[Series V] Evangelical Christians and Civil Society

Evangelical Christians and Civil Society

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


In the third wave of global democratization, no phenomenon has more vividly captured the imagination of democratic scholars, observers, and activists alike than “civil society” (Diamond, 1994: 4).  Democratic transition itself cannot guarantee the consolidation of democracy.  Political democracy without the development of civil society is unstable democracy.  A democracy with underdeveloped media or with the weak participation of citizens may turn into a non-democratic regime, even through legal processes, for instance.  This paper follows Diamond (1994: 5), in defining civil society as the realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, (largely) self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound a legal order or set of shared values.  Before I discuss the activities of Korean evangelicals in civil society, I will sketch a historical picture of Korean civil society in general.

Korean civil society arose in the context of a strong state dominance going back for millennia, the experience of the harsh Japanese colonial state, state-controlled dirigiste economic development, and disunity in Korean society based on regional discrimination.  In addition, the military government justified their oppressive rule (with American connivance and support) under the rubric a struggle against Communism – and that struggle was properly a very serious concern in Korean context.  This reinforced strong innate grassroots tendencies in Korean society not to rock any boats, and imparted a deeply conservative character to the society and its political expression which readily became locked and frozen in the tense and dangerous standoff between South and North Korean, and the military dangers involved.  (Kim, Ho-gi, 1997: 234).

Korean civil society itself partook of a deep-rooted conservatism, rather than being a potentially free space in which to generate a struggle against state dominance.  To view the state alone as the source of autocracy and think of civil society as a pure reservoir of democratic sentiment is oversimplified, and the deeply rooted conservatism of Korean society itself.  (Son, Ho-chol, 1995: 45).  Some civil society movements were opposed to democracy, and worked against it.  State authoritarianism restricted the role of political parties, however, which would naturally have been the way for diverse forces in civil society to channel their energies.  Thus, these forces concentrated their work in non-institutional arenas.  The famous Korean word Chaeya – which literally means “out in the field”, that is, out of power, in opposition – was coined to refer to the social space in which democratic activists operated, and to the activists themselves.  Chaeya was a loose assemblage of dissident groups – composed of social movement activists, politicians, writers, youth groups, journalists, and church leaders – which had existed from the early 1970s on, and grew much stronger in the mid and late 1980s.  It was this force of Chaeya which led the democratic struggle from the mid 1980s on.

The resistance of civil society against the autocratic state has developed very slowly, and it was only in the 1980s that civil society movement became a dynamic one.  Prior to 1987 there was no clear cleavage between the minjung movement and the civil society movement nor between radial and moderate groups because of the shared goal of democratic struggle against authoritarian rule.  However, since the introduction of a (somewhat limited) procedural democracy, diverse issues and methods have caused significant distinction of these movements.

From 1987 on, the struggle between autocracy and democracy began to rapidly recede, and issues about democracy diversified.  Since the late 1980s radical social movements have eroded and lost their dynamism has lost power, with the growth of a relatively conservative middle class.  People’s movement groups (minjung undong tanch’e) which played a crucial role in facilitating the authoritarian breakdown and democratic transition, have been seeking a new identity and role in the politics of democratic consolidation.  As these groups persisted their traditional, radical methods of struggle (Interview # 12), the middle class to turn away from them.  The student movement was radical during the 1980s, and did not change its radical movement style – and its Marxist and pro-North-Korean overtones and affiliations – even in the 1990s.  So during the great progress in the development of democracy in the 1990s, the student movement and radical social movements necessarily became isolated.  (Cho, Dae-yop, 1999: 133-136) They had both fundamental cultural flows (disintegration of shared ideology), and structural flaws (in network and organization).

Two factors that contributed to a less activist and more conservative stance among the middle class after the June 29 Declaration in 1987.  First, numerous radical labor strikes between 1987 and 1988 aroused the complaints of the urban middle class.  Therefore the movement for social change based on the middle-class slowed (Kang, Mun-gu: 1992: 329).  The social values of the mass public moved toward the conservatism and economic stability.  Middle class support for democratic reforms did not last in the face of real or perceived threats to economic and political stability (Oh, 1999: 115).  Thus the middle class acted as quiet balancer between the ruling groups, which had almost always been conservative and authoritarian, and forces that favored all-out democratization of Korean politics and economy.  (Oh, 1999: 115).  Second, the collapse of socialism in the Eastern bloc in 1989 and the recession of the worldwide socialist movement undermined the typically radical, or even pro-socialist ideological basis that had provided the crucial context for the civil society movement in Korea.


