[Series II] Evangelical Christians and the 1987 Popular Uprising in Support of Democratic Transition

Evangelical Christians and the 1987 Popular Uprising
in Support of Democratic Transition

Written By HONG, Young-Gi (Ph.D.)
The Senior Pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.


Democratization in the 1980s and 1990s represents an international phenomenon (Remmer, 1995).  By a number of criteria, one of the most successful third wave democratic transitions was South Korea’s beginning in 1987 (Burton and Ryu, 1997: 1).  All the basic elements of procedural democracy, or polyarchy (Dahl, 1971), have been in place since 1987.  We need to explain how the democratic transition took place and what kind of role evangelicals played with respect to the background of the democratic transition.


2.1  The Story of the Democratic Struggle in 1987

On January 14, 1987, a Seoul National University student, Park Chong-chul, died after being tortured by the National Police in the Seoul police station.  The National police explained that Park had died from strangulation when his neck was pressed against the edge of a tub while he was held under water during interrogation.  But a doctor who performed an autopsy on Park said that Park had died from blood clots induced by electric torture.  On January 26, 1987, Catholic churches held a mass for Park Chong-chul and 2,000 Catholic Christians and 150 priests participated in the demonstration (Kang, Wi-zo, 1997: 124).

The death of Park Chong-chul mobilized the entire nation to oppose the military government and became a momentum for massive demonstrations in the spring of 1987.  The demonstrators demanded democratization and reform of Korean politics and government, partly through sweeping constitutional amendments, because the 1972 Yushin constitution – which included an easily manipulated electoral system of indirect election of the president, and prohibition strict of criticism of the government – had become the handmaiden of Park and Chun.  For months, while the street demonstrators continued to battle the riot police, president Chun himself appeared amenable to the constitutional amendment idea.  On April 13, 1987, however, Chun announced that he was reversing his public pledge to amend the constitution to allow a direct, popular election to choose his successor.  It became abundantly clear that Chun and his henchmen were determined to prolong a military-dominated regime by denying the people the right to elect the next president.

It was hard for conservative institutional political opposition parties and moderate religious groups to unite with radical activists groups.  However, the Park Chong-chul death by torture and April 13th declaration to keep the Yushin constitution were events that over time allowed diverse democratic movement groups to converge on the most moderate goal, "revision of constitution", which made possible the emergence of a "Popular Movement Headquarters for the Attainment of Democratic Constitution" (PMH, Minju Honbop Jaengchyi Kukmin Undong Bonpu) on June 10.  The PMH included many Christian leaders.  For example, the spokesmen of the PMH were a Protestant pastor, In Myung-kjin, and a Catholic priest, Kim Sung-hun.  On that very day what has subsequently been called the 6.10 Struggle began, led by a wide coalition of opposition and civil society groups collectively calling themselves the People’s Movement to Win a Democratic Constitution.  The coalition demanded a constitutional amendment to allow a direct presidential election and a series of other democratic reforms.

The revision of the constitution to allow for direct presidential elections was the key issue, though.  This demand was more moderate than any demands the previous democratic movement had made.  Before this time, the posture of the democratic activist camp had been rather radicalized since the anti-Yushin democratic movement of the 1970s (Interview #12)  Many dissidents aimed at anti-American and anti-capitalist revolution.  However, the people were interpreting the Cheja movement in the democratic struggle of 1987 as aiming at moderate goals of political democracy.  (Cho, Dae-yop, 1999: 125)  Anti-government demonstrations exploded almost simultaneously in Seoul and some twenty other cities, and quickly spread in the following days to a total of thirty-seven urban centers.  There had been innumerable demonstrations in South Korea since the establishment of the First Republic, but the scale and nature of demonstrations in the summer of 1987 were unprecedented (Oh, 1999: 91).


2.2  The Role of Christians in the Democratic Struggle in 1987

What was the role of Christians, including many evangelical Protestants, in this June struggle.  The Korean National Council of Churches and the National Pastors’ Federation for Justice and Peace Practice issues a statement against the 4.13 declaration of the Chun regime, demanding democratic revision of the constitution.  Catholic priests began to protest with fast and prayer meeting on April 21, which moved many other pastors and laypeople to participate in the protest fast.  Church demonstrations were prominent in the June struggle.  The most visible action in the church demonstrations was a call to hold a “prayer meeting for the nation”.  Meetings for religious purpose turned into street demonstrations.  The KNCC planned to hold prayer meetings for the nation in its affiliated denominations over time in June (Korean Methodist on 21 June, Presbyterian Tonghap on 22 June, Salvation Army on 28 June, and Presbyterian Ki-jang on 7 July, and so on).

