Lee Myung-bak’s Somang Church connection in the spotlight

Posted on : 2007-12-26 11:29 KST Modified on : 2007-12-26 11:29 KST
Relationships with Lee have put fellow church members in powerful governmental positions

The members of the congregation of Somang Church, which is one of the big Presbyterian churches in Seoul and is attended by President-elect Lee Myung-bak, are moving into the spotlight. As Lee works to assemble his transition team and fill important positions in his new administration, the connections he has made through the church he has attended for the past 20 years have increasingly come into play.

Yesterday, Lee Kyung-sook, who is the president of Sookmyung Women’s University, was appointed chairwoman of Lee’s transition team. Both President-elect Lee and Lee Kyung-sook have attended the church for the past 20 years. But she is just one of the people with whom Lee has attended church that he has selected to work in his administration.

Former Vice Finance Minister Kang Man-soo, who is one of Lee’s economic engineers also attends the same church. Kang and Lee first met at the church in 1981. With Lee’s help, Kang took part in a Grand National Party committee aimed at reforming the nation in 2001 and also worked for Lee while he was the mayor of Seoul.

Professor Kwak Seung-jun of Korea University, who is one of the architects of the cross-country canal project, also attends Somang Church, as does independent lawmaker Chung Mong-joon, who supported Lee during his campaign. Chung fiercely criticized the participatory government, saying, “After 10 years of democratic forces ruling the nation, the miracle on the Han River has degenerated into a mirage,” during a speech delivered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the church on October 2. Lee Sang-deuk, the president-elect’s elder brother and the National Assembly vice speaker, is a retired presbyter of the church. Some GNP lawmakers including Lee Jong-koo reportedly visit the church often.

However, some have expressed the concern about Lee appointing people based on personal connections established at the church. A case in point is Lee’s attempt to meet U.S. President George Bush in October, which ended in what many saw as a diplomatic disgrace. Kang Young-woo, a White House adviser who played a key role in pursuing the meeting, had also built a personal relationship with Lee at Somang Church. In an interview with the press, Kang said, “I first came to know Lee at the church in 1998 and met him several times in the process of participating in religious activities in 2002.” Lee’s failure to meet Bush was the result of his having depended on someone familiar to him, without having had a basic understanding of practical diplomatic affairs.

Situations such as these could encourage people to use churches as means of achieving success. In 1993, the wife of Kwon Young-hae, former director of the National Intelligence Service, transferred to Choonghyun Church, which was attended by former President Kim Young-sam, in order to establish a personal connection with him. Soon after, Kwon was appointed defense minister.

On December 24 of this year, the members of the congregation of Somang Church formed a queue to shake hands with Lee, as he attended the church’s Christmas Eve service.

Somang Church located in Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, has 18 pastors and a congregation of approximately 70,000 people, including approximately 60 former and incumbent ministers, 10 university presidents and 150 popular entertainers.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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