5.1   Evangelicals’ Leading Role in Citizens Movement Groups in the 1990s

It was widely agreed among citizens that the social movements had been a valuable social resource which contributed to the democratization of Korea.  But the May 29th declaration in 1987 and the events leading up to it had an enormous influence on the thinking of evangelical Christians, particularly, and led to a more positive attitude toward social movements.  As radical social movements waned, this kind of social awakening increased the social concern of evangelicals over issues such as unification, economic justice, environment, and the need to create broader awareness of social problems among evangelicals.  After the struggle for democracy in June 1987, visible state oppressions and persecutions of dissent disappeared opening up legal space for various popular movements.  (Interview # 12)

Rather than a single and overall confrontation between an authoritarian state and civil society, there are now multiple ways in which civil society challenges government practices.  (Kim, Ho-gi, 1995: 328).  This diversification of civil society issues provides a wider social basis for democratic participation.  Religion-related groups, already organized and tightly-knit, were well equipped to address these new issues and ready to initiate new social movements, taking a leading role in civil society.   The early 1990s were the transition period in which previous democratic movement groups were at a standstill.  Evangelicals had to respond to the new changing context without undermining their integrity, and this was increasingly manifested in their civil society movements in the 1990s.

One of the most notable trends in Korean civil society since 1988 has been the proliferation of the citizens’ movement groups (siminundong tanch’e).  One study showed that forty-seven were created from 1988 to 1993 (Kim Sun-hyuk, 2000: 106), and by 2000 it is estimated that there were about 1150 Korean NGOs.  This associational explosion of the citizens’ movement groups has been particularly salient in social, women’s, and youth organizations.  Korean NGOs encompass a wide variety of social groups, including religious groups, citizens, women, environment, labor, farmers, human rights, local autonomy, poor people, politics and administration, unification, international affairs, the handicapped, welfare, social service, youth, teenagers, education, media, health, and consumers.

Christians play a major role in this expansion:  some estimate that Christian-based groups constitute nearly 70 per cent of all the NGOs and related groups (Interview # 15).  There are only a very few Buddhist citizen NGOs (e.g. the Federation of National Buddhist Movements) in Korea.  It would be safe to say that that civil society activities are most active among evangelical Protestant, followed by progressive Protestants circle, and then by Catholics.  (Interview # 6)  Evangelical Protestants initiated numerous civil movements laying a foundation for civic concern on a wide variety of social issues in the early 1990s (Interview # 13).



  One of the noteworthy phenomena in evangelical particiaption in civil society was the establishment of the Kook Min Daily Newspaper in 1988 by the Yoido Full Gospel Church, a Pentecostal church.  Information highly controlled by the government hinders democracy.  The political intervention of Kook Min Daily Newspaper has strengthened the role of the Yoido Full Gospel Church as well as the Protestant Churches in the public square. 


The discussion here focusses on three prominent civil groups founded by evangelical Christians can be identified: the Christian Committee for fair elections (CCFE hereafter), the Christian Ethics Movement (CEM hereafter), and the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ hereafter).  The CCFE was organized in 1990 by a variety of Christians in Korea, but followed efforts by other Christians which had started at the very beginnings of the democratic transition in 1987.  Discussion of the CCFE is relevent both to this section on Civil Society, and also to the section on Electoral Behavior above.  The CEM was initiated by a number of Christian Protestant professors in 1987.  The CCEJ was founded by the Rev. Soh Kyung-Suk in 1989.


