In 11th June, 2016, there was a colossal festival and an equally enormous demonstration outside the Seoul City Office. The battle between the cultural extremists caught the eyes of numerous citizens and the media. The supporters of sexual liberalism and the strong believers of conservative religious beliefs clashed in several points. However, one of the biggest problems that arose between the two groups was that the either groups refused to listen to their opponents. Due to the increasingly liberal social media, the world has started to support the sexual minorities. In contrary, the religious groups were scapegoated as the ultimate evil of conservatism in Korea. This essay will assess the beliefs of Korean Christianity and furthermore will try to explain their reason for action in terms of their image of Jesus.
Korean Christianity is a wide classification inclusive of myriad divisions. The diversity in Korean Christianity spans to about 200 groups including not only various denominations such as the Catholics, the Presbyterian Church, and Methodist Church, but also numerous orders of Christianity such as the 합동 [Hapdong], 통합 [Tonghap] and the 고신 [Goshin] Presbyterian Church. According to the Korean Ministry of Culture and Sport, Hapdong and Tonghap Presbyterian Churches along with other orders in the same denomination have been the biggest orders of church for the past 20 years. Other than the churches mentioned above, Korean Church also includes a large number of believers of Methodist and Adventist Church. One of the similarities that the popular church orders in Korea share is that they are based on the beliefs of Christian Fundamentalism. Moreover, Christianity in Korea, in specific, displays conservative and traditional values, even more so than Christianity abroad. They rely on the literal translation of the scripture and the traditional church canons. Also, due to Korea’s Confucian socio-cultural influences and the outnumbering Presbyterian popularity, several non-Presbyterian orders of Christianity have also developed a system of Elders in the church hierarchy.
The majority of the Korean churches have declared Homosexuality sinful based on the scriptures and its emphasis on the natural law. The General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Korea, which represents a significant voice of Korean Christianity, has mentioned in their canon that they hold no other scriptures as their center of belief other than the Bible. However, they have allowed one exception to the former statement: the Larger and Shorter Westminster Catechisms. They view the two books as the appropriate interpretation of the Bible and incorporate them in sermons and often use them to educate the believers for baptismal ceremonies. The Westminster Larger Catechism states that “The sins forbidden… are… sodomy, and all unnatural lusts” (139). When sodomy has numerous meanings, the Korean translation of the Catechism more explicitly opposes homosexuality by saying that “금지된 죄는… 남색… 이다” [The forbidden sin is… homosexuality] (139). The argument that the Westminster Assembly is based on the natural laws that God has set.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25 And they were… the man and his wife. (Genesis 2: 24-25, ASV)
This shows that in the beginning God has created man and a woman to form a family. The Christians believe that this act of creating both a man and a woman is significant and that it is indeed the rightful law that the man and the woman become the family. This natural law is further established in the context of homosexuality in the New Testament.
25 Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves… 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due. (Roman 1:25, 26-27, ASV)
In Roman, Paul states that lust between a man and a woman in general has been forbidden. He also progresses and says that since a relationship between a man and a woman can be unnatural, homosexuality is even more so and is obviously “against nature”. The Fundamentalist Korean Christians, reading the Bible, would have interpreted the quote literally. On the basis of the above, the churches define homosexuality unnatural and sinful.
The Korean churches use the uniformity of scripture and God to repeal the oppositions’ argument. A popular vindication that several advocates of sexual minorities proclaim is, like how the sins of Old testaments have been reestablished by Jesus, Jesus’ last commandment, to love your neighbor, along with his revolutions against the Jews have redefined sin. They argue that, after Jesus, sin is the opposite of love: hate, including any type of love. However, the Korean church views these actions as renewal of God’s law according to popular culture. The interview with pastor Sunjae Jung of Hana church has revealed that sin is caused by misinterpretations and exaggerations of the scripture. He stated that it is wrong to argue that the words of Bible should be interpreted differently from 20 centuries ago, even after proving the sinister nature of homosexuality through both the old and the new testaments, is unacceptable. He argued that the Bible should be viewed absolute and constant and that like God, his words as well should be eternal and just. As mentioned above, Christianity in Korea is mainly a Fundamentalist Christianity. The Bible and the scriptures are central to their belief. If the interpretation of Bible is tampered, the central doctrine the churches are founded upon fall down. Thus, Korean Churches believe that the interpretation of the Bible have to be solid and consistent.
Although the Korean churches disagree with homosexuality, they still view themselves as in duty to serve the sexual minorities. An interview with a preacher, Jonghyun Kim, demonstrated that although the sexual minorities are sinners, they have to be admitted by the church as the part of the community. He emphasized that normal believers are innate sinners. He continued to argue that like how Jesus said “he that is without sin among you… first cast a stone at her” (John 8: 7 ASV), no one in the church has the right to stop a homosexual person from entering the church. However, pastor Sunjae Jung adds to the argument that allowing them into church does not mean that homosexuality is not a sin. He argues that the purpose of accepting homosexuals into the church community is to convert them into a Christian and to help them repent their sins. He further claimed that the ultimate goal of church is to help society return to God and repent for their sins. He calls it a duty to God to shout out to the society to guide them to the righteous path. Thus, he approved of the so-called “hate protests” and sit-ins in occasions such as the Queer Festival for they were for the sole purpose of helping the society realize that homosexuality is sin.
The analysis of Korean Christian’s views on homosexuality revealed three major perspectives on their understanding of who Jesus is; Jesus is the mediator of the natural law, the absolute and constant interpreter of the Bible, and the embracer and the guidance of all sinners.
