"Thc first shall be the last to serve all
This essay deals with the question of power in the history of the
Korean church in the context of the political life of the Korean people. It is a Biblical
and theological reflection on the political witness of the Korean churches during the last
The Korean people have experienced various political experiences in
their history. In the most ancient period, they lived as tribal communities around 2333
B.C., as a tribal confederacy and as three kingdoms (57 B.C. -A.D. 654).
In the year 654, the three kingdoms were integrated into the first
United Kingdom of Silla that lasted until A.D. 935 in which military integration,
political unity and religious harmony were realized. Politically, Confucian
"statecraft" was adopted while religiously Buddhism dominated and provided the
religious foundation for the united kingdom; Confucianism did not play an ideological
role. Succeeding the Silla Kingdom, the Koryo Kingdom (918 - 1392) was established without
much struggle and change, but the Chosun Kingdom radically transformed the Koryo Kingdom
into a full-fledged Confucian dynasty.
The Chosun Dynasty (1392 - 1910) was established through a military coup
detat that overthrew the Koryo Kingdom. Neo-Confucianism was enthroned as the
official ideology of the kingdom in place of Buddhism, which subsequently was severely
suppressed. The Chosun Confucian polity was centralized. Neo- Confucianism provided not
only the statecraft of the central organization of governance, but it permeated Chosun
society in philosophy, ethics and even religion. Neo-Confucianism was the official
ideology determining the orthodox teaching of all people, especially government employees,
who had to take an examination in neo-Confucian classics. The social and political system
was established with the king at the center, a Confucian bureaucracy of aristocrats - the Yangban
- and a rigid social separation between the Yangban and the commoners.
I. Roman Catholicism Enters Chosun Society:
Heavenly Lord vs. Heaven
In about 1603, a Roman Catholic book on theology written in Chinese
by Matteo Ricci (1552 -1610) was smuggled into Korea. This book was studied by Confucian
scholars for more than a century. Around 1725 a native Catholic community clandestinely
emerged. The community of Catholic believers received its official stamp as a church in
1784 when one of its members, Lee Seung Hun, was baptized in Peking by a Jesuit missionary
who was ecclesiastically linked to the papal authority.
When the community of Catholic believers began to practice openly what
they believec~t, there emerged a conflict between the Confucian polity and the small
Catholic community over the issue of ancestor worship, the spiritual expression of filial
piety. The Roman Catholic believers had abandoned ancestor worship. Filial piety (the
loyal and filial relationship between a father and his son), however, was the paradigmatic
core value of Chosun society, and the political order was anchored upon this central
value. Loyalty to the king (Chung) was based upon filial piety. The Roman
Catholic community was thus accused of subverting Confucian society, attacking the central
value system of filial piety and showing disloyalty to the political authority of the
The Roman Catholic community worshiped the Heavenly Lord (Chonju
= God) as the sole and supreme authority and as the Creator of heaven and earth,
whereas Confucian political authority emaninated from Heaven. The kings rule was
based upon the Heavenly Mandate (Chonmyong), whereas the Catholic community
lived according to the commandments of the Heavenly Lord. The authority of the Heavenly
Lord was directly mediated to the members of the community of Roman Catholic believers,
whereas the supreme authority of Heaven was mediated to the king and then to society in a
hierarchical order. Therefore, the king was the absolute ruler. He was the one who
distributed the benefits or blessings of Heaven to the people. It was the Kyongse
Chemin (political economy) of Confucian rule. Roman Catholicism, however, did not
develop any specific political thought in the Chosun Dynasty but remained the religious
expression of the Heavenly Ruler or Chonju.
As for supreme authority, the Heavenly Lord of the Roman Catholic
community was the Creator of Heaven, which was the source of authority for the Confucian
political order. Socially, Heaven was the basis for maintenance of the Confucian
hierarchy, including the social division of Yangban and commoners in Chosun
society, whereas the Roman Catholic community believed there was no distinction between Yangban
and commoners in the community of the children of Chonju.
