In the 1950s, Korea went through a devastating war that completely leveled many of its cities and left the country in ruins. But in recent years it has climbed to the top international rankings in the world in numerous areas such as these:
- Korea has 5 of the 20 largest churches in the world (with Yoido church having close to 1 million members according to a friend of mine who attends that church)
- Korea’s Christian population has grown very fast. “In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but largely through the efforts of missionaries and churches, Christianity has grown rapidly in South Korea over the past century. In 2010, roughly three-in-ten South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul.” 6 facts about South Korea’s growing Christian population
- Korea is one of the top missionary sending countries in the world
- First country to send a creation science missionary, Kwang Ho Jun(formerly with the NIH), to another country (Indonesia)
- In 2004, Korea joined the trillion dollar club and is consistently in the top 15 countries in the world, despite its small size (recently it has been the 11th largest economy in the world)
- Korea has the world’s most innovative economy “World’s Most Innovative Economies: Korea Takes The #1 Spot“
- “According to the World Bank, South Korea is ranked No. 4 in terms of the overall Ease of Doing Business (DB) index in 2018″
- Korea top rankings in winning patents per capita
- Korea has the highest percentage of students graduating from university “Korea’s college graduation rate highest in OECD“
- Korea tops PISA rankings in math/science/reading “Korea Tops PISA Education Rankings”
- Korea has had the best airport in the world for 12 years “Incheon Airport named world’s best for 12th consecutive year”
- Korea has one of the very best subway systems in the world “10 Reasons Why the Seoul Subway System is the Best“
- Korea is one of the biggest ship exporting countries in the world (China is close though)
- Korea has the highest market share in selling LCD displays, “China chasing Korea in larger LCD panel market“
- Korea has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. America has 4 times more crime than Korea (13 times more rape, 10 times more murder, 81 times more gun crime, etc.) despite having 271 times more police officers “Country vs country: South Korea and United States”
In addition, Korea ranks #1 or close to it in quite a number of other areas as well. America has high rankings in some areas for sure, and so do some other countries. Korea does have some serious challenges and problems (such as a high stress and suicide rate for high school students due to the enormous pressure to pass incredibly hard tests, such as English tests that many native speakers of English can’t even pass(link coming soon***). But overall, Korea’s achievements are very impressive. Many have called this achievement the “Miracle on the Han River”.
How did a small nation of only ~50,000,000 people and one devastated by war accomplish so much in only a few decades? What is responsible for this “Miracle on the Han River” in Korea as it is called? What principles make nations great? What makes them fall? Many scholars and scientists have proposed all sorts of reasons. But the best research is showing that time after time, the biggest cause of why nations rise or fall is how closely they follow Bible principles, especially in the area of equitable land rights/economic justice for all, human rights and equality , wise health principles, education, environmental care, work ethic, mutual volunteering and various areas like these. These reasons have also been crucial for Korea as well.
The simple answer is given in the Bible:
Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people. ” Proverbs 14:34
When people truly follow God, they are far more likely to consider the needs of everyone else to be equal to their own and this principle of equality helps these countries avoid a literal river of evils that come from greed, poverty and inequality. This is particularly true in the area of economics (at all levels of society from individual to government). God talks about economic policies for people and nations esp. in the Old Testament and then says:
“If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations.” Leviticus 25:18 (Jer. 12:14-17 say that nations that don’t follow the principles God gave to Israel will be uprooted)
Korea has followed Bible economics at the national level more than almost any other nation in modern history and this has been crucial in driving its incredible growth. Dr. Luis Bush says:
“Biblical values permeated government policy and have produced the engine that has driven transformational development of Korea,…particularly in regards to its economic development. This phenomenal development of South Korea is often called the ‘Miracle on the Han River’”.
Dr. Woodberry, Dr. Fagan and many others have done research showing that Christians and Protestant missionaries are responsible for more democracy, freedom, educational advances, medical improvements, printing, etc. than all other forces combined. Dr. Montgomery has shown that nations and esp. their human rights, crumble and fall in time whenever any nation discards the principles of God (see a short summary of their research and others and how Judeo-Christianity pioneered all major human rights here).
Many nations have followed God’s principles and experienced dramatic development, just as God promised. Dr. Loren Cunningham has traveled all over the lecture and explains how the foundation of nations from Norway to South Korea was based very strongly on the Bible and people learning and following its principles.
