By Bae Ji-sook
Was it a deliberate act of desecration or an expression of firm religious belief?
Whatever it was, a group of Protestants angered the country’s largest Buddhist order, Jogye, and its believers for holding a Christian ceremony inside one of its temples and uploading a video of it online as “footage of testimony.”
A Protestant reverend, taking responsibility for the group, swiftly offered an apology. But some outraged Buddhist monks perceived it as an attack on Buddhists.
The problematic video is on YouTube and other major websites under the title “Conquering Bongeun Temple.”
The video shows several students of a “Praise Academy” pledging their “mission” to get into the temple in southern Seoul, sing Christian hymns inside the sanctuary and speak out about their doctrine. The participants, whose faces were unidentifiable, said prayers out loud and criticized the temple facilities.
The clip showed one saying, “I was devastated to see the scenery of idolatry and idols. They are all useless and harmful.” Another said, “I proclaim that the place belongs to God. I believe that I was sent to reclaim God’s territory.”
The six-and-half minute clip, which was uploaded Sunday, sparked instant protests not only among Buddhists but also other netizens who thought the behavior was offensive, ignorant of other religions and most of all, self-righteous.
Attack on Buddhists?
Ven. Myeongjin, who heads the temple, denounced the “intruders.” “Some Christians are actually causing cracks and discrepancies in society,” he said while suggesting Protestant leaders hold an open discussion about the action.
An official of the temple said the people of Jogye order were astonished by the images and are investigating whether other attempts of this kind have been made.
“We thought it is not a matter of a single temple but an attack on Buddhists in general. We will discuss it with the order officials,” a temple spokesman said.
Rev. Choi Ji-ho, who leads AS37, the group that runs the academy, visited the leaders of the temple and the order with those who appeared in the video clip on Wednesday and apologized for their actions.
“They were given the task to sing on large roads, near Gangnam Metro Station. I don’t know why they chose the temple, but it was a terrible and offensive thing to do,” he said. “I didn’t know what they did and moreover, that they would make it so public by releasing video clips. It was ignorant and disrespectful.”
Ven. Myeongjin said he would accept the apology for the peace and harmony among religions.
Observers said the incident is just one example of outrageous actions performed by some Protestants these days under the name of their “mission.”
“After all, what the Bible preaches most is, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’” an online critic said.
Another group of Protestants, this time in Daegu also allegedly visited the nearby Donghwa Temple and uploaded a video image of a similar kind Tuesday.
The clip also contains scenes of Protestants giving praise inside the temple. The group also claimed in their video that they are doing whatever they can to resist the government’s support for the Buddhist templestays program and the establishment of a Buddhist theme park.
However, those assumed to be the producers of the clip denied their involvement. “Yes, we are against the theme parks and others but we never organized such an event,” one of the group members told an online news provider.