On 21 June the Korean Methodist Church made statements on democracy and unification after holding “prayer meeting for saving the country” with 1,500 pastors and Christians.  The Methodist Church decided to continue to hold prayer meetings until democracy was achieved.  After the prayer meeting, the participants demonstrated with pickets and placards for 40 minutes, occupying the street directly behind the government’s offices.  During this demonstration, two young Christians were injured by a tear-gas bomb of the riot police.

The prayer meeting held by the Presbyterian Tong-hap took place in the Saemunan Church with 2,500 pastors and Christians from all regions of the country.  The preacher at the meeting, Rev.  Kim Hyung-tae said: “We are here today in decision even for martyrdom.  The Church obeys only God, not the [dictates of ] the unjust state” (echoing Acts 5:29 and 4:18-19).  The participants decided to have a peaceful march with candles and with placards “against military autocracy, for democratic government” up Chongno Street in the heart of downtown Seoul.  Police repression in response injured 31 Christian demonstrators, and 21 pastors were arrested by the police.

Prayer meetings were held not only in Seoul but also in many cities and areas.  The council of churches in Chonnam Sinangun decided to hold prayer meetings until the 4.13.  Declaration was retracted.  In Taegu, a conservative area in Korea where many public officials come from, Presbyterian churches had a prayer meeting for two hours in the Taegu Cheil Church with 1,500 pastors and church members.  A demonstration or procession behind a raised cross (which serves as the March’s emblem) is called a “Cross March” in Korean.  After the prayer meeting there was a demonstration, marching down the street with placards in a “Cross march for Attaining a Democratic Constitution”, with flags of denominational districts, a wooden cross, and candles.  During their march, they sang hymns and shouted “overthrow military autocracy”, and “presidency with my votes”.  It was unprecedented that Presbyterian Tonghap churches in Taegu, renowned for their conservatism, joined a coalition protesting on the street.

Conservative churches actively joined in democratic struggle by prayer meetings and demonstrations (CISJD, 1987a: 269-270).  The Presbyterian Hap-tong denomination set 22 to 27 June as a the prayer week for the nation, and ordered every local congregation to hold a fast or a decision prayer meeting every day.  The president of the Presbyterian Hap-tong declared in his official letter:  “The present political reality is causing anxieties to the people and national development.  This is hindering the development of democracy.  This is why we are starting a prayer gathering”.  Among the variety of prayer topics suggested in this letter were “democratic political development”, “conducting local autonomy elections”, “preventing violations of human rights”, and “abolition of torture”.

On 23 June the Holiness Church held a prayer meeting in the Holiness Hall and demonstrated on the street.  Six pastors were arrested by the police in this process.  The Holiness Church had sent a letter on 19 May saying – in an implied reference to the Prophet Ezekiel (33:1-9) – “We repent of our sins of not having carried out the role of watchman for the country and ask all the congregations to pray for the nation”.

The conspicuous participation of conservative churches in democratic struggle was shown in the prayer meeting held at the square before the Cholla province hall in Kwangju.  This prayer meeting by Kwangju Christian Committee for Mission Freedom (the president: pastor Kim Chae-hyun, Presbyterian Kaehyuk) was supposed to be held in the Kwangju YMCA gymnasium hall.  However, the police prevented Christians from entering the hall so that Christians began to demonstrate in the street.  When the police fired a tear-gas bomb, Christians, including old men, ladies, and children, lay flat on the ground and began to pray.  Christians who had run away to escape from the tear-gas bomb regrouped and suddenly there were 20,000 citizens gathered together.  The police were astonished and allowed Christians to hold a prayer meeting for one hour.  After the prayer meeting about 50,000 people, including Christians and other citizens, demonstrated marching five hundred meters.  On this day statements were issued (rejection of 4.13 declaration, for freedom of the press, and the like) were issued with the signatures of 534 people from 14 Protestant denominations.  Although Christians were only a part of the democratic struggle, their influence was large (Interview #16)


