The Korea Herald

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Christian leaders apologize over clusters, urge distancing at churches

By Lim Jang-won

Published : Jan. 29, 2021 - 19:01

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Members of an unauthorized school run by local Christian missionary society International Mission leave a church on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Members of an unauthorized school run by local Christian missionary society International Mission leave a church on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The National Council of Churches in Korea, along with Young Men’s Christian Association and Young Women’s Christian Association, apologized on Friday for Christian organizations’ frequent links coronavirus cluster infections and called on churches to follow distancing guidelines.

“We look back on the reality of how Korean churches have been recognized as one of the main institutions causing harm to public health and sincerely apologize to the people of Korea,” said the three groups in a jointly-issued statement released during a press conference at The Korean Church Centennial Memorial in Jongno-gu, Seoul.

Churches have been at the center of many cluster infections throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most recently, a cluster infection occurred in unauthorized schools run by local Christian missionary society International Mission this week.

Over 300 people of Sarang Jeil Church tested positive with the virus in August while over 500 people from BTJ Center for All Nations, a facility run by InterCP International, tested positive in November. The most recent case of cluster infections at unauthorized schools run by IM raised the daily number of new cases back above 500 for the first time in 10 days Wednesday.

None of these organizations are from Christian orders recognized by the NCCK, although smaller outbreaks have been linked to other churches.

“In order to protect life which is the most important value, we think restricting ways of practicing religion can occur, as opposed to (viewing it as) restricting religious freedom,” said Lee Hong-jung, general secretary of NCCK.

Gathering at the church is one form of worship, Lee said, adding that restricting such gatherings in pandemic situation is something Korean churches should do.

“COVID-19 gave us a message to stop and look back,” said Won Young-hee, head of the YWCA. “It was a more powerful message for Christians and the church as it allowed us to look back on churches that only focused on growing in size and emphasized the church. It allowed us to look back at the core of what giving service is about and the public role of churches.”

Ahn Jae-woong, chairman of board of trustees at National Council of YMCAs of Korea, said the press conference on Friday shows the determination of the three groups to be at the forefront of peace and life in Korea.

“Quarantining for the lives and health of the people is not a political issue but is the essential task of religion,” said the three groups. “Emphasizing the importance of ‘gathering in churches’ and ‘offline service’ and resisting with the mindset of martyrdom is being unable to distinguish the nature of religion and collective egocentrism,” they said, when everyone is making sacrifices.

With the public opinion on churches and Christians worsening with each new cluster infection, leaders pleaded for Christians to “show an example until the very end and endure the hardship in a sacrificing way.”

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)