South Korean Activism, Protests On Jejudo, And Christianity

Growing up in the US, and specifically in a Christian community, I recall doing very little in the way of volunteerism, service, or even mission projects (loosely defined as going out and working with another community). It’s ironic since the example set by Jesus largely has to do with compassionate works and self-sacrifice. It wasn’t until late college I discovered that for me to truly engage in my faith it would mean engaging in social and political issues. I couldn’t in good conscience simply sit idly by and not voice an opinion about poverty, the war in Iraq, or even the recent immigration controversies.

What makes me even more sad is that I feel like I missed out on a big piece of my heritage. I came across these stories of activism in South Korea – both past and present. It seems that protesting is in our blood from all these stories about labor movements, the Hope Bus campaign, and most recently opposition towards building another naval base:

For several years the South Korean government, at American urging, has been relentless in its attempts to build a naval base on Jeju-do, and now have their sights set on the tranquil coastal village of Gangjeong. Members from the international community, including Japanese people from Okinawa Island (where the U.S. has military bases) join locals in Jeju Island to protest against the construction of a U.S. naval base.

While offering several reasons for building the base — to protect commercial interests, to serve as yet another defense against a belligerent North Korea — most of the islanders understand that the base at Gangjeong will offer little protection against a possible attack by North Korea, functioning mostly as a proxy for American missile defense against an ascendant China. In other words, American militaristic posturing at a grievous cost to the local ecology — an unwelcome combination to the island, and to a region that has suffered enough war in the 20th century…

The people there were engaged in some less likely activities for a paradise island, like chaining themselves to construction equipment, tethering their bodies to each other and to the site of the proposed naval base.

I’m not totally sure why there was such a disconnect between this kind of work and the faith I grew up in as a child. Perhaps it had something to do with priorities, as in what was happening socially and politically had little eternal consequence in the minds of the church-goers. In other words, it was all about salvation and heaven. Everything else (on earth) was of little consequence.

And yet, in seminary I was fortunate to discover something called minjung theology which articulates reasons for pursuing social justice on behalf of those oppressed. It’s considered a “liberal” theology, and technically within the liberation theological movements. It doesn’t fit the more traditional evangelical priorities. But, coming across this story, and recent stories about Asian American activism continues to give me hope and encouragement to integrate all these areas of my life so that I can truly be faithful and consistent in my belief that the priority should be pursuing service and solidarity for the good and well-being of all people.

[Photo courtesy of HuffPo]

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About Mihee

Mihee lives in the Mid-West with her husband, toddler-aged twins (yes, terrible twos is actually a thing), and baby #3. Though her reserve of brain cells is seriously depleted she is still passionate about Asian American culture, religion and social justice for marginalized people, stories about Korea, sports, and power naps. During the day, she spends a lot of time trying to remember which baby needs to eat or get a diaper change, mentoring and ministering to college students, occasionally taking a walk, writing, watching Sportscenter, or grabbing coffee. You can read her blog here.
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