This was the nature of the conflict between the Confucian polity and
the Roman Catholic community. The Confucian authorities of the Chosun Dynasty decided to
persecute the Catholic community, labeling them as subversives and their teaching as evil
and contrary to the orthodox teaching of Confucianism. As a result, many believers of the
Roman Catholic community became martyrs.
The nature of this conflict between the Confucian polity and the Roman
Catholic community is often obscured by association of the Catholic community with the
Western colonial powers and with the hierarchical order of the Roman Catholic ecclesial
order. In reality, however, neither the Western political powers nor the Roman Catholic
ecclesial order could have played decisiye roles in society, for these political or
ecclesial powers were not influential during the early stages of the Korean Roman Catholic
communitys formation. This was particularly true until the end of the 19th century.
As a persecuted group, the Roman Catholic community experienced
inevitable transformations. Often the authorities labeled the common people as Roman
Catholics in order to extort money and goods from them. Although many leaders became
martyrs, many commoners joined the community as a haven of hope and mutual protection in
Confucian society. The oppressed people, the commoners, discovered that there was no
distinction between Yangban and commoners in the Roman Catholic community.
The Roman Catholic community thus became proletarianized. Its theology
had to be transformed from scholastic concepts to popular theology, and most
significantly, its language had to be changed from the Chinese characters of the Yangban
class to the Korean script of the common people. This was the beginning of the
indigenization of the Christian language into Korean society with all of the social and
political implications of this transformation. Faced with internal political and social
crisis, the Chosun Dynasty made the Roman Catholic community the scapegoat of rebellion
while the common people found in the Church their hope for liberation from the oppression
of the Confucian social order.
Thus, the Christian faith played a significant role in the political
history of the Korean people from the very beginning. The Christian faith was subversive
of the despotic rule of the Confucian dynasty in Korea, for Christians believed that all
things were created by their God, "the Creator of heaven and earth and everything
therein"; thus, the absolute power of the king was undermined.
II. Protestantism and the Sovereign Rights of the People
It is important to state that, as in other missionary contexts, the
Protestant mission in Korea came with the colonial expansion of the Western powers, and
yet Korea never became a colony of the Western powers; rather, it became a colony of the
Eastern power, Japan. Here the Korean Protestant community had to deal with the monarchic
power of the Chosun Dynasty, which was undergoing disintegration because of domestic
erosion and external challenge by the international powers, and subsequently with the
imperial power of Japan following its victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1894) and the
Russo-Japanese War (1904) and its successful diplomatic maneuvering with the United
Kingdom and the United States. This led to the complete hegemony of Japans imperial
power over the affairs of the Korean people.
Generally speaking, the Protestant mission had the backing of the
Western powers, but the Western powers could not be dominant in Korea until 1945 when the
United States occupied the southern half of the Korean Peninsula.
From the beginning, the Protestant mission had to be sensitive to the
anti-Western attitude of the Confucian rulers, which had originated in the era of
anti-Catholic persecution and which intensified during the attempts of the Western
military, political and commercial powers to enter Korea. The strategy of the Protestant
mission was to befriend the royal family to gain tolerance for religious propagation,
which was carried out in a very low-key manner, for the missionaries did not want to
alienate the already hostile Yangban class as they began to evangelize the lower
echelon of Korean society.
By 1895, the Korean Christian community had become influential in the
country through its participation in the famous Toknip Hyophoe (Independence Association)
and the political reform movement th~it it launched. The Korean Christian leaders were
bearers of the Western political ideal of the sovereignty of the people. They initially
advocated a republican polity and later a constitutional monarchy as the political
platform of the Independence Association. Christians demanded that national policies
should be decided by popular will. This, indeed, was complete subversion of the Confucian
monarchy. Whereas, for the British and American missionaries, this republican polity was
the natural historical outcome of their Christian faith; for the Korean Christians as
subjects of the Confucian king, the republican polity was a revolutionary political idea.
