For perhaps the first time in Korean history, two major religions are clashing. Buddhists say that Christian president Lee Myung Bak has introduced policies that are discriminating. And this weekend, they are planning to hold a massive rally against him.
Losing influence: celebrating the Buddha's birthday at Jogye temple in Seoul
A video of a Christian revival rally, which has been spread around the Internet, has made many South Korean Buddhists upset: A minister blames a local Buddhist temple for the rise of crime, prostitution and alcoholism in one town. He calls on the crowd to pray that god destroys all of Korea’s temples.
A Christian president
What makes matters worse is that this festival was endorsed by President Lee Myung Bak. Lee is an elder in his Presbyterian church and is very vocal about his faith. Once as mayor of Seoul, he announced that he was offering the city to God.
Now some Buddhists feel they are being treated like second-class citizens. Monks at the Jogye temple in Seoul say that since Lee became president in February, he has only filled government positions with Christians, and they are pressuring non-believers to convert.
Lee Sae Yong, manager of the temple, believes Lee is trying to turn Korea into a Christian nation. Lee says that one example of discrimination against Buddhists occurred this year when the government published an online map of Seoul. Jogye temple and other Buddhist sites were left off, but even small Christian churches were added on.
Buddhists have become a minority
But despite the Buddhists’ accusations, the National Human Rights Council says they have not seen any indication that religious intolerance is on the rise. Buddhists may be having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they’ve lost some of their historic influence in Korean society to Christians, who now outnumber them.
And according to Jang Whang Sik, who teaches inter religious dialogue at the Methodist Seminary University in Seoul, religious discrimination in this case might just be a matter of perception:
"Even though there have been some cases, those are a minor thing. We should not say that those kind of cases can be regarded as an intentional discrimination made by the Lee Myung Bak government, I don’t think so," he says.
But Jang adds that Korean Christians have earned a bad reputation for being intolerant to other religions: "Especially most conservative, fundamental Christians in Korea have been really exclusive to other religions, even hostile to other religions, so it is the Christians who should first think about their attitude to other religions", he believes.
The Jogye Buddhists will lead a rally this weekend against President Lee in the city of Taegu. They’ve also refused to hand over several wanted fugitives who are charged with inciting violence during this summer’s anti-government demonstrations. The monks say they will continue to protest until the chief of police, who is also a Christian, resigns.