Buddhist Rally in South Korea over Claims of Christian Bias

A juicy church-state story from the AP in South Korea:

Tens of thousands of South Korean Buddhists rallied Wednesday against alleged religious discrimination by the government of President Lee Myung-bak, the latest setback for his protest-plagued administration.

Discontent among Buddhists has been brewing for months over Lee’s alleged favoritism toward Christianity. Buddhists have criticized Lee, a Presbyterian, for filling most of his Cabinet and top presidential posts with other Christians.

At the start of last month an editorial in the Dong-a Ilbo editorialised that

Buddhists take these examples: The government neglected to send major Buddhist temples the congratulatory telegram from the president on Buddha’s Birthday this year, which it normally sends, and omitted temple information in the transportation information system created by the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs, while including church information. They also point to the poster of National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo and Yoido Full Gospel Church Minister Cho Yong-gi, which makes it look as though the police chief favors a certain religion…As Seoul City Mayor, Lee was criticized by other religions when he said he would offer Seoul to God, and when he became president, he was mired in controversy for discriminating against candidates of different faiths. He must declare that he will exclude any religious factors in his duties from now on and work hard to restore confidence.

According to UCA News,

In a June 25 statement [The Religious Peace Commission] disclosed that Eo Cheong-soo, head of the national police, openly supported Protestant police personnel’s “fasting prayers for the evangelization of all the police”…a photo of Eo, a Catholic, appears on a poster to publicize the prayers along with Reverend Cho Yong-gi of the Full Gospel Church.

David Yonggi Cho is a Pentecostal minister noted for pastoring the world’s largest congregation. The AFP tells us that the rally was sparked after the police stopped and searched the car of Ven. Jigwan, who leads the Jogye order.

The protests have been supported by Roman Catholics, and there is an anti-American aspect based around beef imports. The Dong-a Ilbo, again:

The Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice took to the streets, calling for Lee Myung-bak’s resignation, and Buddhists held a service opposing U.S. beef imports…

Several anti-import activists wanted by the police are apparently staying at Jogyesa temple.

The anti-import protests have included candlelight vigils, against which one government minister, a former pastor, spoke out against forcefully in June:

Choo Bu-ghil, presidential secretary of public relations and planning, was quoted by the Christian media outlet New Power as having told a Presbyterian gathering in Seoul last week to “pray for the nation so that Satans (allegedly referring to the protesters of the candlelit rallies) do not run rampant on earth again.”

…Citing the Gospel of Matthew, the secretary said “no parents (governments) would give their children (people) poison if they asked for bread.”

Choo said, “Misleading claims and fabrication of truth are in full swing in the country. The Lee administration came to be at risk due to the malicious exaggeration of the safety of American beef and the politically motivated protests based on a false belief. We need to think about who’s going to benefit from the fabrication.”

The “Satans” comment (also translated as “a host of Satans”) was not well received. UCA News adds the detail that

The monks also noted that the deputy head of presidential security, a Protestant, said in a newspaper interview that “his dream is to evangelize all government ministries.”

Following the police car search incident, opposition leader Chung Sye-kyun offered a bit a religious advice to Lee of his own:

“President Lee should kneel down and repent.”

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog)