SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Korea Bizwire) – Earlier this week, up and coming South Korean actor Park Bo-gum was embroiled in a scandal surrounding his questionable affiliation with the controversial Jesus Centered Church, after a post was uploaded on his Twitter account promoting an event tied to what many consider to be a religious cult.
The controversy around Park’s religious beliefs sparked debate across online social media, dividing public opinion. While some defended Park’s right to pursue his personal religious beliefs, many slammed the celebrity and expressed concern about him using his platform and stature to propagate a controversial religious cult to his followers.
As details have emerged, including Park’s father’s writing which implies that he believes in exorcism and that Park’s name was given by one of the high-profile pastors of the Jesus Centered Church, Park’s way of promoting religion suggests a much bigger picture of the long standing issues surrounding religion in South Korea.
Park’s use of social media to promote his religion reminds many South Koreans of the times when they were approached on the street by stranger who often ease into a conversation by complimenting their appearance but later turn out to be followers of a cult sent on a mission to expand their base.
The aggressive nature of religious propaganda in public spaces causes a great nuisance to many, especially in an age of religious skepticism, when over half of young South Koreans describe themselves as atheists, according to last year’s study by Statistics Korea.
From the streets to the subway, it is a rare occasion to be completely free from the constant effort by religious followers in South Korea to propagate their religion. Some, however, are going the extra mile and choosing to do what they normally do in a place already occupied by other religions, even at the risk of creating a hostile environment and hurting South Korea’s image.
In 2014, video footage was uploaded by Buddhist media outlet Beopbo Newspaper depicting South Korean Protestant missionaries singing a Christian hymn at a renowned temple in India.
Beopbo Newspaper reported two South Korean men and one woman were seen playing a guitar and saying that only ‘God can save us,’ referring to the Christian God, a clear provocation to the followers of Buddishm at the Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya. The group reportedly left the scene after being confronted by a South Korean Buddhist who filmed the incident and threatened to make it known back home.
In August, a group of South Korean missionaries were kicked out of Turkey over accusations of propagating religion in areas occupied with Syrian refugees using money and valuables, with the governor of Ankara, where the incident took place, slamming the missionaries who visited the country as tourists.
Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs met with religious leaders in June, urging them to tell their followers to refrain from going on mission trips to other countries, particularly Pakistan, where a growing number of South Korean missionaries are being investigated by local authorities for breaching the law.
As of 2017, around 37,000 South Korean nationals are thought to be on long-term mission trips in over 170 countries, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Despite the aggressive tactics deployed by religious enthusiasts however, many polls indicate overwhelming public support for a so called “church tax,” including one by Realmeter in August which showed nearly eight in ten South Koreans back the government’s effort to do away with religious tax exemptions beginning next year.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)