Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pastor Douglas Shin: "our faith has become very corrupt"

Saemmul Stained Glass Window
Stained glass, stained hearts?

The online Christian news site Compass Direct News ran an interesting article about a week ago, "North Korea: Refugees Facing Crackdown" (July 31, 2007), an interview with Pastor Douglas Shin, "a Korean-American pastor living in Los Angeles who has built 'underground railroads' for North Korean refugees since 2000 as leader of the 'Exodus 21' movement."

For those not in the know, the expression "underground railroad" originally referred to the routes from safe house to safe house that escaped slaves used for secretly passing from America's southern slave states to the northern free states or on to Canada in the time prior to the Civil War. I presume that the expression "Exodus 21" alludes to the Exodus story in the Bible of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt but updating that story to the 21st century and applying it to the North Korean refugees.

The entire interview is fascinating (as was an earlier interview from May 2001 in the Chosun Journal), especially when the interviewer posed the following question:
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken Korean aid workers hostage and killed two of them -- how could South Korean media and others blame the victims for wanting to do good?
Pastor Shin had a revealing answer:
Korean Christians, while numbering less than 3 percent of the population early in their history during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), were the spiritual -- as well as physical -- leaders of Korean society. With the outward growth since 1970s concurrently with the economic growth of the country, our faith has become very corrupt, emulating the secular sector, not vice versa. We have shown many bad examples to the people, so they've come to hate us now.
In short, Korean churches have grown corrupt and disliked ... though Shin doesn't specify precisely how. But Shin doesn't harshly blame the missionaries taken captive by the Taliban:
These Sammul Church folks are the cream of the crop of Korean believers, and Koreans have very little for which to blame them -- except for that picture they took at the Seoul airport [in front of a sign warning of the dangers of traveling to Afghanistan], and the tourist bus they chartered in Kabul -- yet, they are vulnerable to the avalanche of criticism from the Netizens and the media because of the general social ethos here that is willing to shoot down any Christian at any time for anything whatsoever.
For some harsh but intelligent, albeit speculative criticism of the Saemmul Church missionaries being held by the Taliban, see Michael Hurt's Metropolitician blog entry "Cunning Christian Stunts":
[W]hat I see ..., rather than brave Christian lambs, are rather the self-deluded and culturally insensitive Christians in Korea, whom I encounter all the time, who berate and preach to anyone within earshot about how they will go to Hell, about how Jews and Muslims are not "real" religions, and a million other things I need not mention here.... I think this is a case of a bunch of idealistic, mostly young folks who saw this whole thing as a cunning Christian stunt, and they never really felt the fear of death.... These are middle-class kids who've lived in sanitized apartment complexes, have been kept in a cocoon of constructed innocence, and probably saw this whole thing as a great adventure, while the church elders who put them up to were likely thinking about how this would enlarge the name of their church as well. "Look! We went to Afghanistan and taught prayer songs to kids! What'd your church do?" Bigger name means more members, means more money, means more power.
So, who's right on the Saemmul Church missionaries, Korean-American Douglas Shin or the American half-Korean Michael Hurt? I guess that we'll just have to wait for the details.

Of course, readers know that I've recently gone on record defending the missionaries in my blog post "Two opinions on the Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan...," but I don't know the real motives of these particular missionaries any better than other bloggers do. However, in a blog entry over a year ago, "Christianity Today on Korean Christianity and its Missions" (February 26, 2006), I expressed some skepticism about 'voluntary' missionaries sent by Korean churches. The South Korean missionary group Durihana, for instance, sends North Korean converts living in China back into the North to proselytize secretly, and when criticized for this, Durihana's director insisted that they "don't force them to go back" but instead "send only volunteers." At that claim, I mused:
Volunteers. Hmmm ... well, anyone who's been around Korean churches understands what that means. Korean Christianity reflects Korean society -- hierarchical and Confucian. If the 'seniors' favor evangelism, the 'juniors' will volunteer.
That may be the sort of thing that happened with the Saemmul Church missionaries, too. Whether Shin, Hurt, or I turn out to be correct, we all three see problems in Korean churches for the way in which they reflect some of the less appealing aspects of Korean society.

Let us nevertheless hope that the remaining 21 captives are released by the Taliban unharmed and without any concessions on the part of the Korean, Afghan, or American governments and that Korean Christians draw some appropriate lessons from this experience.

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At 4:55 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

You softly go where I always fear to tread. If I had written this article I would have gone over the top. One of the great joys of reading your blog is seeing how deftly you make your point but don't stoop to using words that have denegrating emotional content.

We can never change anothers perspective...he or she either 'gets it or doesn't'.

Again good job and best wishes to you and the family.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, BohinK (you know, the Czechs used to be called 'Bohunks', short for "Bohemians"), I appreciate your comment.

I've had to learn from bitter experience over a long number of years to curb my tongue and practice being more diplomatic. Otherwise, one gets some blowback.

I still have some vitriol in me, but I save it for the proper time and the appropriate villians, and in this case, I expend some of it only on the murderous scumbagging Taliban SOB misogynist bastards -- and I'm still being polite.

So ... I can yet stoop to some emotional words, if necessary.

Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:33 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

Heh, yes I did know that the Czechs used Bohunk thats why in the first couple words o my intro I mention them but you are the first to get it. I had a much older blog that is since defunct and through it I met a visiting scholar she asked me my definition of bohemian and 6 months later I saw word for word my definition on her blog (so much for trusting Mensa scholars) Since that time I have been vehement that although I'm not The Bohemian he does currently reside on my sofa.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I move that the MENSA scholars be tabled. Do I hear a second?

Thanks for writing again. I just 'enjoyed' watching Charlotte's Web with my two offspring -- accompanied by a chilled glass of refreshing white wine -- and ... well, I'm glad that the children liked it.

They also like insects. I used to like insects, even collected them for my 4-H project.

Now, I find myself fighting the little critters off ... the insects, I mean.

Jeffery Hodges

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