The Korean rulers could not entertain such Western political ideas
although many people believed that political reform might be the only way to counter the
encroachment of foreign powers. The Korean authorities, however, arrested the leaders of
the Independence Association, which alarmed the missionaries and led the Korea Mission
Council to formally adopt the policy of political neutrality in 1901 that prohibited any
political activities on the part of church members. This was the beginning of tension
between the Korean Christian community and the missionary community in Korea about the
issue of political participation.
The Korean Christian leaders had to find ways to help determine the
political destiny of the people. They found an organizational device in the establishment
of the Christian Young Peoples Association, which was formed that same year in 1901.
This organization provided a place for the Korean Christian leaders to gather together and
carry out some educational and evangelistic activities for the young people. Christian
mission schools were also breeding grounds for Korean nationals with a modern political
When Japan defeated Russia and managed to neutralize Great Britain by
treaty and American power by the secret Taft-Katsura agreement, Korea fell into the hands
of Japan and became its defacto colony. This constituted a real national crisis to
which Christians responded in two different ways. One group of Christians organized
official churches under Korean and missionary leadership that sought to steer the minds of
Korean Christians away from the nations political crisis to an eschatology of
another world. The other major response by Christians was to join various political
organizations to struggle for national independence. They participated in underground
independence movement organizations, such as the Shinminhoe (New Peoples
Association); they sent secret diplomatic missions to appeal to the nations of the world;
and they joined the Righteous Army Movement to fight against the Japanese occupation
The latter response of Korean Christians clearly envisioned the
restoration of their nation as a state with the people as the sovereign rulers. This is
the meaning of "new people" in the name of the New Peoples Association
- an underground network of people nationwide who wanted to achieve
national independence and to establish a national state characterized by economic self-
reliance and cultural transformation. Economic, educational, political and military
activities were carried out by the New Peoples Association in and outside of the
III. Messianic Reign and the Vision of the People
When the Japanese formally annexed Korea in 1910, they regarded
their most formidable force of resistance to be Korean Christianity. The conspiracy case
to assassinate Governor General Terauchi of Chosun was fabricated to destroy the New
Peoples Association. This was called the "105 incident," for 105 leaders
were prosecuted on fabricated charges. More than 80% of those who were sentenced were
Christian leaders. The dismantling and uprooting of the New Peoples Association
meant preemptive suppression of political resistance internally.
The Japanese colonial government wanted to expel Korean and Christian
influence from the colonial education system. Their educational ordinances issued in 1910
banned Christian and Korean teachings in the mission schools, which had been the nurturing
ground for Koreas national leaders in addition to the Korean National Peoples
Schools. Japan wanted to educate all Koreans as loyal subjects of the Japanese emperor.
This colonial policy brought about a major conflict between the Protestant mission and the
colonial government, for the mission schools were under the sole control of the
missionaries. This issue of separation of Church and State required extended diplomatic
activities by the Federal Council of Foreign Missions in New York with the U.S. State
Department and with the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. - a dispute that lasted 15
For Korean Christians, education was a means of achieving national
liberation as well as a means of evangelization; for missionaries, it was purely a means
of evangelization; for the colonial government of Japan, it was a means of subjugation of
the Korean people. The colonial government argued for the separation of Church and State
in order to exclude the Church from the colonial educational system, which was their means
of domestication. This policy has often been used by dictatorial governments in more
recent years of Korean history. (When the ruling power argues for the separation of Church
and State to suppress and curtail the influence and work of the Christian community, then
the classical Calvinist doctrine is distorted. Moreover, this doctrine is not relevant in
a non-Christian context, such as in Korea.)