The Book that Transforms Nations
Let’s look at some of the facts about how Korea developed and how the Bible was powerfully connected to its rise. Briefly we will look at an incredible Christian revival in the early 1900s that influenced people to confess sins and wrongs to each other which repaired relationships and built trust in society and influenced them to treat the rights and needs of everyone as equals as well as many Christians working for economic justice, gender justice, social justice, political justice and more. Genuine justice and equality are crucial foundations for any stable, secure and thriving society…and something that just doesn’t happen without belief in God and certainty of eternal life.
One of the most crucial reasons for the development of many nations is following biblical land rights or something close to it. Research from many scientists has shown that fairly distributing land rights so that anyone can own their own land cheaply and live independently is a crucial factor in national development. This explains why God emphasized it so many times and so strongly in the Bible.
Dr. Bom Mo Chung, professor emeritus at Seoul National University who led many educational efforts for many decades of Korean history, thinks that there are basically 6 reasons why Korea’s economy sky rocketed. And we will look at those.
Many would add the Korean language as an 8th crucial reason Korea was able to develop since it is the simplest, most efficient and consistent language in the world to learn to read and saves enormous amounts of time for Koreans. This incredible alphabet was invented by King Sejong (probably with monks/scholars helping him), but the elite in Korea opposed it for a long time because they didn’t want an empowered and well educated population. It was largely missionaries using it in schools to educate the lower classes that finally brought it to prominence.
Another major factor that has helped Korea is the influence of the SDA church and a doctor named Lee Sang Gu, heavily emphasizing healthy living and “well being”. This could produce the first nation with an average age of 90 in the near future according to some scientists. There are others as well.
But let’s look at some of these major factors that helped Korea develop in more detail, many of them based directly on following Biblical principles in some way.
1A) GENUINE SPIRITUAL REVIVAL FROM GOD
“The overview of the phases of Korean transformational development begins with the Korean Revival of 1907 and sets the stage of revival again in 2007 for the fullness of God’s intent that South Korea should not only be blessed but be a blessing to the nations. Although the Korean Revival of 1907 took place in Pyang Yang, the capital of North Korea, the nation of North Korea was found on an atheistic ideology. This case study shows that the most important criteria for going from poverty to blessing is faith in the true and living God. The Bible says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
The revival had ~8 phases.
Phase One: The Korean Revival of 1907
Phase Two: Realization of Crisis
Phase Three: Revelation from God to His servant
Phase Four: Repentance
Phase Five: Renewal
Phase Six: Reproduction of leaders and transformational leadership for every sphere of society
Phase Seven: Realignment of all things to God’s way.
Phase Eight: Restoration, Transformation and Glocalization
This revival in time had the effect of transforming the entire nation as well as the government. Dr. Bush writes that:
“Biblical values permeate government policy and have produced the engine that has driven transformational development of Korea as this paper seeks to demonstrate, particularly in regards to its economic development. This phenomenal development of South Korea is often called the “Miracle on the Han River” which is a primary subject of Part II of this presentation as it relates to the developmental phases of the transformation of Korea….”
Many economists agree that following Bible economics was a crucial reason why Korea was able to develop so incredibly and quickly (more on that below).
See more details on the spiritual foundation that underlies the “Miracle on the Han River” here:
Transformation: from Poor to Blessed A Korean Case Study www.disciplenations.org/media/Transformation-from-Poor-to-Blessed-a-Korean-Case-Study_Bush.pdf
1B) CANAAN FARM/NEW COMMUNITY MOVEMENT & LAND RIGHTS:
Dr. Bush has written about how there was a powerful spiritual revival in Korea and then eventually biblical principles became so influential that South Korea’s government started following many of its principles:
“Biblical values permeated government policy and have produced the engine that has driven transformational development of Korea,…particularly in regards to its economic development. This phenomenal development of South Korea is often called the ‘Miracle on the Han River’”.
How in the world did a modern nation follow Bible economics? There are at least 15 major Bible economic principles, but Korea did follow some of the most important ones more than many other nations have and these were crucial to success.
A) Korea focused policies on trying to help every family own their own land as easily and cheaply as possible (the Bible repeatedly says that this is a foundation of security, ending poverty and peace in 1 Kings 4:25, Deut. 15:4-5, Leviticus 25:18-19, etc.)
B) It limited land ownership to 3 hectares maximum, which prevented the wealthy monopolizing land and kept prices low.
C) It banned charging interest on loans to the poor.
As research below shows, equitably distributed land is the key factor that enables nations to thrive and grow.
