Rev. Cho Yong-gi
By Lee Hyo-sik
A well-known pastor here has caused a stir by describing Japan’s latest earthquake as a warning from God to an “idol-worshiping nation.”
The controversial remarks by Rev. Cho Yong-gi, emeritus pastor of the Yeouido Full Gospel Church, have immediately resulted in strong criticism from civic groups and Internet users who are calling for the pastor to resign and offer an apology to the earthquake victims.
In an interview with an online newspaper on Saturday, a day after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a series of tsunami devastated Japan’s northeastern coastal areas, Cho said he has not decided whether to take part in a ceremony celebrating the 34th anniversary of the church’s Tokyo branch on March 15 and 16.
When asked to comment on the earthquake, the pastor first said it is regrettable that so many lives have been lost and properties destroyed due to the unprecedented disaster.
“But it also comes to my mind that the earthquake could be a warning from God to Japan, which has become an increasingly material-centric, secular and idol-worshiping country. From a religious point of view, the Japanese people have lost a great deal of faith in God over the years,” he said.
Cho then said reflecting on what happened to Japan, a “spiritual” earthquake, bigger than the latest Japanese quake, should occur in Korea, stressing God must grant Koreans a chance to repent for their sins.
The pastor was also involved in a controversy on Feb. 24 when he threatened to stage a campaign to force President Lee Myung-bak out of power unless his administration gave up a legislation bid for Islamic bonds, drawing fire from politicians and civic organizations.
Among others, progressive culture critique Chin Jung-kwon posted a series of messages on his Twitter account.
One of them reads, “We should establish a committee to lift Cho up to the sky, (as what Jesus is prophesied to do to his followers in the Bible when he ever returns to Earth on Judgment Day). It is not technically difficult. We just need to arrange a seat for him next to Naro satellite when it is launched.”
Chin also ridiculed the pastor by tweeting that what Cho preaches is not about religion but mass hysteria, calling his followers empty-headed fools.
Many other Internet users echoed Chin’s views, saying it was inappropriate of Cho as a senior religious leader to make such demeaning remarks about the earthquake victims.
One netizen said he feels ashamed of the pastor as a Christian himself, while other Internet users vowed to stay away from the church if God punishes non-believers in such a manner as Cho said.
Facing an intensifying backlash against the pastor, the online newspaper deleted his controversial remarks from its article.
The Yeouido Full Gospel Church said Monday that Cho had only intended to express condolences to the victims and their family and friends, adding that it was unfortunate for his remarks to have been misinterpreted.