5.2   Evangelicals and the Campaign for Fair Elections

Evangelicals and other Christians have engaged in efforts to assure the fairness of elections.  The Catholic Church launched a committee for fair elections during the 1987 elections.  The Protestant churches also organized the Committee for Fair Elections.  However, the election monitoring movement did not show a united stance because of the differences of strategies between these Christian movement groups and the National Democracy movement.  The activists for the democracy movement concentrated on the disputes about strategy for getting a candidate they approved of to win in the presidential election, and were not ready to participate in an election supervision movement.  The education of people supervising this election was very shallow and unsystematic.  (CISJD, 1988: 38)  At that time evangelicals’ campaign for fair elections was not systematic and not very energetically conducted.

However, in 1990 the Christian Committee for Fair Election (CCFE) was organized by a cluster of evangelical Christians.  The president of this committee was Yi, Man-yol, an evangelical professor in Sung Myung Women’s University.  The presidency was later handed down to Son, Bong-ho, the co-director of the Christian Ethics Movement (CEM, Civil movement group discussed below).  After the foundation of this Christian organization, So Kyung-sok, an evangelical pastor and the founder and executive director of the Citizens’ Council for Economic Justice (CCEJ), also discussed below, gathered the civil groups which had the intention of fair election campaign and organized the Citizens’ Council for Fair Election (CCFE) for the local elections which first established local autonomy in 17 Jan 1991.  The CCFE actively worked for fair elections in the 1992 presidential election, and subsequent elections.

The CCFE analyzed the public promises of the candidates and presented them to the voters in an impartial way.  The activities of the CCFE were generally regarded as a significant success – virtually a landmark in the annals of civil society movements – and gave important momentum to the organizing of the network of civil activists.  The CCFE started with 9 groups, but increased to about 500 groups by the local election in 1995.  The CCFE has demanded the revision of unfair election laws, run centers for reporting unethical conduct, held hearings, sponsored policy debates, published reports comparing public promises of the candidates, distributed selection criteria for choosing the right candidate, disseminated information, and developed solidarity with the peoples movement groups in enhancing voter participation.

Progressing through a number of local, National Assembly, and presidential elections since 1991, it has now grown into a prestigious nationwide organization in the movement for fair elections, encompassing all classes and all religious denominations – Protestant, Buddhist, Catholic, and Confucianist.  Evangelical Christians have continued to play a major role in this movement.  Because of the activities of the Citizens’ Council for Fair Elections (CCFE), the election culture has enormously changed in a way that has contributed to the consolidation of democracy.


5.3   The Christian Ethics Movement (CEM)

While the CCEJ encompasses general citizens’ participation, the CEM is an explicitly Christian and Protestant movement.  Therefore, the CEM is theologically based in character.  The CEM is a Christian civil movement group that was initiated on December 1987 by 38 evangelical Christians such as Yi Man-yol, Son Bong-ho, Chang Ki-ryo, Yi Myung-soo, Kim In-soo.  The idea of the movement was initially conceived by some Christian professors in Seoul National University who were doing Bible studies together.  Son Bong-ho, a professor of Seoul National University and a co-founder of the CEM, describes background of the CEM as follows (1997: 21):


At that time there were three positions in Korean Christianity about Korean society.  One group of progressive Christians struggled for democracy and social structural reform.  Another group of conservative Christians separated strictly church from the world and did not regard democratization and economic equity as their duties, by concentrating on personal evangelism and mission.  However, a number of evangelical Christians stood between the two positions.  They believed that social inequality and anti-democracy of the government were not valid, but they were suspicious of the radical methods to achieve that goal……We thought that there must be diverse ways to achieve social ideal of democratization and equality.  However, we thought what was clear for this goal was the moral life and ethical example of Christians…..The theory of reductionism that individual’s responsibility is attributed to the structure cannot be Christian, however it is persuasive and logical.


The CEM has focused on Christians’ ethical influence on Korean society from early its early days.  The CEM hoped that the Christian Ethics Movement would set an example for Korean society; for if Christians serve society and demonstrate sacrifice and love, this alone gives the church an important role in society and politics.  However, the ethics movement of the CEM is not based on individuals’ actions alone.  The manifesto of the CEM calls for community organization, including in local congregations, and emphasizes Christians’ responsibility for politics, economics, and society.

