Yoido Christian Church
This morning I was in high-spirits and took to the Yoido Christian Church, a mega-church about the same size as Christian Central in Las Vegas, but supporting far more members—about 830,000! It is the largest Christian Church in the world.
We went to the one o’clock service, and of course, sat in a traffic jam of unflinching church goers before finally arriving at our destination. The church lies between large financial buildings, in the “Wall Street” district of Seoul. The first thing I begin to ask is: What is a Church doing in a large financial district—the largest church in the world, in fact?
We went primarily to see Mr. Cho, David Yonggi Cho, who is the leader of the church, and according to my twin brother, the only decent reverend who doesn’t merely ask for money or misrepresent factually about every historical person he can think of in the thirty minutes he has at the podium. As Mr. Cho began speaking, I began to wonder what the other preachers must have been like, since this Mr. Cho proceeded to do everything I described above, and then astounded the audience with advertisements for his DVDs. Aside from the usual astounding bullshit one casually hears and claps their hands to at a sermon, he actually claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had no political agendas when he killed Kennedy, but that he did so because he had a fight with his wife and that Kennedy just “happened to be in the neighborhood.” Really? A guy who was so socialist he moved to Russia, a guy who had attempted to kill political leaders before, really had no political leanings to do what he did? It was really because he wasn’t spiritually fulfilled?
What’s more, Mr. Cho went on to say that the richest people in the world, like Rockefeller, were extremely poor until they started giving “thirty, sometimes forty, sometimes fifty percent of everything they earned to the church!” and then proceeded to tell a story about a poor woman who was an alcoholic and never gave money to the church, and how all her generations of sons and daughters were eternally cursed because of what she did, while some other guy (American!) gave tons of money to the church, and all of his sons and daughters were made into lawyers and doctors and were rich. Indeed, it seemed no great coincidence that this church resides in the “Wall Street” of Seoul, and it was almost too predictable when, as soon as the collection bags were passed around, advertisements for Mr. Cho’s DVDs ran on the giant projection screens while the choir sang to the ads, and men in the aisles with DVDs began to tug at the church-goers.
Keeping in mind not only the history of Mr. Cho, but the history of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the sermon couldn’t be more of a shock. From it’s somewhat mythical beginnings within the houses of devoted protestants, The church was brought to the level it is today by Cho, via political alignments and religious campaigning. I believe with any church this size, any bullshit will remain unquestioned, which is actually why Mr. Cho has been brought out of retirement so many times: infighting among the other reverands. Mr. Cho’s politics are clearly espoused in his sermon: according to Cho, the previous president of Korea “certainly went to hell,” as will “any professors who become political.”
So why this tendency toward totalitarian epithets in a Christian sermon? Cho obviously aligns with the Grand National Party of Korea, the conservative wing that exerts a near total control over the media. Like the U.S. state and PBS, or Henry Kissinger and ABC, the media in Korea is controlled by someone appointed and approved by the executive branch of the government, an occurrence that does not change with the elected leaders. That explains why the last president was cursed to eternal hellfire. As for the professors? There has been an ongoing controversy in Korea concerning Professors who demand a greater democracy, and who are being fired for speaking out (http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/358604.html). According to contracts signed by professors at Seoul National University, Korea’s top University, professors cannot be political, but must protect education from politics by keeping inactive. Obviously, this only means they must only preach the politics of the state, not their own. Because these professors speak out, they are not only fired, but, according to Mr. Cho, cast into an eternal hellfire by the Almighty.
Speaking as an atheist with five preachers in my close family, one of whom had his own radio program and another who has published twelve books dedicated to Christian leadership, I don’t feel very guilty about saying that going to this church was a genuinely horrendous experience, more horrendous perhaps than any church in the States, though they certainly come close to this atrocity. Perhaps the only redeemable point of interest was when the Korean Christians all simultaneously began speaking in tongues. I’m not sure if I am able to talk about this respectfully, so I won’t even talk about it. You can imagine perhaps what a giant auditorium of cacophonic paroxysms might sound like.