The National Council of Churches in Korea on Tuesday apologized after a member set fire to Sujinsa Buddhist temple in Gyeonggi Province.
“We deeply apologize for the damages done to Sujinsa Temple and all Buddhists,“ an NCCK official said in a statement.
The NCCK also acknowledged that the fire at Sujinsa Temple could have done worse damage as the temple is located near a residential area.
The apology was issued in response to a statement released by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism‘s committee on Nov. 2. The statement noted that a Christian woman set fire to one of the structures at Sujinsa Buddhist temple and claimed that she was following the revelation of God.
“We urge Korean Protestant Churches to be a religion of harmony, instead of becoming a religion that provokes violence and arson,” the committee of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism added in the statement.
The Jogye committee also said that this was not the first instance of a Christian vandalizing a Buddhist temple. While it had not raised the issue in order to keep the peace, it would not tolerate such actions any more, the committee said.
“There was no member that opposed (our decision to release the response statement),” NCCK official Son Seung-ho told The Korea Herald on Thursday.
The NCCK official emphasized that many Protestant churches are acknowledging the seriousness of the issue and are making changes.
Son admitted that activities like prayer walking, which involves entering the space of other religions and claiming that it belongs to the Protestant Church, and cursing and praying for the religious structures to break down, were conducted by several churches in the past.
“Prayer walking is extremely rude,” the NCCK official said. “It became a problem several years ago, and our followers also raised their voices about this issue, so there are only a few churches that are still doing this nowadays.”
However, in responding to the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism’s statement, NCCK was the exception among Protestant churches.
Asked why it has not released an official statement, the United Christian Churches of Korea, one of the biggest associations of Protestant churches in Korea, said it views the arson as an individual act and not something that was organized by the church or a group of Protestants.
“Individual churches or committees can choose to apologize but we do not think it is necessary to release a statement in the name of UCCK,” UCCK Policy Director Kim Young-min said.
Son Won-young, a Protestant who is also a former professor at Seoul Christian University, claims that UCCK’s decision reflects some old thoughts and problems that conservative Korean Protestant churches and believers have.
In 2016, Son started raising funds to support Gaeunsa temple in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province, after it had been vandalized by a Christian. The fundraising act cost him his job at Seoul Christian University, he said.
”They said the fundraising was an act of idolatry, which is against the Bible,“ professor Son said.
“I am glad that NCCK this time decided to release a statement. This shows that changes are taking place. Around five years ago, when I voiced my opinion, nobody was there for me,” Son told The Korea Herald.
Son also explained why some Protestants launched attacks on Buddhist temples.
“They are acting this way based on the Old Testament,” Son said. “In the Old Testament, when the Israelites returned to Land of Canaan, their hometown, they found other people living there, so they held a special ceremony (to claim their land.)”
Son added that this is an incorrect and violent translation of the Bible.
“Besides, even though it is written in the Bible, it is something that happened 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Simply applying that directly to modern society is wrong,” he added.
By Song Seung-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org