The CEM has campaigned for Christians to practice an honest, simple, moderate, and sharing lifestyle.  It has also labored for the reform of the church, touching on various issues such as pastors’ ethics, and rejection of the common practice of pastors’ sons being their successors in the pastorship in large congregations.  The CEM has campaigned against social corruption and dishonesty.  The CEM has monitored the consumer culture and government policies.  It has issued public statements and held various seminars and meetings on social and political corruption.  It has also endeavored all along to curb a culture of lasciviousness in society, pinpointing and opposing unnecessarily lascivious content in weekly periodicals and sports daily newspapers.  It has organized Christian forums along occupational lines, for example a CEM lawyers association, and a CEM teachers association.

The membership of the CEM, two years after its inauguration, was 2,400 and it has grown steadily.  The CEM has now the membership of more than 10,000.  Although the CEM is basically a Christian ethics-based movement, it has touched on a number of social issues for Korean democratization and Christians’ “Christian” influence on Korean society.  The activities of the CEM are so numerous that it is hard to describe them here.  The CEM’s campaigns against a consumer-culture are well known in Korean society.  For example, the CEM led a movement of monitoring sports daily newspapers in 1991 so that it made each newspaper to insert an advertisement of pledge to make a wholesome newspaper in the first section of the paper.  But here I want to focus on how the CEM has contributed to the consolidation of democracy in the political arena in the 1990s.

First, the CEM has actively been involved in the Fair Election Campaign.  The core slogan of the CEM for the fair election movement was “From Personality-centered Votes to Policy-centered Votes”.  The CEM sent the questionnaires about the policies of all the candidates and made a comparison list for eligible voters.  While the CEM participated actively in the CCFE movement, it also focused on Korean Christians.  Reforming the minds of Christian voters was the CEM’s primary intention, although it also regarded institutional reform as important.

Second, the CEM strove to raise up democratic citizens through civic education.  The CEM has been running the Academy for Democratic Citizens (ADC).  Tocqueville (1956 [1835]) argued that the source of American democracy lay in American civil society – in voluntary and autonomous groups and organizations.  The ADC educates future leaders to play a role in democratic civil movements, and the CEM expects that this will bring about the reform in civil society and strengthen Korean democracy.  The CEM is convinced that if citizens have undemocratic views and attitudes, one cannot hope for democracy nationally.

Thirdly, the CEM has inaugurated the Justice Politics Forum (JPF) in 2000.  The aims of the Forum were (1) fostering future leaders to engage in politics to promote justice; (2) developing dialogues to support and nurture such leaders; and (3) developing leadership and policy programs for justice-oriented politics.  The CEM made it clear that (1) it does not aim at Christian political party; (2) the JPF does not support particular political leaders; and (3) the JPF is not an interim organization aiming at quick temporary results.  Some JPF seminars held in 2000 are listed here for reference.  (See <Table 9>)



The CEM has a dual identity:  it is a Christian civil movement group, and also seeks to be relevant to all elements of Korean society generally.  The CEM promotes individual character (ethics and thinking) both in ways specifically addressed to church folk, and also in ways which would be useful for all citizens regardless of religious affiliation.   This dual responsibility may lead to dilemmas, of course.  (Interview # 9)   As a basis for resolving such dilemmas, the CEM takes the view that personal conscience and social institutions are both important.  Social reform takes place through a process in which civil movements bring about change in individuals’ thinking, and also seek institutional reform, with each of these necessary, and each supporting the other.


  Kwon Chang-hee, the executive director of the CEM, told me that CEM was struggling in the identity of movement.  Yi (1997) made suggestions for the CEM that (1) the CEM has to find its identity character: whether it is personal ethic movement or social ethic movement or how to balance the two aspects; (2) the CEM needs more professionalization of organization; and (3) the CEM should be more pro-church by developing the cooperation between the pastors and laity. 

  Soh has a strong Christian background.  His great great grandfather became the first ordained pastor and set up the Saemunan Church with a Methodist missionary, Rev.  Underwood, the first Protestant church in Korea.  His family has attended the Saemunan Church.



