Evangelism in Korea in 1885-1906, A Colonial Project?

In White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity, James W. Perkinson provides well-sought background how the white supremacy had come into being in modern history. I have taken the course of the world history, which was written in the western-centric mode, for granted and never imagined the consequences that impacted the socio-economical outcomes in the world I was living. The enterprise of “western” Christianity which had shaped the very foundation of the industrial revolution in South Korea is the product of the American “colonization.” Perkinson explains the notion of “salvation” in the New World with these words:

In Europe’s earliest attempts to decipher the significance of its others in the conquest of new lands, soteriology became, in many cases, the decisive category of classification, the open question around which various trading, colonizing, and evangelizing initiatives organized their competing discourses of legitimation. (Perkinson, p. 58)

If I read it correctly, the salvation is measured in the possibility of education or “civilization” in European-Christian hegemony. If so, the implicit American colonization “saved” Korea. The evangelism that had flourished in the Korean peninsula in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s the western, more specifically, American missionaries carried out the Puritan (Calvinistic) symbology (Perkinson, p. 58) in the formation of early Korean Christian church. They had seen Korean society as “degraded” and it needed a “proper” social system. Labeling the indigenous people of Korea as the “other” or “gentiles” in the eyes of the “good” Christian, the subject of mission became the object to be conquered and controlled. The most damaging examples of this “Puritan code”, such as material success, prohibiting drinking and smoking, and stigmatizing ancestor-honoring rituals as demonic/idolatrous behavior, suppressed common people’s value. As a Christian, born in Korea, I had inherited this “Puritan” tradition and I used to employ the same tactic to “save” “mere” others in my early years. A massive grace was needed for me to shed this residue off from my theological thinking.

Now, I ask myself who the “gentiles” are in these days. How did the Christian mission carry so much scars of colonial evangelism? There are many ambivalent emotions and opinions are congested within the Christian society as well as secular society who perceive the Christian mission. The lack of respect and honor to indigenous people and to their culture/customs as well as the Euro-centric hegemony structured and conditioned the modern evangelism. Perhaps, it is inevitable consequence of the history of imperial power.

Is today’s most seen “Christianity” the product of the West’s colonial project? I cannot agree more when James Cones theologized the “Black Jesus” to understand Christianity in its raw, indigenous group of 1st century Jews and Gentiles in Palestine – a subject of oppression (Perkinson, p. 19, 27-28). I can only imagine the mission/evangelism in the ancient days was to be in solidarity with people who were suffering from the political, religious, economical exploitation and the military (violent) subjugation to have a hope: a hope to live through such a devastated epoch in faith to God who understands and consoles such pains. Then, the “gentiles,” the people at the margins of the society are good and faithful, thus positioning the “Christians” at the seat of the oppression. If this is true in our society, it will be very difficult turn people’s heart for the good of Christian faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s