The Korean Christian community participated dramatically in the
national resistance movement through the famous March 1 Independence Movement in 1919. In
fact, the Christian community defied the Korean missions policy of non-involvement
and became a central part of the nonviolent and peaceful Minjung resistance
Together the Christian, Buddhist and Tonghak communities - the latter
an indigenous religion - organized the people to demonstrate and to protest on a national
scale. The people responded everywhere and demonstrated continuously for three months; and
in some places, demonstrations continued for a year. National independence was the clear
vision of the resistance movement, and the people hoped for a new history. This was
enshrined in the National Independence Declaration, which has become the pivotal document
of recent Korean history.
The declaration has two distinct characteristics that deserve our
attention: first, there is the expression of the messianic vision of the Korean people,
which undergirds their real political vision; and secondly, there is the unmistakable
definition of a polity of peoples sovereignty. In the spirit of the March 1
Independence Movement, the government-in-exile was organized in Shanghai, and the
Constitution of Taehan Minguk (Republic of Korea) was written based on a polity in which
the sovereignty of the State resides in the people. What is remarkable about the event and
the declaration is that there occurred a complete transformation in the consciousness of
the Korean people and that the people clearly aspired for a democratic republic as their
The Korean Christian community participated in the resistance movement
of the people against the tyranny of Japans colonial power. This was, indeed, a
remarkable event, for it betrays the conservative nature of Korean Christianity. This
historic experience should be regarded as one of the important roots of Minjung theology.
The March 1 Independence Movement is recognized by Minjung theologians in Korea as
an Exodus event for the Korean people, as an intervention of the Messianic Reign. The
Korean Christian community sought the transformation of the States power, monarchic
and imperial, into a democratic power that would serve the sovereignty of the people.
Their political resistance was not merely negative opposition: they had a definite vision
of the political future of the Korean people.
There has been some discussion about the theological and political
nature of Christians participation in the resistance movement, but the general
character of Christian participation in the movement is unmistakable. In fact, the more we
investigate that participation, the more compelling it becomes. We are waiting for a
thoroughly scholarly work on the subject, which is urgently needed.
The emergence of the messianic hope and passion and the messianic
vision and perception, however, were not translated into concrete ethical principles or
political policies because of the suppression of the Christian community by the Japanese
and also because of the non-political orientation of the churches under the leadership of
the missionaries. There was no political or ecclesiastical space to articulate and reflect
upon the experiences of Christian participation in the March 1 Independence Movement. This
is the reason why the Christian community could not respond to the ideological context of
the subsequent period.
In the 1920s, various ideologies were introduced into Korea due to a
degree of "liberalization" of colonial policies, which was an appeasement tactic
by the Liberal regime in Japan itself. Socialist ideologies, for example, were allowed to
be introduced in the nations mushrooming newspapers and magazines. Within this
framework, the national independence movement gained certain ideological characteristics.
Some thought socialist ideology was the best instrument to realize national liberation;
others thought liberalism was best. There developed, as a result, two ideological
tendencies within the same national independence movement. The colonial governments ought
to divide the nationalist movement using the divergent ideological tendencies against each
The Christian community was also having similar experiences: some
followed the socialist tendency, and others followed the liberal line. These two
tendencies were not mutually exclusive, for they both had the same objective of national
liberation and independence. This was evidenced in their attempt to join their efforts in
the Shinganhoe, which was a united front of the two ideological tendencies. When this
united front was formed, the colonial government suppressed it and dismantled the
The churches led by the missionaries in Korea had a somewhat different
perspective. The missionaries were ardent anti- communists, for they believed that
communists were, by definition, atheists. This resulted in the formation of churches which
were very negative toward political ideologies, particularly progressive ones. The Korean
independence movement was bound to be sympathetic towards any revolutionary ideology,
however, for its aim was national liberation. Christian liberals were also sympathetic to
the progressive ideologies, and some Christians regarded themselves as progressives. Very
few thought of themselves as capitalists.
One fundamental limitation was that the churches under the theological
leadership of the missionaries could, not enter creatively into the ideological arena as a
way to participate in the national independence movement. This was generally the case
during the 1920s. However, some Christian leaders became very interested in introducing
the Social Gospel from the West. This was particularly important in the development of the
Christian Young Peoples Movement.
