By Kim Tong-hyung
The global church meeting will start in Busan, today, which is feared to trigger a major rift among Korean Christians.
On the eve of the 10-day World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting, the nation's biggest church group says it objects to the gathering, threatening to organize rallies at BEXCO, the venue.
The Christian Council of Churches (CCK) represents more than 45,000 churches with a combined 12 million followers.
CCK insists that the WCC runs against core Christian values because it supports religious diversity and is willing to discuss the acceptance of sexual minorities in the church.
A member of one conservative Christian group was apprehended last Sunday after throwing excrement at the lobby of Seoul's Myeongseong Church, led by Rev. Kim Sam-hwan, who heads the organizing committee for the WCC meeting. According to police, this was the same man who sprayed feces at the marriage ceremony between openly-gay movie director Kim Jho Gwangsoo and his partner Dave Kim in May.
''We have been investing all our strengths to oppose the WCC in the past four years … It's time that the churches under our group ups the action to get our message across,'' said Rev. Hong Jae-chul, CCK's chairman, after a meeting last week.
The WCC, an inter-church organization founded in 1948, represents 349 protestant and orthodox churches in 140 countries. The Roman Catholic Church is not a participant, but sends accredited observers to meetings. This year's event in Busan is expected to be joined by around 8,500 participants, nearly 3,000 of them from foreign countries.
The hosting of the WCC congress, which takes place once every seven years, was supposed to double as a self-celebration of Korea's Christian community and its rapid growth in past decades. It's likely to be anything but.
The mainstream, conservative churches represented by groups like the CCK are stuck in a quandary between their significant political power and dwindling social influence.
Their collective reputation has been seemingly irrevocably damaged by a slew of corruption allegations and their political maneuvers to derail parliamentary efforts to introduce an anti-discrimination legislation.
To them, a comprehensive equality law is unacceptable because they see criticizing a person for their sexual orientation as a supposed right, a stance reformist churches find regressive.
Ever since Syngman Rhee began the country's very first parliamentary meeting with a prayer in 1948, the protestant faithful has enjoyed close access to power. This coincided with the rapid expansion and material success of protestant churches ― the biggest among them behaving like business organizations ― as they grew as a central presence in conservative politics and the government's anti-communist drive in the 1970s and ‘80s.
But while the protestant church has remained a political heavyweight, its social influence continues to erode. The number of churchgoers has been dwindling, more quickly among the younger generation, and contributions have been decreasing year after year.
Numerous surveys, even those conducted by protestant church groups, have indicated that protestant leaders are doing the worst job among all religious leaders in earning the public's respect. A survey by the Christian Ethics Movement showed there were more people who distrusted the protestant church than those who did for three consecutive years through 2010.