Cracking Down on Korean Christians, 1938-45

From Born Again: Evangelicalism in Korea, by Timothy S. Lee (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2010), p. 58:

On June 25, 1945, the governor-general abolished all Korean Protestant denominations and reduced the Korean Protestant churches to the Korea division of the Japanese Christian Church (Ilbon kidokkyo Chosŏn kyodan).

The period from September 1938 (the month of the twenty-seventh general assembly of the Presbyterian Church), to August 15, 1945 (Korea’s liberation from Japan), was the harshest that evangelicalism endured under the Japanese rule. During this time the government-general set about systematically perverting the religion. It abolished all holidays, including Sunday, allowing only an hour or two for worship. Hymnals were bowdlerized to remove any reference to spiritual freedom or mention of Jesus as the “king of kings,” since that would amount to lèse majesté against the emperor. It disallowed portions of the Bible, especially the prophetic books such as Daniel and Revelation. It outlawed key Christian beliefs like the final judgment and the second coming of Christ. Every church worship had to open with a Shintoistic ritual, which included singing the Japanese national anthem, giving a pledge of allegiance (kokumin seisi 国民誓詞), bowing to the emperor’s palace (kyujo yohai [宮城遥拝 J. kyūjō yōhai]), and praying to the Sun Goddess (mokto [黙祷 J. mokutō]). In this latter phase of the Japanese captivity of the church, every Christian church was compelled to install within it a small Shinto shrine (kamidana [神棚]).

With the institutional church now reduced to an instrument of Japanese colonial policy, if Korean church leaders retained their positions, they could not escape from doing at least some amount of collaborative work with the Japanese. Many church leaders did retain their positions and were adroitly used by the government-general. They were forced, for example, to renounce their ties with the missionaries, by making statements like, “We are resolved to set ourselves free from the past principle of reliance on Europe and America and establish a purely Japanese Christianity.” They were also exploited for a variety of war efforts, such as helping to collect church bells to be melted down for scrap metal, raising funds to purchase fighter planes for the Japanese navy, and urging young Korean men and women to fight and die for the Japanese emperor.

On the other hand, even as there were collaborators, there were others—though fewer—who resisted the Japanese imposition till the end. When the Shinto shrine issue arose in the 1930s, Christians all over the country resisted the Japanese demand. These resisters came from both the leadership and the rank-and-file of the church. Though found in just about every denomination in Korea, they were especially numerous in the Presbyterian Church.

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Filed under Japan, Korea, nationalism, religion, war

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