Author Finds Connection Between Protestantism and Anti-Communism

Seoul, South Korea -- Seoul residents have become used to seeing thousands protesting North Korea or demonstrating for improving relations with the United States. However, what may not be common knowledge is that these demonstrators are mostly Christians.

The quarterly magazine, Critical Review of History (Yoksa Pipyong), recently issued a five-part series looking into the historical background of the relationship between Protestantism and anti-communism.

Professor Kang In-chol of Hanshin University writes that it was from the 1920s during Japanese occupation that Protestants' conflicts with communism began. And by 1930, most Protestants defined themselves as anti-communist because Marxism rejects the existence of God, according to the professor.

The tendency, Kang writes, are in line with the divergent positions the two groups took through history, with the communists taking the initiative in the independence movement of the 1930s and Christians siding with the U.S. army and President Syngman Rhee in the post-liberation era.

According to Kang, the Korean War cemented the division. Most Protestants headed south while the majority of communists went North. The ideological lines were clearly drawn.

``It was the war that made most Protestants accept the theoretical connection between communism and Satan,'' Kang says, which naturally led Christians to define their confrontation with the North as a ``divine mission.''

For Kang, it is natural that this religious group should adopt such a hard-line as ``anti-communism itself became the national ideology, or `civil religion.'''

The tradition has persisted in religious circles since then, he writes. During the World Council of Churches held in Evanston, Illinois, the United States in 1953, the Korean delegation rejected the forum's agenda suggesting coexistence with the communism.

In 1958, when the National Christian Council of the United States of America officially approved the presence of communist China, Hangiryon, then Korea's union of Protestants, issued a statement denouncing the compromise. Kim points the stance has not changed even after the end of the Cold War and the establishment of detente on the peninsula.

Kim Jin-ho, a preacher, pays attention to American missionaries, accounting for the majority of the foreign clergymen active in Korea during and after the Japanese occupation. Kim said the most of the missionaries belong to a radical sect of the North American Presbyterian Church. This factor exerted a great influence in the formation of early Korean Christianity, which stubbornly declined to compromise other religious beliefs or other ideology.

He also points out the missionaries had another role to play in the country. They acted as a bridge between U.S. forces and Korean Christians. ``Out of the total ranking Korean officials working for the U.S. army between December 1946 and August 1947, more than 50 percent were Christian, a high ratio compared with the nation's average of 0.5 percent.'' According to Kim, it is natural that the radical and pro-American sentiments permeate into Korean Christianity even until now.

He takes one of example of a preacher who prayed in English in front of around 100,000 Korean laymen in an anti-communism outdoor service recently held in a plaza of Seoul city hall. ``That is a testimony to a colonized belief,'' Kim writes.

While the two writers review the historical background of Protestantism here, Om Han-jin, a researcher at Seoul National University, compares its nature with Protestantism in other nations. Om said it is not very rare for Christian groups to stand up against communism. ``In Eastern Europe, Catholicism and Protestantism both played roles in opposing and defeating Communist regimes,'' Om says. ``In the Middle East and Latin America, we can observe similar cases.''

The researcher points that Korean protestant leaders failed to come up with their own discourse over the social situation. ``They can not show that they are different in their approach to social issues from other secular approaches,'' Om says.

An official at the Christian Council of Korea admits that the nation's Protestants favor the United States as its missionaries contribute a lot to past evangelism here. ``But it does not mean that we are blindly following them,'' he told The Korea Times. ``We are just worried that Korea is unduly leaning toward anti-U.S. stance.'' Christianity's anti-communism stems from its long history of suppressing religions, the official added.