the size and power of a Christian community that seems to have outgrown its original missionary spirit.
Likewise, a dozen mega-churches have, in particular, become targets for criticism, as they seem to be more interested in their size and earthly riches than about spiritual health and piety.
“If there are three things that could ruin pastors, they are money, women and complacence,” said Kim Hong-Do, a senior pastor at Kumran church.
In September, it was a rare homecoming scene for 19 South Korean Christian volunteers who returned home after 40 days of being kidnapped by the Afghan rebels.
Arriving at the airport, they publicly asked for forgiveness, but instead encountered anger and resentment for having shamed the nation and damaged its international relations. Some people even threw eggs at their faces.
The indignant reaction to their return was a sobering reminder for South Korean churches that they are no longer uniformly perceived as good Christians.
Instead, critics chide their “Christian arrogance” with which they are pushing their faith towards non-believers.
“I feel uncomfortable and even upset each time I see Christian talking God on the street,” said Kim Min-Chull, 29 in Seoul.
Churches are taking on a variety of forms. There are a dozen of the world`s biggest churches like Yoido Full Gospel Church, while there are many small churches where a village pastor works hard to attract dozens of followers over a decade.
There are also quite a few fake churches who often led people into ruin. The churches claim membership of 12 million, but the government says there are 8.6 million Protestants – down 1.6 percent from a decade ago – while the Roman Catholic population has increased by about 4 percent to 5.1 million in the country of 49 million people.
Today, South Korea, the world`s most wired nation, is a great place for teenagers to play outside churches. They play 3D games and watch DVD films, leaving less time to worship.
Even churchgoing teenagers find it hard to resist temptation. It is often hide-and-seek game between church teachers and kids when they go missing after arriving at the church.
To combat the temptation, former “game boys” who used to play Starcraft in the late 1990s, and have grown up to teach Bible for their juniors, have produced something that kids would like: a 3D movie-like video clip named “ActionMan.”
“I used to be a game boy,” grinned Lee Kum-dong, 22, who starred the video clip. “So I know how to treat them.”
Samil church is an exception, with many young members. Most of its 10,000 membership are youthful Christians in their 20s and 30s, including the largest group of university students.
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