2.3   People Power:  The June 29th Declaration

Large numbers of Korean citizens participated in the demonstrations.  Under these circumstances Roh Tae Woo, the ruling party’s presidential candidate and Chun’s anointed successor, disappeared from public view for several days.  While staying in regular touch with Chun, Roh drafted a decidedly conciliatory declaration with the help of a handful of his closest confidantes.  This was the famed June 29, 1987, the Declaration of Democratization and Reforms, which in essence accepted a direct presidential election system under a drastically amended and basically democratic constitution.  This was a well-timed and politically adroit move that defused at the very last moment explosive popular demands and avoided a humiliating political defeat for himself, and possibly even a huge bloodbath.  Roh listed the following eight reform items in his lengthy declaration of June 29, 1987:  (1) A direct presidential election system; (2) revision of the presidential election law; (3) amnesty and restoration of civil rights for dissidents; (4) strengthening all basic rights in the new constitution; (5) promoting freedom of the press in a new press law; (6) local autonomy to go ahead as scheduled; (7) a new political climate of dialogue being essential for democratic growth; and (8) bold social reforms to build a clean society.  Roh Tae-woo’s June 29 Democratic Declaration was the key moment in democratic transition.  The victory of demonstrations brought to mind the People Power phenomenon in the Philippines a year before, when massive demonstrations swept Ferdinand Marcos out of office.


2.4   How to Explain the Democratic Transition

Which model best explains the democratic transition of Korea in 1987 and what kind of factors were connected to the Korean Church?  Democratic transition is a matter of power.  One of the central characteristics of any political system is its distribution of power.  Concerning the question of who has power and who dominates the allocation of values and resources in a political system, there are several contending models.  One of them is a popular rule model, which suggests that each and every citizen participates with more or less equal power in the deliberations of policies and programs (Mitchell, 1970).  Another model is a pluralist interest group model. Since individual citizens are not able to have meaningful participation in politics, organized groups and associations can serve as surrogates.  (Truman, 1951).  A third model, the power elite theory, suggests that the key political, economic, and social decisions are made by tiny minorities, namely the power elites (Mosca, 1939; Dye and Zeigler, 1981:3).

Pae (1992: 274) argues that it is hard to argue that any one particular model uniformly and consistently explains who has power. Fritschler (1969) had earlier emphasized the multiplicity of political arenas and the dispersion of power among various agents. Pae (1992) propounds a “political satellites” model which he argues explains Korean democratization well. The idea is that the various groups in society revolve around the center of power, organized into two distinct camps: those “for” and “against” democratization. When those in favor of democratization finally attain more power than those against, democratic transition is apt to occur.  Pae’s perspective implies that the pro-democracy coalition was the key factor in the democratic transition.  The pro-democracy coalition outnumbered and overpowered the anti-democratic, pro-government coalition, finally reaching the unprecedented, irrevocable threshold of democratization.

Pae identifies a pro-democracy coalition among some key leaders and the National Assemblymen of opposition political parties, which constituted an inner orbit of support for democracy.  Pro-democracy intellectuals, professors, university students and religious leaders were a middle orbit; and pro-democracy workers and voters were in a distant, outer orbit of supporters for democracy in the 1987 democracy struggle.  Which coalition, pro-democracy or anti-democracy, prevails in a political system depends on the extensiveness and intensiveness of participation and commitment of various political agents of the coalition to their cause.

The broader the scope and extent of their participation in a pro-democracy coalition and the greater the level of their commitment, the greater the chances become to overpower the anti-democracy coalition and subsequently embark on democratization.  The pro-democracy coalition of 1987 was able to muster more extensive support and more intensive commitment to the cause of democracy so as to reach the threshold, completely paralyzing the anti-democracy patron-client coalition (Pae, 1992: 277).

In this account, the way in which actors were networked with one another, within Korean society, and linked to outside actors was important for the success of the democratic transition.  In sum, one can see that networks among Korean groups, and with the West, helped democratic transitions, and that these factors were closely linked to the Korean church.  Therefore, we turn to a discussion of these networks.


2.5   The Korean Church’s International Network

In considering the possible effects of a strong Protestant presence on democratization, as Huntington and others do, it is not enough to emphasize doctrine, or internal church organization only.  Korean Church links with churches abroad, and other external actors, were crucial, both because of their influence on the Korean churches, and because they provided additional sources of security and influence to the Korean churches.  The military government could not easily repress the church, because of its strong links to Western churches and international organizations, which would have led to an international outcry.