IV. The Korean Church and Status Confessionis
In 1930, the political situation in Japan, Korea and East Asia
in general changed dramatically. The ultraconservative military wing of Japans
political forces created the Manchurian incident and took over the reins of the Japanese
government. The colonial administration of Korea was transferred from the Foreign
Department to the Internal Affairs Department, and the Yasukuni Shrine became the national
shrine of Japan. All Japanese subjects were required to worship Shinto. Naturally the
Korean Christian community now faced a very difficult political and religious situation.
Colonial policies were changed to eradicate Korean culture and history and to annihilate
the Korean identity. Koreans were required to change their names to Japanese names; they
were not allowed to speak their own language in public places, including schools; and they
could not learn anything about their history and culture. Indeed, Japanese history was
imposed upon the Korean people; Korean history was explained only as a part of the history
o1 Japan. This was a very brutal part of the assimilation policy of the Japanese colonial
government in Korea.
Furthermore, the Japanese ambition, or rather mission, to build the
Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere led to the Japanese invasion of China and
eventually to their entry into World War II. During Japans military campaigns of
expansion, the Korean people were completely mobilized as "war corvee" for
The Korean churches were facing the deepest crisis in their faith, for
they were forced to worship Shinto, thus, violating the first commandment. Most of the
official churches capitulated and did so humiliatingly. Some churches refused to worship
Shinto and were forced to close. Thousands of Christians were jailed for refusing to bow
at the Shinto shrine. Many became martyrs; some hid themselves in the mountains; still
others became exiles.
The Japanese colonial government hoped to break the will of the Korean
Christian community by imposing Shinto worship. They said that Shinto worship was not a
religious act but a national ceremonial ritual, and therefore, Shinto worship did not
violate any religious commandment. The Korean Christians, however, did not share the same
perception. For Korean Christians, it was a matter of being faithful to God or denying
God: it was a situation of status confessionis. The story of the Rev. Chu Ki-
Chol, who refused to worship Shinto and became a martyr, illustrates the case.
The Korean Christian community was left, therefore, to face the
imperial power of Japan with its religious and absolute claims. It was a confrontation
between the sovereignty of God and the Japanese emperor. The resistance or capitulation of
the Korean Christian community was a question of resisting or giving in to the absolute
authority of the political idol that was victimizing the Korean people.
Some argue that the martyrdom of the Rev. Chu Ki-Chol because of
his resistance to Shinto was a pure act of faith and that, therefore, it had no political
implications. It is clear that it was not ordinary political resistance but resistance
based upon faith and in defense of faith; it was resistance against absolutist and
totalitarian power rooted in the strongest foundations of faith. The apocalyptic
literature of the Bible shows similar experiences. The martyred saints resisted the
imperial powers of Babylon and Rome on the basis of faith and in defense of faith in the
sovereignty of God over the whole Creation, including human political life.
V. The Christian Community and
Democracy and Peace among the People
The Korean church suffered with the people under the domination of
Japans colonial rule. The Church participated in the suffering of the people and
experienced the koinonia of pain with the people oppressed by the Japanese Empire.
Naturally, the liberation of the Korean people at the end of World War II was the joy of
the Church as well as of the Korean people.
The Korean people, however, then had to endure another experience of
the reality of power: the military occupation of the Soviet Union in the North and of the
United States in the South, which divided the nation and the people. This division was
caused by the superpowers rivalry. Their surrogate war in Korea resulted in six
million dead and injured; 10 million people were separated from their families. The
political, military and ideological division of the Korean people has generated a culture
of enmity and hate among the people and has provided the pretext for the military
dictatorships and the reckless military build-up and limitless accumulation of arms.
