Only a decade ago considered a phenomenal success, Protestant churches in Korea are meeting with widespread public disenchantment as well as numerical decline and internal crises, according to a new study. In a paper presented at the ASR in New York, Kyuhoon Cho of the University of Ottawa said that the sharp growth of Korean conservative Protestant (often Pentecostal) megachurches during the 1970s and 1980s was often linked in the public’s mind with the pro-American and anti-communist influence in South Korea.. Just as these social and political forces have faded in South Korea during a period of globalization and Asian-based democratization, the Protestant growth has stalled and even declined. Cho cited figures showing that Protestantism is now the only declining religion (except for the quasi-religion of Confucianism), while Catholicism shows the most significant growth.
Cho argues that the many scandals involving church leaders, the frequent splits and schisms among conservative churches, and the fervent missionary drive that is seen as breeding intolerance toward non-Christians—especially Buddhists–is behind much of the decline. A segment of the public now views Korean conservative Protestantism as a “social problem”—a view spread widely in the media and on the Internet in Korea. To regain its prominent status and push back liberalization in Korean society, the evangelical churches have been increasingly politically active. The churches active in the Christian Council of Korea and the more recently founded Christian Social Responsibility have become the main source of conservative and anti-communist sentiment against North Korea and opposing internal liberalization as found in the reforms of national security laws.