If you ask Koreans what was the key to their nation’s incredible rise, most will point to the government sponsored Saeumaul (New Community) Movement. But if you look at the historical documentation and research, it becomes clear that the Saemaul movement was directly inspired by a movement that came long before it, the Canaan Farm Movement（가나안농군학교, http://www.canaanin.or.kr, http://darrowmillerandfriends.com/2013/12/19/disciple-a-nation-the-story-of-the-canaan-farm-school/）. This Canaan Farm Movement was led by a Christian named Kim Yong Gi. And he based his ideas on ~20 Bible based principles with a foundation of Bible economics and aiming to make sure that every family had their own land and home (land rights for every family is something that God repeatedly emphasized in the Bible countless times as a right). This is a chart of some of the principles he taught and followed.
President Park Chung Hee was the one who led the Saemaul Movement, but he said that it was Kim Yong Gi’s work inspired the nation and led it forward.
“This home and this farm, have carried out a revolution to advance our nation.”
So what did he do? Kim Yong Gi followed many Bible and scientific principles and strongly emphasized that most families should own some land or a farm. He also taught many people a great deal about spiritual life, health, farm science, supporting each other in a community, diligence/work ethics and other things.
It’s interesting to learn a little more of Kim Yong Gi’s life. As a young man, he was angry at the exploitation and abuses of the Japanese who had colonized his country, much like the Romans colonized Israel (the Japanese exploited Koreans economically, tried to ban them from using their language and culture and also forced many Korean women into sex slavery. See the documentary “Behind Forgotten Eyes” for more on this). He got a bright idea into his head. He decided to go to China and work hard to become the emperor of China. Then he could use their army to destroy the Japanese. He began putting his plan into action. But in time a Chinese pastor heard of his plan and told him that China had almost never been fully unified in its history even by a Chinese leader and that he has a foreigner had almost no chance of succeeding in that direction. He should go home and make his own country strong by following God’s principles.
Kim Yong Gi came back to Korea, read the Bible and realized that many of the prophets lived on the land and emphasized land ownership. He also realized that a nation that could not provide its own food could never really be independent. So despite some people’s criticism, he decided to become a farmer and try to revolutionize Korea that way.
He started by buying, selling and transforming several pieces of land, making them very productive and also making quite a nice profit as well. In 1 case, he borrowed 400 won and bought 3,000 pyung of land for 90 won. Then he planted sweet potatoes which are highly nutritious along with fruit trees. The farm flourished. He eventually sold the land for 1,200 won, 10 times what he paid for it. He did this repeatedly. He then began to teach other farmers how to do this, strongly advocating land ownership for each family:
“One thousand pyung of farm land per family is necessary and 600 pyung (1/2 an acre) including a lot for stock raising and a building site is necessary.” 
He also taught many other Bible principles regarding family, community, integrity, diligence, as well as agricultural/scientific principles combined with thrift/simple living/rejection of pride as foundations for his life work.
“He was a pioneer in waste land cultivation, and strove to demonstrate through his work that life as a farmer can be fulfilling and productive. His mission was to induce dynamic spiritual, inspirational, and economic change in rural areas of South Korea. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the New Community Movement, the foundation of South Korea’s modernization.” 
After he demonstrated successes like this several times, he began giving lectures and started the Canaan Farm movement in the 1940s training more and more people. Eventually Kim Yong Gi started the Christian Canaan Farm movement that led to the Saemaul/New Village/Community movement(새마을운동). You can see some of the principles he emphasized in this chart:
The success of the movement was noticed by Korean government leaders. The Canaan Farmer Movement ideas were brought directly into the government Saemaul/New Community movement and its Farmer Training Institute. Kim Yong Gi was a leading lecturer in those government programs. The lectures included
1) education on agricultural knowledge,
2) training in community cooperation,
3) setting up the new villages,
4) education on spiritual principles, democracy, ethics, esp. in connection to agriculture
5) Frequent lectures by people who had experienced success with these principles and
6) group discussions about development and improvement of daily life.
In the 1950s, the government also banned owning more than 3 hectares (~7.5 acres) so that all farmers could easily afford to buy and own land. They took land from wealthy land owners and made land cheaply available to all farmers. They could buy it for ~150% of 1 year’s crop value and no interest was charged. This transformed Korea.
“With time and appropriate methodologies and cultivated values in the family not only did the Canaan Farm School Property being to develop but as others were trained, little by little Korea’s ‘wasteland was transformed into a fertile land.’” 
