Korean Christianity

2013-10-18 22.20.46 (2)

Geoffrey and Yeji with Geoffrey’s parents.

My son Geoffrey recently married Kim Yeji (김예지) a Korean woman who is very involved with her church, the Smyrna Presbyterian Church in Changwon, Korea. It is my understanding that most of the Protestant missionaries to Korea were either Southern Baptist or Southern Presbyterian, although in 1968 I remember a Methodist missionary assigned to the Methodist High School in Gongju where I was living (he was teaching them American football!). A college friend is now a Methodist pastor in Maryland and tells me that in his experience the Korean Methodists tend to be rigid. Both Southern Baptists and Southern Presbyterians probably fit that description as well. After all the Presbyterians are Calvinists.

Geoffrey tells me that he went with Yeji’s family to a farm owned by her paternal uncle for Chuseok (추석, the Korean three day harvest festival). The Chuseok rituals developed out of early shamanistic practices, I would guess with an overlay of Confucian ritual. Geoffrey’s father-in-law, as the oldest male, was obliged to be involved but the women did not participate. Their Christian beliefs would not let them.

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Geoffrey and Yeji with her parents

In the 1600s in China the Pope determined that Christian (Catholic) converts must give up honoring their ancestors. The Jesuits opposed him on this (the rites controversy), saying the honoring of ancestors was cultural and not religious, and in any case that would make it very difficult to gain converts. Of course this had no influence on Yeji’s family since they don’t recognize Catholics as Christian (there are two different words in Korean for Christian and Catholic). Of course Quakers are also relegated to the group that doesn’t meet their standards. According to Geoffrey “they don’t like Ham Seok-Heon” (1901-1989). He was a Quaker, albeit of the Universalist variety, and named a Korean National Cultural Figure in 2000! When Koreans don’t know what Quakers are I mention him to help me explain, and I guess this is what Geoffrey did.

I worry about how Yeji will adapt to life here. In addition to the expected culture shock and need to learn English (serviceable but needs a lot of work), she will be in a family that loves her but does not share crucial elements of her belief system.

Jesus taught a gospel of love, agape. We are to love God and to love our neighbor, and neighbor includes the Samaritans (Luke 10:25-37) who were a group of mixed blood Israelites that differed from Orthodox Jews in that they worshiped on the mountains and not in the temple as required by the priests in Jerusalem. They also limited scripture to the Torah (first five book of the Bible or the books of Moses) while Jews recognized the whole Tanak (Torah, prophets including the Histories, and writings). It was the priests and the Pharisees that were rigid and intolerant. They excluded people from the temple or synagogue for many reasons. Jesus healed people whose afflictions caused them to be excluded. I hope she will come to see that Jesus was against intolerance.

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