Woodberry (1999) argues that Protestant societies were particularly closely linked to other Protestant societies via networks of religious organizations, trade, political alliances, etc.  These strong links to traditionally Protestant countries, he suggests, tended to link Protestant non-democracies to older Protestant countries which were-standing democracies, and therefore exposed people to democratic ideals. A study by Kang In-Chul (1994) argues that during the period of 1945-1960, Korean state gave considerable autonomy to the Protestant church, while strongly controlling every other social sphere because of Korea’s structural dependency on America.  The state provided the Protestant Church with many privileges.  Kang also argues that missionaries exerted decisive influence on the formation of the socio-political character of the Korean Protestant Church, both by supporting it and by exerting control over it.  More generally in the Third World societies like Korea, where states intervene heavily in the religious sphere and civil society is relatively immature, Kang argues, various internal church matters, including doctrine and organizational structure, are situated in a completely different structural context than in Western societies.



We might ask, therefore, whether the contribution of the Korean church to the 1987 democratic transition arose from the religious doctrine or from extraneous socio-political factors such as the Korean church’s links with the West, and especially with North America.  Huntington (1991), in discussing the democratization of Korea and the role of the Korean Church, hypothesized that the increase of the Christian population offered a solid doctrinal and institutional basis for opposition to political oppression because Christianity promoted the idea of equality and respect for some authority independent of the state.

However, empirical evidence provides at best weak support for the thesis the Christian belief contributed to democratic sentiments more likely among the mass of Korean Christians.  In a regression analysis based on a 1987 survey,  Yi and Moon (1994:4) found age and level of education significant variables in explaining democratic orientation, while other socio-economic variables, including income, occupation, gender, and religious background, had no independent predictive power.  They concluded that the higher democratic orientation scores of Christians was due not to their Christianity, but was attributable to their younger ages and higher levels of education.

Without necessarily rejecting Huntington’s (1991) view that Christianity in the West promoted respect for authority independent of the state and provided a doctrinal and institutional basis for opposing political repression, it needs to be noted that the situation Christians faced in the East Asian countries, including Korea, was historically very different from that in the West.  The principle of separation between church and state in the West emerged from Christians’ struggles of for religious freedom.  The conception was introduced to East Asian countries under the pressure from the West.  Religious autonomy was accorded only to Christianity, not to traditional religions of East Asia (Buddhism, Confucianism), not because of the acceptance of Christian doctrines, but because of political pressure.

The rapid growth of the conservative churches in the 1970s and 1980s owes little to international mission and support.  However, it may be suggested that the Western political power was one of the significant motivations for the positive participation of Korean Christians and church leaders in democratic movement against authoritarian regime.  People in Korea tend to view Christianity as going together with modernization, westernization, and rapid industrialization; and this also has made it easier for the church to resist political oppression.  Although Christianity was a minority religion, it had more secure place than other religions in the public arena and political areas.  To repress the freedom of Christians on the part of military government might have provoked strong pressures from America and international organizations. Overseas religious organizations protected Christian political dissidents.

Pae (1992) also argued that , Chun regime considered using military power to quell the popular uprising of 1987, but refrained from doing so because of American pressures.  For many dissidents, being recognized as Christians helped avoid getting branded as pro-communist.  And non-Christian political dissidents did not have the same degree of protective support from international religious organizations.

We can also suggest that the increased size of Christian population during the 1970s and the 1980s was helpful in building up a network of international support, which contributed to the increased democratic activity of Christians.  In sum, Korean evangelicals had great impact partly because of their large and increasing numbers, together with their connection with the West, which the military government could not easily ignore.  Evangelical churches’ link with the outside world enabled them to enjoy some degree of immunity from government interference.


2.6   Networks Among Churches and With Other Groups in Korean Society

The activities of progressive churches since the 1970s have greatly contributed towards building a foundation of civil society.  Those activities included (1) coalitions among the churches and with other groups, (2) declarations about political issues, and (3) mobilization of Christians.  One example of the use coalitions was the 1973 Easter service in 1973.  Protestant pastors and Christian students were jailed, which provoked strong reaction from the KNCC (Korean national Council of Churches), and led to mobilization of Christians against the authoritarian regime.  Another example was the Declaration about the National State by Christian professors in 1974.  In that year, also, the KNCC organized its Committee for Human Rights.  Yet another example would be the March 1, 1976 gathering of about 100 pro-democracy leaders – especially priests, university professors, and civic leaders – at a special Mass at Myongdong Catholic Cathedral commemorating the March 1 National Independence movement.

The restrictions on freedom of expression and the extremely strong powers Park Chung Hee’s Yushin constitution – the Constitution of the Fourth Republic – were designed to perpetuate President Park Chung Hee and his ruling group in power.  However, resistance to the Yushin system continued to build, and the Yushin system was ultimately unable to preserve the ruling group’s grip on power.