A scholar said that this sharing of land was one of the biggest reasons why poverty reduced in Korea:
“By redistributing rights to the most important rural asset, East Asia’s postwar land reforms did much to reduce poverty in the countryside. At the same time, the land reforms helped to set the stage for the rapid industrialization that one day would be hailed as ‘the East Asian miracle’ (World Bank 1993).
Two links between land reform and industrial growth were particularly important. First, farmers’ improved economic security meant that they could afford to send their children to school, providing a skilled workforce for industry (Shin, 1998). Second,…the reforms brought about a more egalitarian order. Economist Dani Rodrik (1995, pp. 92-93) concludes that…land reform was one of the keys – arguably the key – to East Asia’s economic ‘miracle.’” 
Other researchers have talked about how Korea and Taiwan’s economies sky rocketed while the Philippines has had a lot of poverty. They showed that it was basically due to 3 reasons:
- Korea and Taiwan shared land fairly which greatly reduces corruption and made it very hard to concentrate wealth. The rich in the Philippines prevented this.
- The war in Korea broke the power of the rich. In Taiwan, General Chiang Kai Shek had a strong army as well as a strong commitment to land justice. So it was easier in those countries to overcome the resistance of the wealthy and make fair land laws. But in the Philippines, the rich stopped the fair laws on land justice.
- American leaders and the military strongly supported land justice in Korea and Taiwan because of nearby communist threats (North Korea and China respectively). But they didn’t do that in the Philippines.
This research basically shows that there is a strong causal mechanism of “inequality→higher corruption→lower growth”. This confirms many other studies on this (such as You and Khagram (2005) and Easterly (2007)).
2) SOLUTION FOCUSED LEADERSHIP
Korea had a strong leader, Park Chung Hee. He was determined to liberate Korea from poverty. He traveled around Korea to learn about problems. He talked to many experts to find solutions and he used government power and resources to educate people about those solutions.
3) MORALITY/POLITICAL STABILITY
Without social trust between people and a belief that there will be a stable future, people will not work diligently and economies cannot grow well. So morality and stability are crucial.
4) VALUING EDUCATION
Korea’s Confucian background and later the influence of many missionaries gave Korea an incredibly high desire for good education. Education is essential at all stages of development.
5) MILITARY EXPERIENCE
Some men were not able to go to high school when Korea was poorer. The military gave them chances for education and training and gaining discipline and organizational skills.
There were some ambitious businessmen who built conglomerates, such as Samsung, Hyundai, SK and LG. These were crucial in producing numerous products for exports. These helped speed up Korea’s economic rise and development in many sectors of the economy.
If a nation can develop an alphabet that is easy to learn, efficient to use and consistent in its rules, that will save large amounts of time in communication as well as accuracy, especially when you consider that millions of people are using it daily. They will be able to use that time to produce much more progress for society, to make families and churches stronger and aid improvements in many areas. This is what the brilliant invention of Hangeul has done for Korea. It is so efficient and easy to learn that it has won the Alphabet Olympics not one, not two, but three times (and shut down the whole Olympics since no other alphabet can compete). Wikipedia and other sources summarize some of the history of how it developed and it is quite interesting.
Koreans had used Chinese systems like idu, hyuangchal, gugyeol and gakpil for hundreds of year as a writing system. But they were very hard for busy commoners to learn and the Chinese characters didn’t convey some aspects of Korean language well. So King Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, along with the Hall of Worthies, a group of scholars who assisted him, worked hard to invent and refine a new and uniquely Korean alphabet. It was completed around January, 1444, and explained in 1446 in a the Hunmin Jeongeum (“The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People”). The Hunmin Jeong-eum Haerye (“Hunmin Jeong-eum Explanation and Examples”) which was discovered in 1940 explains how the consonant letters were designed according to articulatory phonetics and the vowel letters according to the principles of yin and yang and vowel harmony. Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” 
Yeonsangun was the paranoid tenth king and he forbade the study or use of Hangul and banned Hangul documents in 1504. King Jungjong abolished the Ministry of Eonmun (a governmental institution related to Hangul research) in 1506.
The National Institute of Korean Language says:
“The ruling class used the Chinese writings as a method to maintain their power…Only persons belonging to the ruling class were allowed to learn Chinese writing and take a test for selecting officials, which was the entrance to the higher society and the chance to [grab] political power and/or economical benefits.” www.korean.go.kr/eng_hangeul/setting/002.html
As scholars agree, it was largely unused until Christian missionaries came along in the 1800s and found it very useful and began to use it as the basis of education in their schools, which is why it is popular now.
