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Shamanistic influences on Korean Christianity 
15th-Feb-2006 01:37 pm
I’ve been reading an article about Shamanistic influences in Korean Christianity at the Rick Ross website. (http://www.rickross.com/reference/yoidoyonggi/yoido3.html) I have seen this discussed on forums before, but I was able to connect some of the things that were said to my own experiences with UBF.

For example, the author of the article, Jeremy Reynalds, writes:
“One Korean scholar believes that Shamanism poses a very real danger to Biblical Christianity. He writes, "Korean Christianity faces imminent and dramatic confrontation with the power of Shamanism. If we overcome, we remain true to Jesus Christ. If we compromise, we are reduced to yet another form of Shamanism with Christian veneer" (Lee 1994:3-4). This same scholar says that "bok," or material blessing, lies at the heart of Shamanism. He says that among other (negative concepts) shamanism emphasizes material blessing and success in society without any accompanying concern for others. "It is individualistic, self-centered and possessed with selfism; a combination which results in divisiveness. Bok is not amenable to either individual or social ethics" (Lee 1994:4). With this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that the concept of Biblical blessing eventually became distorted in the Korean church.”

I remember that after spending time with UBF members, I started to hear a lot about how God will "bless" us, not only with spiritual riches, but also materially (for example, when we got a large tax return, this was “God’s blessing” in our lives). Also, these blessings were connected with the things we would do in life; if we faithfully carried out the “ministry” God had for us (a UBF-based ministry), we would gain God’s blessing. I have no problem believing that God blesses us when we obey him (for example, He blessed Daniel when Daniel abstained from food forbidden by God). But I have also learned that sometimes, people who live godly lives have hard lives in this world, and sometimes those who live apart from God have comfortable lives in this world (for example, in the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, in which the sinful man is rich in this life, and godly Lazarus is a poor man). We had started to think we would be guaranteed “blessings” if we did the things UBF prescribed for us. When things in our lives started to get difficult, we thought we were doing something wrong, even though God often uses hard times to test and strengthen our faith. Another quote in the comments section...
15th-Feb-2006 07:47 pm (UTC) - Shamanistic postive thinking
Here is another quote from the article, speaking about Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of a large South Korean Pentecostal church:

“Korean shamanism's "marriage" to positive thinking has also infiltrated the Korean Christian church. One researcher feels that steeped in this way of thinking it was a natural tendency for Korean Christians to attempt to control God instead of allowing themselves to be controlled by Him. It is important to note that the "gospel" of positivism does not emphasize the Biblical concept of denial. It encourages, rather, human self-development, says researcher Lee. (Lee 1994).
Reading Cho's material seems to validate this claim of Lee's. For example, Cho writes:
Claim and speak the word of assurance, for your word actually goes out and creates ... Your word is the material which the Holy Spirit uses to create ... There are times for you to pray but there are also times for you to give the command .. You have the resources within you and now you know the elements needed in incubation to make your faith usable. Get a clear-cut goal and objective ... Then begin to speak the word about which you have been given assurance. (Cho 1979: 31-35)”

I thought it was interesting that Cho spoke of getting a “clear-cut goal and objective” in order to make things happen in our lives. Our UBF “shepherd” told us to have a “clear purpose” in our prayers (plan specifically to be sent to a specific country and have a mission there), which I often felt was a way of telling God that we were going to this country whether he wanted us to or not. Maybe a way of forcing the hand of the Holy Spirit. The prospective missionary would pick a country and would not be open to any other ideas.

When I read some of the testimonies on the www.ubf-info.de website, I see that some members of Bonn UBF were rebuked for not being “spiritually clear” or having a “clear attitude”. I wonder if this is somehow related to this concept of positive thinking in Shamanism.
15th-Feb-2006 08:38 pm (UTC)
That was a very, very good point. We already know that UBF is deeply tainted with Confucianism, buth there are surely influences of shamanism as well.

And yes, the praying with a certain number is similar to Yongghi Cho's teaching that by visualizing something concrete, we can force God to give this to us. He teaches that if we don't receive it is because we did not vizualize concretely enough. (While James says that "You ask, and don't receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures." - which is exactly the problem you are mentioning.)

I could give many examples from my experience. For instance, Kaleb Hong once tried to pit two Korean missionaries off against each other. In the announcements after the service, he praised the one who was busy inviting sutdents, but neglecting his study, and rebuked the one who was more busy for her study instead of inviting students. By chance, the missionary who had neglected his study, somehow managed to pass a test, while the other missionary despite her efforts did not pass. So Kaleb Hong took this as a lesson that God blessed the missionary who was more busy for UBF and did not bless the other one. (In the long run, however, the studious missionary got her Ph.D., while the other one failed. Kaleb Hong never took them as an example again ;-) As another example, one shepherdess made a bad examination. She complained so much and nearly left UBF because she believed in what Kaleb Hong had told her - she would get the best degree if she spends her whole time with UBF.