The Korean Christian community was really weak at the time of
liberation in 1945. Even before the rebuilding of the churches began, the Christian
community had to experience the harsh political realities of the military occupations in
the North and in the South. In the North, the Christian community confronted the communist
regime; and in the South, the Christian community colluded with the corrupt dictatorial
regime of Syngman Rhee in a symbiotic relationship.
The Korean Christian community, which was so courageous until the
1920s, capitulated to the imperial power of Japan; and without clear and creative
discernment, it became naively anti-communist, uncritical and blindly supportive of the
corrupt dictatorship led by Rhee, who was a Christian. Before and during the Korean War,
many Christians in the North fled to the South, which further strengthened the
anti-communist tendency in the Church.
The churches in the North were completely destroyed physically and
ecclesiastically, particularly during and after the Korean War. Today the Christian
community in the North is very weak. On the other hand, the churches in the South have
been growing phenomenally, doubling in growth every 10 years since 1945. Now the Christian
population has reached 10 million or 25% of the south Korean population.
The political reawakening of the Korean churches occurred with the
challenge of the student revolution in 1960 when the pro- Christian regime of Syngman Rhee
was overthrown. Suddenly the churches symbiotic power relationship with the corrupt
dictatorship was exposed, and public criticism was directed against the churches
unprincipled links with the powerful for privileges. There were, however, self-critical
voices regarding the political attitude of the Church as well.
The 1961 military coup dramatically changed the situation though. The
military regime was cool towards the Church, for Gen. Park Chung-Hee of the military junta
was not a Christian and even held a cynical attitude toward the Church.
From this pointin time, the Church found itself in a cool
political environment, and in 1965 the Church opposed the normalization treaty with Japan.
This was a full confrontation between the Church and the government over a major political
issue. The strength of the Church was not in its numbers (the membership of the Protestant
churches was less than two million) but in its legitimate position.
The churches could not prevent the government though from ratifying the
normalization treaty, although they resorted to direct actions, such as public prayer
meetings and demonstrations. However, it became very clear that the historic political
awareness of the Church had been reawakened. Church leaders, such as Dr. Han Kyung-Jik and
Dr. Kim Chai-Choon, became very prominent "political" leaders in Korean society.
Since then, a small but prophetic minority in the Church has functioned
as the political conscience of the Korean people. Some Christian leaders participated in
the opposition to the revision of the Constitution that would allow Park to run for his
third term as president. After Park declared martial law to carry out that revision - the
so-called Yushin (Revitalization) Constitution of 1972 which made him president for life -
the Christian community spearheaded opposition to the Yushin regime.
The movement for human rights, social justice and democracy in the
1970s was centered around the ecumenical movement of churches and action groups in Korea.
In this context, there emerged Minjung theology, a Korean political theology, and
the Christian community catalyzed similar movements in the society at large. Initially the
participation of the Christian community in the political life of the people took the form
of resistance and opposition to dictatorial power, its violation of human rights and the
pervasive environment of social injustice. However, as time went on, Christians began to
develop clear political and social thinking and to feel an acute need for scientific
social analysis and policy development. Although liberal democratic concepts and jargon
served well as far as human rights were concerned, this was not sufficient for questions
concerning social justice. Thus, the Korean churches began to define human rights very
broadly to include the social and cultural rights of the oppressed and exploited people.
One of the important developments was the concept of power at the
grassroots level. The Christian community believed that democracy should be from bottom to
top, not from top to bottom. For this process of democratization, the people at the
grassroots should organize themselves to secure their rights. This is regarded as the
power of the people or Minjung power. This power is contrasted to dictatorial
power; it is power based upon grassroots democracy.
Analysis of the political situation became increasingly sophisticated
as time went on. The militaristic nature of the dictatorship, based on an ideology of
national security against the threat of north Korea, was clarified. "The Theological
Declaration of Korean Christians" in 1973 proclaimed the signs of the times:
"The present dictatorship in Korea is destroying rule by law and
persuasion; it now rules by force and threat alone.