The anti-Yushin coalition, in which, Christians played a significant role, issued the Democratic Peoples Charter in 1975, the Democratic Declaration to Save the Nation in 1976, and the March First Democratic Declaration in 1978.  These Declarations failed to impress the dictatorial Park regime, but did encourage an increasing number of citizens to join the ever-growing number of voluntary citizens organizations, enlarging and energizing civil society.  Church leaders, Christian students and professors, were the center of this anti-military movement.  Groups that had been indifferent to political problems, including professionals, technicians, independent business people, and even low ranking public bureaucrats, began to identify themselves with the goals of political democratization (Oh, 1999: 90).

During the 1970s, progressive Churches contributed to the growth of conservative churches, indirectly by promoting social credibility of the Church and they contributed to democracy directly by resisting autocratic governance (Interview #18).  The conservative churches were also influenced by the actions of progressive churches.  During the 1970s, Christianity was unable to bridge the chasms between different Christian groups on the basis of different theological positions.  However, in the 1980s the democratic movement of the Korean church was not limited to the role of KNCC and progressive churches, but to wider groups of Christian churches and leaders (Chae, 1995: 100).  The coalition of Christian organizations began to be stronger in the 1980s.  Many evangelicals as individuals participated in the democratization movement in the 1980s.  The KNCC, KEF (Korean Evangelical Fellowship), Christian students, Catholic Church, and so on were joined together in the democratic movement.  In 1987, Korean Association of Protestant Churches was inaugurated including almost all groups and began to take interest in social, political issues.

In South Korea, extensive mobilization of civil society was a crucial source of pressure for democratic change (Diamond, 1994: 5).  In the case of 1987 struggle in Korea, a grand alliance of civil society and opposition political parties exerted strong “people power” pressure on Chun’s authoritarian regime.  Evidently Christians constituted an important group in the energized, autonomous, voluntary, and self-supporting civil society bound by shared values.  Political dissidents, Christian pastors, professors, and students, all were joined together with political opposition party, the New Korean Democratic Party (NKDP).  The NKDP had become the largest opposition bloc in the National Assembly following the February 1985 elections.  The NKDP was composed of the followers of the two best-known opposition leaders, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young Sam, both Christians who had championed democratic reforms.  As was described earlier, it was noteworthy in this grand network that conservative churches joined together in this democratization movement.


2.7   Middle Class Participation, Economic Factors, and Democratization

Some scholars have suggested a positive relationship between the size of the middle class and democratization (e.g.  Lipset, 1959).  Therefore, the fact that a high proportion of the Korean educated middle class came from Christian backgrounds has certain implications for democracy.  The empirical evidence from East Asia lends strong support to the view that democratization is facilitated, though not caused, by economic growth (Curtis, 1997: 141).

Very rapid economic growth in Korea produced challenges for the authoritarian regime and gave rise to the increased middle-class, coupled with diversity of society, development of civilian forces.  In the democratic transition of 1987, the journalists reported an important new phenomenon: many demonstrators were solid middle class citizens.  (Oh, 1999: 92)  In the past the middle class had kept its distance from street clashes, perhaps because the economy remained stable and their economic well-being was not threatened, but this time they evidently decided to join anti-regime struggle.  But in May 1987, after the shocking January 1987 torture-death of SNU student Park Chong-chol, a survey by Seoul National University in May 1987 reported that 85.7 per cent of the middle class wanted to protect human rights even at the cost of economic growth.  (Hankook Ilbo, 9 June 1987)

Korean democracy illustrates well the phenomenon of democratic rejection of economically successful authoritarian systems, which Haggard and Kaufman (1995) calls this "authoritarian withdrawal in good times". While economic failures in some Latin America countries forced their dictators to relinquish power, economic success in Korea led the military to include the rapidly expanding middle class in the political process (Shin, 1999: 249); yet the middle-class became fed up with the authoritarian state and its excesses.  Thus, as Im Hyung-baeg (1996) pointed out, what could be called a crisis of economic success conditioned the demise of military rule in Korea, not, as some in Latin American countries, a crisis of economic failure.

In the case of Korea, successful industrialization gave rise to the emergence of the middle class.  Those middle class participated in the democratic movement without admitting the trade-off between economic development and political liberty when they were liberated from economic survival.  Democratic transition in Korea can be best understood from a perspective which focuses on the cleavage between institutionalized politics and civil society.  In Korea, the prime energy for change has come by and large from civil dissidents whom the middle class challenges are of crucial significance (Han, 1995: 12).  The countries with a "crisis of success" are arguably often in better shape for democratic transition and, particularly, consolidation, than those with a "crisis of failure".  But of course, these predisposing conditions don’t determines the path to consolidation.