From the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, Christian missionaries came to Korea. They had to decide between using the prestigious Chinese characters or the King Segong’s alphabet for the commoners. They wisely chose Hangul.
“As early as the 1780s, portions of the Gospels appeared in Hangul; doctrinal books such as the “Jugyo Yoji” (주교요지) appeared in the 1790s…John Ross, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary based in Shenyang, completed his translation of the Bible into Korean in 1887 and Protestant leaders began a mass-circulation effort. In addition, they established the first modern educational institutions in Korea. The Methodist Paichai School for boys was founded in 1885, and the Methodist Ewha School for girls (later to become Ewha Womans University) followed in 1886. These, and similar schools established soon afterwards, helped the expansion of Protestantism among the common people, and Protestants surpassed Catholics as the largest Christian group in Korea. Female literacy rose sharply, since women had previously been excluded from the educational system.
The Gabo Reformists’ movement in 1894-6 helped some as well, but it was Christian missionaries who were one of the very biggest factors in popularizing Hangul and it has been quite a significant factor in Korea’s development. 
If people are dead, they can’t contribute anything to a society. If they are sick a lot, they will contribute much less.
For a long time, Korea was very poor and had one of the highest death rates in the world due largely to its high rate of smoking, extremely high rate of alcohol use, lack of exercise and a diet that had many unhealthy aspects. But Adventists had for many years been promoting a much healthier diet called Newstart. One of its leaders was Dr. Sang Lee. The Korean Joongang Daily Newspaper writes a little about how he and the Adventist church influenced major changes in Korea:
“One of the first was the “New Start” movement led by Dr. Sang Lee, a medical doctor and a member of the Adventist Church, during the 1990s. Sang compared eating meat to taking poison, and said that it could result in cancer and other terminal diseases. The challenges and rewards of being vegetarian in Korea.”
The Korean Times writes:
Lee, popularly known as the “Endorphin Doctor,” will give a lecture on “Your Genes and Health” starting at 9: 30 a.m. A frequent speaker on major networks, Lee is a prolific writer. He virtually introduced the word hormone endorphin (or the happy hormone) to the Korean TV viewers through his lectures.The “Endorphin Doctor” is associated with NEWSTART Center, a non-profit and faith-based organization that seeks to promote a healthy lifestyle based on the NEWSTART principle. The name NEWSTART is the initials for Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest and Trust in God…Lee’s NEWSTART Center traces its roots to Weimar Institute in California where he was once a faculty member, teaching nutrition.
The efforts of Dr. Sang Lee and Adventists and scientists learning from them and integrating them into government policies and publishing them in science journals and news media, as well as Korea having such a vibrant Christianity (which is known to increase longevity) has been a major factor in Korea’s stunning increase in longevity in a very short period of time. And soon Korea may have the highest longevity in the world. Nature Magazine reports:
“Life expectancy set to hit 90 in South KoreaBy 2030, nation’s girls can expect to live to 91, says statistical analysis….by 2030: there is a nearly 60% chance that their life expectancy at birth will exceed 90 years by that time, the team calculates. Girls born in the country that year can expect to live, on average, to nearly 91, and boys to 84, the highest in the world for both sexes.”
Korea is one of the few nations in world history that has never fought a war of aggression against other nations at any time in its history. There were wars of defense and wars within Korea at certain times, but no invasions of other countries to dominate them.
This is a huge benefit to any country that follows this path in several ways.
A) First, preventing war is 60 times cheaper than fighting it. https://www.fcnl.org/updates/invest-in-smart-security-171
Second, who pays for wars? Middle class and poor taxpayers, in both money and more tragically in blood. Who profits? The military-industrial complex and corporations that build the military machines. Why is it that they make billions of profits in every war from the blood of citizens? In what other industry can you find a situation where one group pays all the costs and takes all the risks while another group risks nothing, pays nothing and yet reaps all the profits? It is for this reason that America’s founders made very serious warnings against endless wars.
Third, Non-violent protest is also far more effective in the long run. When activists become violent, it gives the military industrial complex and corporations an excuse to portray them as criminals or even terrorists and use their weapons. This is exactly what profiteers from violence and war want. The more violence, the more they profit.
Dr. Chenoweth points out that it can take as little as 3.5% of the people in a nation to cause major change, something we saw recently in South Korea where ~2% of the people protested for weeks and it caused the removal of the president.