"The regime in Korea is destroying freedom of conscience and
freedom of religious belief. There is freedom neither of expression nor of silence. There
is interference by the regime in Christian churches worship, prayer, gatherings, the
contents of sermons and the teachings of the Bible....
"The dictatorship in Korea is using systematic deception,
manipulation and indoctrination to control the people. The mass media has been turned into
the regimes propaganda machine to tell the people half-truths and outright lies and
to control and manipulate information to deceive the people.
"The dictatorship in Korea uses sinister, inhuman and, at the same
time, ruthlessly efficient means to destroy its political opponents, intellectual critics
and innocent people. The use of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) for this
purpose is somewhat similar to the evil ways of the Nazis Gestapo or the KGB of the
Stalin era. People are physically and mentally tortured, intimidated and threatened and
sometimes even disappear completely. These are, indeed, diabolical acts against
"The present dictatorship is responsible for the economic system
in which the powerful dominate the poor. The people - poor urban workers and rural
peasants - are victims of severe exploitation and social and economic injustice. The
so-called economic development in Korea has turned out to be the conspiracy of
a few rulers against the poor people and a curse to our environment
The Christian community of mission groups and churches inserted
themselves between the oppressive powers and the people, bearing witness to the reality of
truth, justice and human rights in the Korean historical process. Increasingly, the
Christian community felt the need to articulate the Christian vision of society, not as a
blueprint of the future, but as a concrete vision that would allow the Christian community
to be creatively engaged in the determination of the political future of the Korean
The Church has understood the nature of the present power as a
dictatorship that has no respect for rules and laws that protect the rights of the people
and as a sinister power that distorts the truth and employs sinister means to violate
human beings and life. This power is understood as rebellious against God. It is also
understood as an economic system that exploits the poor and violates their socio-economic
rights. The Church has advocated resistance against this power and has sought to establish
democracy that would guarantee socio-economic rights as well as the basic human rights of
The Church, however, had to experience yet another dimension of
political power during the peoples resistance in Kwangju and their massacre by the
military in 1980. The political power of Korea had become militarized to the extent that
it could turn our own citizens and civilians into its enemy. Furthermore, the use of this
military force against Korean citizens was found to be closely linked with the protection
of the interests of the imperial power of the United States, which may be called Pax
Americana. Awareness of the imperial dimension of political power in Korea completed
the understanding of the political power that the Korean churches and people had to face.
The Korean churches declared that the division of their nation and
people had been carried out by the imperial powers of the Soviet Union and the United
States. This Paxlmperium is not the peace of Jesus Christ, for which the Korean
churches proclaimed the Year of Jubilee in 1995 to remember the 50th anniversary of the
division of Korea. The challenge of the Gospel to the churches in Korea is to witness to
the peace of the Messianic Reign within the vortex of the power struggle among the
superpowers in and around the Korean Peninsula.
VI. Biblical Footnotes
Looking back at the history of the witness of the Christian community
in the political life of the Korean people, we are reminded of the history of the
relationship between the people of God in Israel and the principalities and powers in and
around Israel. There was absolute domination by the imperial powers, such as Egypt,
Babylon, Assyria. Greece and Rome, which claimed pax on this earth. However, the
people of God experienced true peace in the sovereign reign of God, who created the Garden
of Life in Eden and promised sustenance, which was to be fully realized in the kairos of
The peace of the Messianic Kingdom had been envisioned among the
suffering people and their visionary leaders. The prophets of the people of God denounced
the false peace of Pax Imperium. Instead, the peace of the Messianic Reign is the
foundation of life in shalom in which the rights of the people are fully realized.
In this Messianic Reign, there is neither room for the power of
domination nor the domination of power. The only power that is allowed is the power that
serves God and, therefore, the people. This may be called "servant power" (doularchy
= doulos + archy). Jesus defined true authority: "The first shall
be the last to serve all." "The first" is the servant, and "all,"
that is, the Minjung, are the masters who are served. This is the most radical form
of polity in which the people are truly sovereign.