Anyway, it is a strange teaching. You are demanded to work for UBF, then God will bless you and, in your example, you get a large tax return. But then again, you are expected to give this large tax return back to God (i.e. UBF). This is all ridiculous. The only ones who are materially blessed in UBF are the leaders, like Peter Chang with his 4-6 houses. Not because God loves them so much, but because they take the money from the poor members who are all indebted.
15th-Feb-2006 10:04 pm (UTC) - Spiritual roadblocks in every culture
For me, it is also important to point out that EVERY culture has tendencies that may displease God. In UBF I often heard it mentioned that Americans are lazy, and don't want to go to church on Sunday afternoon, or that they want to take long vacations. But I think it is also true that Koreans who have grown up in a culture with Confucian and Shamanistic assumptions may have to acknowledge it, and take steps to weed those characteristics out of their Christian lives. This was never mentioned at UBF, though American laziness or the emotional nature of African-American worship styles were themes I heard mentioned several times.
16th-Feb-2006 11:07 am (UTC) - Re: Spiritual roadblocks in every culture
But I think it is also true that Koreans who have grown up in a culture with Confucian and Shamanistic assumptions may have to acknowledge it.

It's even worse. Not only they fail to recognize how Confucianism and Shamanism is *tainting* their understanding of the Gospel, they even believe that they are *perfecting* the Gospel. They believe that the Gospel + Confucianism (i.e. "spiritual order", pride+honor, keeping face, covering up etc.) + Shamanism (i.e. "material blessing", magical thinking, cause+effect, blessing/curse depending on degree of obedience etc.) surpasses the "ordinary" Gospel. This tainted (UBF-)Korean gospel is what they call the "gospel truth" (which cannot be changed according to John Jun), it's their "philosopher's stone" and they think it makes the UBF-Korean theology so "superior" to ordinary theology.

They believe that the Gospel with (UBF-)Korean smell is the true Gospel, and fail to see that the UBF-Korean smell is what completely ruins and perverts the very essence of the Gospel.
16th-Feb-2006 01:15 pm (UTC) - Korean church and shamanism
When I read this post I was reminded of the South American Catholic church and the pagan influences that mix in with it, especially during religious holidays. I just wanted to make a comment.

My wife is Korean and Christian, and when we left UBF after approximately 15 years there, we attended a traditional Korean Presbyterian church for three years. I was the only non-Korean there, which didn't bother me since I have a functional knowledge of reading and writing the Korean language and had many Korean friends anyway. I became a deacon there, and was a choir member for those three years (my Korean pronunciation improved greatly by those years in the choir!)

I felt very comfortable in the fellowship there, since the Korean Presbyterian church follows essentially the same liturgy as the American one. I did notice a slight charismatic influence, and thought I detected some influence from past shamanism influences during certain prayers given by the pastor, but other than that I didn't see much different from a Western Presbyterian church. Any materialism there was reminiscent of my own parents' Presbyterian fellowship. I recommend Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic" if you want to read more about how "God's blessing = Material blessing" concepts can pervade churches, at least Protestant ones.

I've visited several other Korean churches of other denominations (Protestant) over the years, and, at least among the traditional ones (as opposed to the more modern, Christian contemporary services), it wasn't the shamanism influence that was strong, but conventional Korean authoritarian attitudes that rankle the American spirit (at least mine). As you may know, Korean society is quite stratified, and status is much more visibly important there than here, and determines pecking order among people quite strictly sometimes. I've often told my Korean friends jokingly that they really need to relax more, concerning this!

Eventually, it was not even the Korean authoritarianism for which my wife and I left the church, but simply the absence of good personal Bible study that was missing--a common problem with all churches, western or Asian.

Thanks for reading.

Ward Canfield
16th-Feb-2006 09:30 pm (UTC) - Re: Korean church and shamanism
That's good to hear. It would be sad it here would be *no* healthy Korean churches and I don't believe that either.

Probably the charismatic oriented Korean churches are more affected from that problem. An extreme example is the church of Yonggi Cho which is very large (they say it's the greatest in the world).

Seem's like where the American influence is stronger, i.e. where they follow the more "traditional" confessions, they are not as aberrant. But when they start to build their own denominations and movements (like UBF or Yonggi Cho) , it quickly becomes problematic.
16th-Feb-2006 10:55 pm (UTC)
To use a familiar phrase that I just hate: No culture is perfect. But IMO, it needs to be recognized that not all cultural "imperfections" that infect Christianity are equal in the impact they may have on "the flock." The confucianism that infects Korean Christianity has a greater chance of reaching a point where members of a church are severely abused, manipulated and taken advantage of and nothing done about it. I also don't think that all cultures are created equal. UBF, in using the "it's just a cultural difference" argument, tries to leverage the post-modernish notion that "cultural elements" are somehow beyond good and evil, exempt from any judgment based on any moral standards.
17th-Feb-2006 01:11 am (UTC) - cultural relativism
UBF, in using the "it's just a cultural difference" argument, tries to leverage the post-modernish notion that "cultural elements" are somehow beyond good and evil, exempt from any judgment based on any moral standards.

Actually, it's not a post-modernish notion. It's just good old-fashioned cultural relativism. So, UBF, this supposedly Christian organization has continually appealed to cultural relativism to try to defend its practices for the last 30 years or so.
17th-Feb-2006 01:22 am (UTC) - Re: cultural relativism
Here's another (more Christian worldview oriented) link on cultural relativism: http://www.cultural-relativism.com/
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