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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: 'Time for Christians to Hear the Marginalised'


The Coronavirus Diaries: 'Time for Christians to Hear the Marginalised'

Wednesday February 24 2021

The Rev Dr Kang-Hee Han of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea reflects on differences between Korean churches in responding to the spread of the coronavirus

In this pandemic, there has been a controversial issue of 'orthodoxy and heterodoxy' in Korean Christianity.

At the centre of this matter is a secretive Christian sect of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is a religious movement established in 1984. For the moment, the Shincheonji Church is considered a heresy by mainline Korean Protestant denominations.

In July 2020, South Korean authorities arrested the religious leader on charges of allegedly hiding coronavirus information from contact-tracers and refusing to co-operate with epidemiological investigations. According to The Korea Times, more than 5,200 coronavirus infections, 36% of South Korea’s total cases, stemmed from the Shincheonji Church. The Shincheonji Church refused to provide church membership records on the grounds of privacy, which made it difficult for health officials to track the spread of the virus.

The group’s 'abnormal' attitude provoked growing anger and frustration among South Korean citizens, who had observed preventive measures, thereby igniting anti-Christian sentiment. Some Christian leaders and theologians soon distanced themselves from the Shincheonji Church by claiming it as a heresy, but for citizens who did not understand the doctrinal differences, the excuse was meaningless.

The established Protestant churches could not avoid social blame either. A conservative senior pastor of a Presbyterian Church ignored public health authorities to hold services, and even took massive anti-government demonstrations in central Seoul in protest against the alleged violation of religious freedom. After the demonstration, eventually about 300 church members including the senior pastor tested positive for coronavirus. Instead of a sincere apology to the public, he boldly asserted in an interview that ‘the outbreak among church members was a conspiracy to undermine him’ and ‘the virus had been intentionally brought into his congregation by outsiders’. His remark again aroused serious public hostility to Korean churches.

I as a Christian began to rethink the issues of orthodoxy [adherence to correct or accepted creeds] and heterodoxy [deviation from correct or accepted creeds] in the era of Covid-19. The other major Presbyterian churches categorised the controversial pastor as well as the leader of the Shincheonji Church as heretics. However, this is an evasion of responsibilities and fails to alleviate anti-Christian sentiments by the public. The people are not interested in doctrinal errors or abstract theological deviation, but the lack of social compassion demanded by this pandemic.

Without any observance of public health measures for quick recovery of social-economic shutdown and in blind faith and dogmas, the churches appeared as the centre of outbreaks, becoming social heterodoxy. The essence of the Church is on the values and actions of life, peace, and love, which are related with orthopraxis [the belief that right action is as important as faith], but some of the Korean churches overlook them with idolatry of church-centrism and exclusive dogmas and threaten our neighbours’ life in a fear of public infection. We need to carefully listen to a Korean Christian’s confession that ‘if it were not for the churches, the spread of the virus would be prevented sooner or later’.

Korean society suggests a new criterion in judging orthodoxy and heterodoxy. It is not doctrinal but social and communal. It implies social compassion based on common good and publicity. Are the churches properly giving favourable responses to various matters such as social discrimination and prejudice produced by the Covid-19? How much have Christians been co-operative to all forms of public health policies and measures which attempt to prevent the spread of Covid-19? It is the time for Christians to hear the voices of the marginalised and vulnerable people in risk of the pandemic.

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

Cuba: Keep Moving On
Canada: Cracks Have Been Exposed
Kenya: Leave No Child Behind
USA: Homes of Prayer
Mozambique: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
A Spaniard in Scotland: The Power of Movement
South Sudan: Being Positive
A Nigerian in Scotland: God is in Charge
Trinidad and Tobago: New Frontiers
Czech Republic: A Challenge for Everybody
Switzerland: An Outpouring of Solidarity and Creativity
The West Bank: A Landscape of Broken Dreams
Nepal: So Many Premature Goodbyes
Malawi: We Must Hold Each Other Close
Nigeria: A Fresh Spiritual Connectedness
Egypt: 'This Is A Time To Witness God'
Guyana: The Strength of our Connectedness
South Korea: A Harsh Reality
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'