The CEM believes that the change of social structure to alleviate people's sufferings can be made possible by Christians’ participation in politics.  The co-founder of the CEM, Son Bong-ho (1998) argues that the universe is under the sovereign rule of God, and politics – which has a great influence on our lives – is not an exception.  God is sovereign over secular areas as well as the sacred ones.  Son (1998) believes that Christians cannot ignore politics, since politics plays a critical role in the protection of religious freedom and in the possibility of evangelism (Son, Bong-ho.  2002).  He believes that Christians should participate in politics for mission activity.  They should do so for justice, above all to protect the weak.  However, Son Bong-ho (1998) also argues that the consciousness of Korean evangelical Christians is not very mature and that Christian voters are not fundamentally different from non-Christian voters in the maturity of their democratic thinking.  He also thinks that level of thinking among Christian politicians is not high.  So he strongly suggests that the possibility of a more Christian politics lies in participating in a Christian civil movement which will raise consciousness.

Min Chong-gi (2000: 100-102), a former professor of the Westminster Graduate College, who directs the education committee in the CEM, argues that civil society movement is a mission movement.  Min suggests several reasons:


First, the church enjoys freedom of ministry in the age of civil society.  The Christians’ ministry is unlimitedly open in the space of civil society.  Second, the church and Christian citizens are given the possibility of finding the holism of prophetic messages in all the arenas, including politics, economics, culture and art.  Third, the church in civil society is awakened now that it exists for not only individual salvation but also for the recovery of the church community and for social transformation.


Min argues that to interpret Christian civil movements only from the political and economic perspective misses the point of the movement.  The church, the body of Christ, is one part of civil society.  Civil movement is a task for holistic mission movement and a response to the calling of God who has the character of justice and love.  The proportion of Christians and Christian groups among the members of the Korean Federation of Civil Society Groups is so large as to be quite surprising, due to the astonishing rate Christian participation in Civil Society groups.  Min note that this has the incidental effect of opening opportunities for mission and evangelism, because of the respect Christians have gained through their civic-minded efforts.

It is very intriguing that the CEM justifies its movement on theological grounds.  Park Duk-hun (2000) argues: “True meanings and theological truths about God, human being, salvation, and the church are inviting us to the politics of civil society that seeks God’s justice.”  He continues, “the open space of civil society is the property of the forceful men (Mt. 11:12)” (2000: 136).  The CEM takes the view that well-united Christian citizens can sometimes be a sling and a stone that triumphs over Goliath, that succeeds in resisting arrogant, and more powerful, forces in political and economic arenas.  (Min, Chong-gi, 2000: 102).  It appears that the CEM is very traditionally evangelical in its approach as a movement in that it has attempted to reform Christians’ mind-set and ethical way of life to magnify Christians’ social influence.  Yi Chung-sok (1997), a member of theological committee of the CEM and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, evaluates the activities of CEM very positively.  He believes that there has been no Christian movement or Christian group with such small number of Christians that has had as great an influence on the whole area of politics, economics, society, and culture as the CEM in Korean church history.

Through the cases of the CCEJ and CEM, we find that the evangelical leaders’ theological conviction has a great influence on their social and political activity.  Rev. Soh (CCEJ) and Prof. Son (CEM) are all evangelical leaders and activists for the development of democracy in Korea, and this participation aroused from their theological conviction.  The organizational strength of the CCEJ and CEM is not divorced from the theology of their Christian founders.


5.4   Rev. Soh’s Evangelical Faith: Citizens Committee for Economic Justice

Many movements bear the stamp of a founding leader’s idea and vision.  The founder of the Citizens’ Committee for Economic Justice (CCEJ) pastor Soh Kyung-Suk, was once a famous radical student activist.  His energetic participation in the democratic struggle against the authoritarian regime got him jailed three times during the 1970s.  At that time he played a leading role in the KSCF (Korea Student Christian Federation) movement which was the womb of progressive Christian students’ movements.  The theological background of his activities then was Minjung Theology.  He says:


During my youth Minjung theology was a living theology that moved me and made a great contribution toward my total dedication to Christian minjung movement.  It was a sort of guide that made me give up my major studies [in engineering] and dedicate to the progressive Christian movement.  (Interview # 12)


