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Seoul, South Korea
Seoul, South Korea

The Coronavirus Diaries: A Harsh Reality

Wednesday September 30 2020

Kim Minji, from the Human Rights Center in the National Council of Churches in Korea, warns that some churches have become associated with the far right as the country faces a second wave of Covid-19 infections

I greet you in solidarity from the Human Rights Center of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK).

The Korean churches have been facing a harsh reality due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During this crisis, the Korean government proved its ability to care for the welfare of its people as witnessed by countries all over the world through a rapid, clear response and compliance with health guidelines. The number of confirmed cases has decreased remarkably rapidly compared to many neighboring countries, and has received much praise from the international community in this regard. In the overseas media, there were many places where thorough Korean anti-virus guidelines such as mask wearing were used as positive lessons for others.

However, on August 15, a far-right group, mainly composed of a group known as the Liberation Day, including far right-wing people and Christian fundamentalists, held a large-scale rally in the middle of downtown Seoul, and soon after Korea faced a new wave outbreak of Covid-19.

Health authorities recorded a jump from 10 new infections one day to 100 new infections the next.

The word 'church' is now being linked to far-right groups as some churches are even hindering quarantine rules by insisting that the church is a place where face-to-face worship services, despite confirmation of their current life-threatening nature, are equal to religious freedom.

Korean churches have completely lost the trust of our current society. Rather, churches and leaders who have faithfully embodied the value of Christianity in their place, have come forward to voice their self-reflection on the church as a group that harms the safety of Korean society. We are also carrying out some kind of campaign such as handing out placards from our Church: "We, the Church apologize." NCCK also issued a statement of apology for the re-proliferation of Covid-19 just the morning after the August 15 rally.

For about a decade before the candlelight revolution in 2017, Korean society had faced a second dictatorship. When the daughter of dictator Park Chung-hee in 1970s took office as president in 2013, authoritarian and far-right political forces began to show their faces again. But she was impeached without fulfilling all of her presidency.

Those who have supported the power of dictators in Korean society for a very long time are now disparaging the democratic government. Their actions during the current Covid-19 second wave outbreak are the tip of the iceberg. Every time they target the most vulnerable and marginalised in society, and attack the values of human rights.

In particular, these groups are strongly opposed to the proposed anti-discrimination law which seeks to protect refugees, migrants, and now LGBT+, and their opposition is mass-produced around the conservative Protestant Church in Korea as if they were anti-government actions. People with this identity held a large-scale rally in central Seoul, which exacerbated this second wave outbreak. In the end, this kind of power has even threatened the right to life of all members of Korean society. Conservative Protestant churches in Korea are heading in an extreme direction.

I think all the Korean churches are responsible for this. The reason is that we have neglected and ignored unjust forces. The Korean Church has lost the trust of society and has been tainted with discrimination and hatred. As a Christian living in Korea and a pastor belonging to the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), it has been very difficult and painful for me to accept this reality.

At this very point, the NCCK is reflecting again and working to help the Korean Church regain the value of the kingdom of God in the Bible. For instance, developing programmes, including theological research, that provide various forms of worship, and providing them to each member church. We're working one by one to find ways to be with the social minorities who are forcibly exposed to more vulnerable situations in this crisis. In particular, the Human Rights Center of the NCCK has been working with the Korean faith based and civil society organizations to organize and implement various joint actions to enact a basic human rights law for the protection of the socially disadvantaged.

I can't say much here, but what I would like to request of my fellow Scottish Church members is that we pray together. Please continue to remember the hardships faced by our Asian comrades. And let's broaden and strengthen our ecumenical journey together so that the prayers can reach the land of the Korean Peninsula and other locations in Asia which are suffering even more from Covid-19.

The Coronavirus Diaries: reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

Zimbabwe: Convenience or a Wake-up Call?
Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
USA: Testing Positive
Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'