Korean evangelical contribution to democratization drew upon its organizational resources (including its international connections), its numerical strength, and its economic and financial resources.  The Korean churches’ ties with the U.S.  were earlier explained.  Korean churches also had a domestic organizations and networks that could be reinforced at least every Sunday.  Here, however, we note how Korean Christianity grew during the postwar period, with the numbers in the Church increasing rapidly, perhaps more than in any other country at that time.  In 1945 there were only about 300,000 Protestants (and few Catholics) in the entire peninsula.  By 1960 the Protestant population in South Korea was 600,000.  However, by 1974 that figure had exploded to about 4.3 million Christians, 3.5 million Protestants and 800,000 Catholics, roughly 13 percent of the total South Korean population.  The Protestant population increased to almost 8.9 million by 1983, and has stayed almost constant between then and the present.  (8,760,000 is a figure given for 1995.)  Thus the most rapid growth of the Protestant church took place during the 1960s and the 1970s.  (See Table 2, below.)



According to Hong Du-sung's research (1992), proportion of the middle-class increased from 19.6 percent to 39.6 percent during 1960-1990, using average monthly household income, and education as the main criteria.  This increase also affected Korean Protestants so that the rapid growth of Protestant Christianity corresponded with the growth of middle-class people.

Huntington (1991: 65-66) suggested several reasons why economic development is conducive to democracy.  Economic development shapes the values and attitudes of its citizens, fostering the development of feelings of interpersonal trust, life satisfaction, and competence, which, in turn, correlate strongly with the existence of democratic institutions.  Economic development increases the levels of education in society.  Economic development makes greater resources available for distribution among social groups and hence facilitates accommodation and compromise.  Economic development promotes the opening of societies to foreign trade, investment, technology, and communications.  Economic development promotes the expansion of the middle class.

Many Christians were better educated than the average Korean and many belonged to the politically conscious middle class, which was responsive to the catchwords, “the restoration of democracy”.  Korean Protestant Christianity is shown to have higher rates of women, young people, urban dwellers (especially in metropolitan cities), and the educated than other religious categories in Korea (the Institute of Gallup Survey, "Korean Religion and Religious Consciousness", 1984; 1988; 1990).  Korean Protestantism also has the highest percentage of middle-class people.  The Institute for Population and Development of Seoul National University (1992) conducted a survey of religion and social class for those who are over 20 years old.  In a sample size of 1,490, proportion of middle-class people among Protestants (57.6%) was higher than among Buddhist (38.7%) or those without religious affiliation (44.5%).

I would argue that it is impossible to dissociate Korean Christianity from the development of the middle class in Korea, although we cannot find direct correlation between Korean middle-class Christians and the democratization orientation.  To argue that the increased size of the Korean Church is an independent variable for Korean democratization is not so persuasive.  The rapid growth rate of Korean Protestantism itself up to 1987 did not directly bring about the dynamism of democratic movement.  The increased size has to do with the development of middle class within the Protestant Church, and the increase of demanded role of middle class Christians affected the evangelical churches in the role of public sphere (Interview #7).  The larger presence and middle class base may have made Christianity a significant player in the democratization of Korea, but could not guarantee the success of democracy.

It seems clear that Christianity, especially progressive churches, took the lead in the democratization movement during the 1970s (Interview #3).  However, during the 1980s and especially in the June struggle of 1987, Christianity seems to have played a significant role in the democratization of Korea, not as an independent variable, but as a mediating variable which organized democratic movement and promoted socio-economic development with the increase of the middle-class and with the uplift of educational level at the time of the crisis of the legitimacy of military regimes (e.g. Interviews #1, 2, nad 7).  It seems hard to argue that the Korean church (both progressive and evangelical churches) was an independent variable in facilitating democratic transition.  It was the network of people power, encompassing political parties and civil society that brought about democratic transition.  However, it is very difficult to discuss the democratization movement without the Korean church.  Even though progressive churches and Christians were not the biggest numerically, they exercised a far greater influence upon politics and society than any other religion during the democratization struggle.  The increased number of evangelicals and their participation was also a significant force that cannot be overlooked in the people uprising in 1987.

1 Comment

  1. Lewis Barrack

    Super article! Your writing is so fresh compared to most other writers. Thanks for writing when you get the chance to, I’ll be sure to return!

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