However, during the period of his study in the United States (1982-1986), Rev.  Soh began to recover the evangelical faith and to realize its dynamic social implications.  He was brought up within evangelical faith tradition.   Soh saw the limitation of minjung theology in validating social movement, because in his view minjung theology had a tendency to absolutize minjung movement, identifying minjung (people) with Jesus (Soh, 2001).  Soh began to argue that while we lead a movement for good against evil (Rom.  12:21), we should not lose our confession that we are sinners, but minjung theology absolutized minjung (Soh, 2001).  He he put it in an interview,  (Interview # 12)


While I was in Korea (until he went to the States), I was not able to make my religious experience my own.  The theological background around me was all Minjung theology.  I had no room to theologize my evangelical faith experience under the context that the resurrection of Jesus was being understood as the resurrection of the minjung (people).


When Soh returned from the States, he saw that many Christian social movements of students and progressive churches were affected by socialist ideology, and began to argue that Christian social movements should be based on Christian evangelical faith, not on socialist ideology.  However, in the course of time, Soh was not accepted in progressive church circles because of his different approach; and he also he was not welcome in the conservative camp because of his image from earlier days as “a pastor of social movement camp”.  During this period Rev. Soh saw that the KNCC and progressive Christian groups were losing their social influence and a new arena was needed for Christian influence on Korean society.  He thought that civil society movement would be the most important area for this.  So he in anguish started a new social movement for economic reforms for social justice, which became the CCEJ.

The CCEJ was founded in 1989 by Rev. Soh together with 500 people representing various walks of life: economics professors and other specialists, lawyers, housewives, students, young adults and business people.  Numerous evangelical Christians took part in this inauguration.  The CCEJ was formed in response to what the participants perceived as the extremely unjust structure of Korean economic life.  Their slogan, "Let's achieve economic justice through citizens' power," reflected their belief that the deep-rooted economic injustices could not be cured by government alone, but ultimately must be solved by the organized power of citizens.  The movement declared to aim at economic development and social equity.



  Soh has a strong Christian background.  His great great grandfather became the first ordained pastor and set up the Saemunan Church with a Methodist missionary, Rev.  Underwood, the first Protestant church in Korea.  His family has attended the Saemunan Church.


Rev. Soh believed that the fruits of economic development should be shared by all the common people, not just the small group of "haves", and the group proposed a new method of gradual but thorough reform of the economic system.  Soh and his associates founded the CCEJ as a movement that would (1) be led by the ordinary citizens, (2) use legal and nonviolent methods, (3) seek workable alternatives, (4) speak for the interests of all people, regardless of economic standing, and (5) work to overcome greed and egoism in order to build a sharing society.  Soh’s intent was to build a broad-based movement that could raise issues of justice and champion the needy, including all citizens, and only radicals, activists, or minjung (poor and oppressed people).  Soh set forth the scope of his project at the movement’s inception.  (Interview # 12)


The force we are trying to gather includes not only marginalized minjung but also every citizen who has good will for democratic society of welfare, regardless of social class.  A movement based on the agreement of citizens in general will be a short-cut to the democracy and unification, although it may appear slow.


Within a few months of its inauguration the membership grew to 3,000, and the CCEJ was generally recognized and commended as the most broadly representative civil society group in Korea.  Many people from all walks of life, holding every kind of religious and non-religious view, joined the CCEJ, with evangelical and conservative Christians – for instance students from the conservative evangelical group Campus Crusade for Christ – particularly energetic participation, however.


5.5   The Impact of the CCEJ and Its Activities

In fact, the CCEJ has assumed a commanding position as the voice of middle-class Koreans interested in reform.  Before the CCEJ came into being, there was no such organization to point out the structural problems in the Korean economy and to engage citizens in a movement for economic reform.  While still young, the CCEJ movement has achieved several important successes, most notably the establishment of the "real name system" for all financial transactions and for the registration of property; and its active program of forums, seminars and public discussions has raised public awareness about economic issues, especially those concerned with equity and just distribution of benefits in society.  Under the banner of economic justice through the power of committed citizens, it has supported the independence of the central bank from government control, revision of tax laws to discourage land speculation, and regulation of the rental system on behalf of poorer citizens.  Some of its major programs, including the Economic Injustice Complaint Center, Legislature Watch, and Research Institute for Economic Justice, have received wide public attention.  It publishes a bimonthly English newsletter, Civil Society, and a Korean monthly magazine, Wolgan Kyongsillyn (CCEJ Monthly), which includes both academic and more journalistic writings on issues related to economic reform; and it conducts research into dozens of policy sectors covering almost every aspect of social, economic, and political life.