The success of nonviolent civil resistance: Erica Chenoweth at TEDxBoulder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJSehRlU34w
Last, many researchers and documentary makers as well as US generals, congressmen and presidents have agreed that war is not very often for the official purpose that it is claimed to be for. News organizations are also fairly easily manipulated to blow the trumpet of patriotic support for war while minimizing and sanitizing the greed, abuse, suffering and death that happens to innocent people, especially those on the other side. John Pilger brilliantly exposes this problem in this documentary:
The War You Don’t See
What is the main reason for all this happening? It’s very simple. The Bible gives the reason in one verse.
“Godliness makes a nation great,but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34 (NLT)
In some nations, it has happened by trial and error using science with many false starts and detours due to the ignorance of people, the time it takes to do solid science and eliminate all the errors as well as the interference of corruption, pride and greed. But the rise and fall of the Korean nation and nations throughout history is directly related to how many of God’s laws the population follows. That is the record of history.
 Formal Education and Development of Korea www.adeanet.org/triennale/eng/docs/Education and Development of Korea.pdf
 Transformation: from Poor to Blessed A Korean Case Study, Luis Bush, www.disciplenations.org/media/Transformation-from-Poor-to-Blessed-a-Korean-Case-Study_Bush.pdf, p.2
 Ibid. p.8.
 The Education and Development of Korea, Kim Yong Gi,
www.adeanet.org/triennale/eng/docs/Education and Development of Korea.pdf, p. 254-259.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Yong-ki
 The Education and Development of Korea, The Origins of New Village Movement (NVM),
www.adeanet.org/triennale/eng/docs/Education and Development of Korea.pdf, p. 164-5.
 Page 94, The Unique Canaan Farm of Korea
 Land Reform and Sustainable Development, Land Reform and Sustainable Development, James K. Boyce, Peter Rosset, Elizabeth A. Stanton, http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1079&context=peri_workingpapers,p.4
 Inequality and Corruption: The Role of Land Reform in Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines http://kaisnet.or.kr/resource/file/kjis/Land_Reform__Inequality__and_Corruption.pdf
 Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258
 “Missionary Contributions toward the Revaluation of Han’geul in Late 19th Century Korea”. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 192: 57–74. doi:10.1515/ijsl.2008.035.
Christian justice fighters–Yoo Gwan Soon,
not free trade.
The Christian concept of individual worth has found expression in a lengthy struggle for human rights and democracy in Korea. In recent years, this struggle has taken the form of Minjung theology. Minjung theology is based on the “image of God” concept expressed in Genesis 1:26–27, but also incorporates the traditional Korean feeling of han, a word that has no exact English translation, but that denotes a sense of inconsolable pain and utter helplessness. Minjung theology depicts commoners in Korean history as the rightful masters of their own destiny. Two of the country’s best known political leaders, Kim Young-sam, a Presbyterian, and Kim Dae-jung, a Roman Catholic, subscribe to Minjung theology. Both men spent decades opposing military governments in South Korea and were frequently imprisoned as a result, and both also served terms as President of the Republic after democracy was restored in 1988.
One manifestation of Minjung theology in the final years of the Park Chung-hee regime (1961–1979) was the rise of several Christian social missions, such as the Catholic Farmers Movement and the Protestant Urban Industrial Mission, which campaigned for better wages and working conditions for laborers. The military government imprisoned many of their leaders because it considered the movement a threat to social stability, and their struggle coincided with a period of unrest which culminated in the assassination of President Park on 26 October 1979.
44 Michael Lee, ‘Korean Churches Pursue Social and Political Justice’, in Brian Heavy (Ed.), AccentIII, 3 Auckland, May 1988, pp. 19–20.
Many Korean Christians believe that their values have had a positive effect on various social relationships. Traditional Korean society was hierarchically arranged according to Confucian principles under the semi-divine emperor. Women had no social rights, children were totally subservient to their parents,and individuals had no rights except as defined by the overall social system. This structure was challenged by the Christian teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God and thus that every one of them is equal and has essential worth. According to Kim Han-sik, this concept also supported the idea of property being owned by individuals rather than by families (or by the heads of families).
Christians regarded the emperor as a mere man who was as much under God’s authority as were his subjects, and Christian values favored the social emancipation of women and children. The church permitted the remarriage of widows (as taught by the apostle Paul, not traditionally allowed in East Asian societies), prohibited concubinage and polygamy, and forbade cruelty to or desertion of wives. Christian parents were taught to regard their children as gifts from God, and were required to educate them. Arranged child marriages and the neglect of daughters (who were often regarded as less desirable than sons in Asian culture) were prohibited.