Firstly, Jesus is understood as the mediator of the natural law. The Korean churches along with the Westminster Larger Catechism base their arguments against homosexuality on the scriptures and the ways in which God has created the world. When the church puts forth the argument that homosexuality is unnatural because God has created a man and a woman and formed a unit, they had to create consistency between the Old and the New Testament in order to validate their argument. Jesus, in the Bible, is the bridge between the two testaments, and therefore serves two functions: to maintain what is said in the Old Testament and to renew the statements that may seem outdated after the sacrifice of himself. Thus, Paul referring to the natural law in the New Testament shows that Jesus too has to be coherent with the ideas of the natural law. Indeed, Jesus has to work as the continuator of what is said in the Old Testament about the natural law of God. This shows that the Korean Christians view Jesus as the perpetuator of the natural law. Another reason that may attribute to this perception is the incorporation of Confucianism ideas in Korean culture. The Confucianism emphasizes the natural order and hierarchy of all matter. It defines human relationships and orders its followers to strictly follow the canon. Thus, Jesus, under the Korean culture would have had to have elements of order and hierarchy. In terms of homosexuality, this structure is expressed as the natural law pre-established as early as since the book of Genesis.
Secondly, the Korean Christians perceive Jesus as the absolute and consistent interpreter of God’s words. It has been proven earlier that the Korean churches view scriptures of God as persistent. Referring to the Gospel of John, Jesus is also called “the word” (John 1:1 ASV). Literally, Jesus in Christian religion is the word of God. Also, in his 3 years of preaching, Jesus focused on explaining what the God wanted to tell the Jews. Jesus often refers to himself as the messenger of God. These accounts of Jesus in the Bible suggest why the churches might perceive Jesus as the absolute interpreter. In order to analyze why Korean Christians does illustrate Jesus as so, a study of the brief history of Korean Church structure is inevitable. As mentioned before, the majority of Christians in Korea are a part of the Presbyterian Church of Korea. Also, a large portion of believers are a part of the Methodist or the Adventist Church. The three churches indicated above holds to beliefs of strong Christian Fundamentalism. Due to the ideas of fundamentalism, the doctrines of the Korean churches rely on the literal interpretation and understanding of the Bible. Thus, Jesus, the first Christian portrayer of the Bible and the words of God himself has to be considered important by the Korean Church.
Thirdly, Jesus is illustrated as the embracer of all damned and more importantly, the guide for the sinners. The absolute mission for a Christian is to follow the paths of Jesus. The fact that they still wish to willingly embrace the homosexuals despite their terribly sinful nature, shows that Jesus embeds a characteristic of benevolence. During his 3 years of ministry, Jesus “[ate] and [drank]” with the “gluttonous man and a winebibber… publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11: 19 ASV). He never turned down the socially oppressed such as a tax collector, a whore, or a child. This shows that the central characteristic of Jesus is the agape love that he presents to all his company. Embrace is not only his character but also his mission. Jesus explicitly states that his mission is “to proclaim release to the captives… to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Matthew 4:18 ASV). However, the Korean Church does not only embrace but think that it is their duty to convert the individual, and furthermore guide the society to a righteous path. This embodies the ideas of Christ to lead humanity to a moral world. Although Jesus is the omni-lover, it is equally important that he, as a judge of human kind, is a guide that directs the course of life. The Apostle’s Creed explicitly states that “[Jesus Christ] ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father [and]… will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Apostle’s Creed). This shows that Jesus is also the judge of sin. However, not only is he the magistrate, but also is the guide out of sin. It is important to realize from several accounts of sinners with Jesus that all the sinners have repented their sins. The robbers crucified beside Jesus too repented for his sin by saying “Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom” (Luke 23: 42 ASV). This shows that Jesus, the embracer of all sin made each and one of his followers repent for their sin and return to the domain of heaven by themselves. This shows that the Korean Christians view Jesus as the embracer and the guide to all the sinners, including the homosexuals.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned ideas do not well represent the entirety of Korean Christian beliefs. There is a group of evangelist Christians who strongly believe that the homosexuals are the whores and the tax collectors of the modern society. There is also a growing liberal youth community inside conservative denominations, influenced by social media, who strongly advocate for the acceptance and embracement of homosexuals in the Christian community. They argue that Jesus is a figure of toleration, and espousal. They claim that Jesus, as the bearer of sin, will not only forgive but also forget about the sins of the homosexuals. Some of the extreme advocates insist that Jesus, the lover of humanity, does not view homosexuality as sin. These diverse views, also present under the overarching term “Korean Christianity”, reiterate the limitations of the assumptions that numerous people make when studying religion; religion is not necessarily bound by the most popular doctrine but by individual beliefs combined together under a concrete system.
All in all, Jesus himself can be interpreted under numerous different perspectives. However, according to the majority of current Christianity in Korea, Jesus is the mediator of the natural law, the absolute and constant interpreter of the Bible, and the embracer and the guidance of all sinners. However, the fact that Fundamentalist Christianity is not the only Christian doctrine, have to be considered alongside.
The Assemblies of Divines at Westminster. The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proof Texts. Lindenhurst, NY: Great Christian , a Division of Rotolo Media, 2013. Print.
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The General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Korea. “Assembly Canon, Beliefs.” The General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Korea. The General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in Korea, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
“Homosexuality and Korean Christianity.” Personal interview. 19 Mar. 2017.
“Homosexuality and Korean Christianity.” Personal interview. 26 Mar. 2017.
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