Since 1989, the CCEJ movement has grown to include also the areas of environmental protection, democratic development and national reunification.  It uses various methods, depending on the issue at hand, lobbying government officials for policy changes, pressing for amendment of related laws, issuing statements, demonstrating, and holding press conferences.  Many of its activities have been carried out in cooperation with other citizens' organizations.  For example, in 1993-4, CCEJ helped to form the "People's Coalition to Protect Korean Agriculture," a network of 190 organizations which pressured the government to impose conditions on the agricultural market opening to protect Korean farmers and the Korean food system from possible negative effects of the Uruguay Round.  Following the reinstitution of local democratic structures in 1995, the nationwide network of CCEJ branch organizations has played an active role in educating local political leaders and citizens for effective political participation and sustainable local development.  Another important area of networking has been the Fair Election Campaign, which mobilizes dozens of civic groups at each election time to promote voter awareness about the candidates' policies and to press the candidates themselves to present good social and economic reform platforms.

According to Tilly (1978: 125), social movement groups can be broadly classified into two main types at the macro-level in terms of their relationship with the government:  the polity member type and the challenger type.  The latter is a social movement which has a conflicting or confrontational relationship with the government.  Civil movement groups can also be characterized by two types at the micro-level in the light of members' characteristics, management system, the type of key resources, and mode of participation and behavior:  the market type and the communal type (Lo, 1992).  CCEJ is a market-type and polity-member social movement group.

The CCEJ has diverse members of individuals, and a professional management system, and it relies on indirect participation.  Its resources depend not on government funding but on membership fees.  Rather than using confrontational, anti-establishment methods such as demonstrations and mass-meetings, it uses conventional and respectable techniques:  public hearings, discussion meetings, workshops, campaigns, and presentation of policy alternatives.  Public hearings and discussion meetings have been held on a wide range of subjects.  The various activities of the CCEJ have attracted the media attention from early on, in part because it differed social movements of a challenging and communal type, which have been more common in Korea, and this attention has contributed to the widening of the market of the CCEJ activities (Cho, Dae-yop, 1999: 267).  For example, the statements of the CCEJ with various themes were made 37 times in 1994.

The CCEJ has now a very solid status among the civil movement groups.  In fact, the CCEJ’s contribution lies not only in its own activities, but also in that it has provided a new model for social movements and has helped Korean society in a transition process of democracy from authoritarianism to adjust to a new changing context.  Moreover, it has focused on economic equity issues, which is the area Curtis (1997) presents as one of the main lessons from the East Asian experience of democratization.  In this sense the movement of the CCEJ contributed to the process of consolidating Korean democracy by adding economic justice and also a dimension of social democracy to the new sprouting democracy of Korea.

Rev. Soh, the founder of the CCEJ, also started a new “Korean Sharing Movement” in 1999.  He told me that his main interest used to be justice before, but now it was sharing.  (Interview # 18)  His new movement aims immediately at helping the refugees from North Korea and Korean-Chinese in Korea, but ultimately at the unification of Korea and the mature developed country.

Rev. Soh’s civil social movement has a firm ground in his evangelical faith.  (Interview # 21) (I: 21)  He has a conviction that Christians’ social action needs to seek the Kingdom of God.  He believes that evangelicals need to avoid two great perils: one is to seek heavenly world alone, without interest in social transformation in this world; and another is to seek the kingdom of God in this world alone, without eschatological hope.  He sees minjung theology in the Korean church as an example of the latter problem.  Christians’ political action finds its basis in the incarnation of Jesus, which is incompatible with dualism and that implies the salvation of body as well as spirit.  Soh believes that Christians are in the world, but not of the world so that Christians cannot ignore politics, because of its a great influence on people’s concrete daily lives.  Soh argues that evangelicals’ social action must proceed in the light of Christian faith and this means that they need to participate in social movement from a theologically informed basis, acknowledging that they themselves are sinners and shedding any self-righteous attitudes.  (Interview # 21)

