[Editorial] Collaboration between church and state

Posted on : 2011-08-20 12:59 KST Modified on : 2011-08-20 12:59 KST

Certain churches have reportedly been named as targets for a concerted election commission crackdown in connection with violations on the city of Seoul's free school lunch referendum. It is supremely embarrassing to see churches, which supposedly operate by the ironclad rule of separation from the state, being accused of serving as voting campaign staff members for a particular political group. And with the issue being none other than the feeding of a single meal to children without discrimination, one may well question the church’s reason for existence.
The election commission would not have issued a needless warning. Indeed, some megachurches in Seoul have been identified as ringleaders since the time of the signature campaign opposing free school lunches. Yoido Full Gospel Church senior pastor David Yonggi Cho is a permanent adviser for the National Anti-Populism Union, the party that requested the referendum to repeal the program. The deputy chairperson of this group also made controversial remarks at a gathering in support of the referendum, calling it “the will of God” that the phased-in free school lunch plan was placed at the top section of the referendum outline.
The mistakes of the Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who has sought to drag churches into politics, and of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) have also been serious. A few days ago, the GNP ordered the head of its party members’ council to contact churches, cathedrals, temples, and other religious institutions and ask them to cooperate in the campaign urging the referendum. Previously, a National Assembly lawmaker visited a minister some three times to ask for cooperation, and boasted that the minister in question actually did urge participation in the vote during a sermon. Mayor Oh, for his part, has visited the Yoido Full Gospel Church and Christian Council of Korea since the time of the signature campaign to ask for their support.
But these churches have not simply been dragged in passively. Some ministers received warnings from the election commission during the 2007 presidential elections after openly encouraging support for then-candidate Lee Myung-bak during sermons. During the 2008 general elections, one minister assembled thousands of congregation members to what he said would be a morning prayer meeting on the day of voting, and encouraged them to back certain individuals. With the current referendum, it is the megachurches that the GNP is most counting on to achieve a voting rate of over 33.3 percent. Some of these megachurches have already long since been become politicized. While reference was made to temples and cathedrals, the Buddhist and Catholic communities have expressed extreme disdain.
Political statements and actions from churches are recognized for their legitimacy when they are taking the side of people who are alienated and persecuted. Political actions intended to develop political influence, to assume power, or to suppress other faiths and beliefs are poison. Such behavior is an insult to their deity. If they have the wherewithal to oppose free school lunches, their God would hope for a warm meal and some solace for children suffering because of food.

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

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