Decades ago, liberal Protestants used to admire brave South Korea and its Methodist president, Syngman Rhee, for defying Stalinist North Korea and Maoist Red China. But for much of the last 40 years, the international Religious Left, even in South Korea, has angrily denounced the U.S.-South Korea military alliance. Meanwhile, global activist prelates are typically silent about gross human rights abuses in North Korea even when Christians are the victims. Leftist prelates from the Left love visiting the Potemkin show churches that North Korea hosts in Pyongyang to entertain gullible overseas visitors.
Now the Religious Left is campaigning against South Korea's constructing a naval base on a volcanic island called Jeju off its southern coast. "Today, islanders, religious leaders, and peace activists are calling attention to dangers caused by joint U.S.-South Korean militarization," announced one U.S.-based Korean activist on Jim Wallis' Sojourners blog. Apparently there are also spiritual and environmental considerations, since Jeju is the mythical "body of Korea's creation goddess, Mago." And UNESCO, which is perhaps even more holy than an ancient goddess, has decreed that Jeju is a World Heritage Site and a World Biosphere Reserve.
The campaign against a South Korean naval presence on Jeju is a little reminiscent of the long-time and ultimately successful Religious Left crusade to close the U.S. Navy's munitions testing base at Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico. United Methodist bishops from the U.S., having evidently decided there were few greater threats to peace and justice, even motor boated out to Vieques to show solidarity with its oppressed people.
Maybe they can make similar pilgrimages to Jeju before it is fully desecrated by the South Korean Navy, who inexcusably want to defend their nation from the now 60-year threat of North Korean aggression. Already under construction, the base will despoil a "unique three-quarter-mile stretch of coastal wetland, threatening an ecological system that harbors several endangered species." Even worse, the naval base will fuel "increasing military tensions in Asia, raising the risk of a devastating war in the region." How will South Korea's installing a base on its own island off its southern coast, far from North Korea, threaten peace? Evidently any self-defense by South Korea, backed by the U.S., is by definition a threat.
The South Korean military has reputedly announced that U.S. warships will dock at the new base only temporarily. But even five minutes is too long for the international Religious Left. Leftist South Korean clergy are staging ongoing protests on Jeju. After all, as the Sojourners blogger intoned, the "protest is a struggle for peace and justice and a fight against military power, potential war, and a privileged few." The final reference is evidently to construction companies, which are sinning by making a profit from their labor. She quotes a protesting Franciscan Friar: "It’s the call of the gospel against human power destroying the kingdom of God.”
Other opponents of the naval base allege it will facilitate U.S. Pacific-based anti-missile defense systems, which evidently is sinister, even if protecting South Korea from North Korean missiles. Still other critics complain the base will "play a strategic role in efforts by the U.S.-South Korea-Japan alliance to reign in Chinese naval expansion." Worrisomely, the naval presence will "serve as a strategic offensive outpost for South Korea and its allies."
For decades groups like the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church and other U.S. Mainline denominations, often with the left-leaning South Korea Council of Churches, have denounced the "militarization" of Korea, which they equate with the U.S. presence, and for which they have long sought a quick end. They have routinely advocated reunification of the Koreas without specifying whether that entails North Korea dismantling its monstrous communist police state. Which should model a new, unified Korea, the democracy in the south or the totalitarian tyranny in north? These church groups are loath to say. They are also serenely quiet about North Korea's quixotic nuclear weapons program, not to mention its years of terrorism and belligerent threats.
Religious Left histories of the Korean conflict usually fault the U.S. for dividing Korea. They of course do not fault the Soviet occupation in the north or its creation of the unprecedented, cruel Kim dynasty, now the world's only communist monarchy, having transmitted power across three generations.
Thanks to South Korean and U.S. military might, part of which will find refuge at Jeju, South Korea has evolved into a successful, prosperous democracy where Christianity has thrived. Its enemy is an impoverished slave state where a few token Christians are sometimes showcased for religious tourists, while most of the other believers are starved, beaten or killed out of sight.
The South Korean naval base at Jeju will help to ensure that South Korea stays free. A democracy that protects Christianity and helps millions of poor people escape poverty is almost by definition troublesome to the international Religious Left. Presumably most South Koreans, including its Christians, will not be persuaded by the protests on Jeju Island. But those misguided protests and their confused global supporters should remind everyone that the struggle to defend freedom is unending.
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