Rev. Soh’s civil society movement has had a great influence on the thinking of some evangelical leaders in the Korean church; as a result they have now come to believe that social action through civil society movements is a Biblical approach.  (Soh, Kyung-suk, 2001).  Soh acknowledges the importance of churches in civil society movement.  He suggests that in order to encompass many evangelical Christians for social movement, small churches should form the core of Christian social movements, as the democratic structure of the social movement could be compromised if the mega-churches alone lead the movement.  Soh’s contribution to Korean civil society movement can be marked as one of the successful cases of evangelical participation in politics.


5.6   The Evangelical Contribution to Civil Society

Evangelical contributions to civil society up to 1987 can be viewed from rather indirect aspects.  Woodberry (1999) suggests three ways religious traditions may foster civil society:  (1) religious organization develops habits of behavior and institutional models that people can apply to other areas of life; (2) religious organizations are better able to resist oppression than most other forms of civil society; and (3) religious organizations influence both the amount and type of non-religious organizational civil society.

The rapid growth of the evangelical churches in Korea may have promoted democracy by creating autonomous social space (e.g. voluntary associations and participation) within the structure of the Church.  Home-cell groups and the activity of committee formed around gender, occupation, interest, may help church members solve dilemmas of collective action, fostering institutional success in the broader community.  Associations within the church generate space for trust and the churches taught civic skills to their members (cf. Putnam, 1993).

In addition, the Churches taught about responsible citizenship as part of their teachings about Christian life.  Korean evangelicalism gave explicit training for democracy within the church (e.g. human rights or learning decision-making).  (Interview # 6)  Korean evangelicalism may have contributed to good citizenship in a way, so to democracy.

One strength of evangelical participation in civil society movement since the late 1980s lay in its popularity.  According to one survey (CEM and the Institute for Korean Christian Church, 1992), it was shown that conservative Protestant groups, such as the CEM and the Christian Committee for Fair Election, were better known to Korean Christians than progressive groups, such as the Human Rights Committee of the KNCC or the Christian Federation of Social Movements.  Progressive social movements received less recognition because they were elite-based movements, without a wide base in Korean churches.  Progressive church groups' social movements stagnated partly because the mass of Korean Protestants were critical conservatives who preferred moderate groups to groups thought of as more radical.

Since the late 1990s some evangelical leaders have been more positive toward civil society movements.  The Korean National Association of Christian Pastors (KACP), together with Christian civil movement organizations, organized a major conference on Civil Movements for Social Reform and Christians’ Participation in March 2000.  The KACP was inaugurated in 1998 by 14 associations of evangelical Christian pastors, who came from a variety of major Korean denominations (e.g. Presbyterian Tonghap, Haptong, Kijang, Methodist, Holiness, Assemblies of God, and Anglican, etc) with a view to renewing the divided Korean churches and aiming to playing a role in Korea and its society.

The KACP invited Korean major civil movement groups that were mostly Christian – such as Networks for Green Transport, Asian Institute for Civil Society Movements, Christian Ethics Movement, Green Consumers Network in Korea, The Political Watch, and the Citizen’s Coalition for Economic Justice.  The conference papers focused on social reform and civil society movements and on the role of Christians in Korean society.  This was the first meeting that the many pastors of major Korean denominations jointly organized on the theme of civil society movements.  This illustrates how evangelical pastors are awakening to their role in the larger society.

As the civil movements led by evangelicals gained recognition among the large number of Protestant Christians, they have added new force to the consolidation of democracy.  New democracies consolidate as increasing number of ordinary citizens organize themselves into groups and associations on a voluntary basis (Putnam, 1993).  By joining voluntary associations, evangelical Christians in a newly democratic Korea have, as individuals, enlarged their hearts and cultivated commitment to leading a humane and civilized life; but also by aggregating and representing their concerns in the political arena they have, as a group, helped check any tendencies toward authoritarianism.  This illustrates how we can think of civil society as an autonomous sphere of social power within which citizens can pressure authoritarians for change, protect themselves from tyranny, and democratize from below.


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