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Home » Church History » “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch » Chapter 25: Culture Wars (1960 – Present) – Part I – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, the Civil Rights movement, apartheid in South Africa, and minjung theology in South Korea

Chapter 25: Culture Wars (1960 – Present) – Part I – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, the Civil Rights movement, apartheid in South Africa, and minjung theology in South Korea






“Justice by Shaming”


Martin Luther King waves to the crowds at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 28 August 1963. (Getty Images)

Martin Luther King waves to the crowds at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 28 August 1963. (Getty Images)



It is amazing that Dr. King Jr. actually met Gandhi’s family where he learned non-violent protest.  Before Gandhi, violent resistance to British rule was well known.


Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

Due to Gandhi, the Indian independence movement was famous for its peaceful resistance.  Both Gandhi and Dr. King realized that the best way to true freedom from racist America and imperial Britain would not come from violence, but by shaming them.


America and Britain held themselves to be moral, Christian nations.  By publicly pointing out their hypocrisy, they had no choice but to acquiesce.


This peaceful protest only worked because the oppressors saw themselves as the moral authority, but when they lost the moral high ground they lost.  This would not work against a truly authoritarian foe.  When Gandhi was asked what he would do if Nazi Germany were to take India from Britain, he said that he would meet Hitler with love. This would not work in this scenario and he would be dead and his peaceful movement destroyed.  It only worked against America and Britain because even though they had problems and hypocrisy, they were the good guys and wanted to dothe right thing.  Nazi Germany had no qualms about committing evil atrocities against those they held to be sub-human.


Nelson Mandela’s greatest accomplishment for South Africa was not just the end of apartheid, but the reconciliation of black and white Afrikaners.  He saw that the only way for their country to continue was if they saw themselves as one people.  He wisely saw that an effective way was by national sports as depicted in the movie “Invictus.”


Sadly, this trend of peaceful protest with love and reconciliation has fallen out of style.


Although the recent protests against the police for the death of minority young men speak words of justice and non-violence, there is an undercurrent threat of destructive anger. Crowds in New York City chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops!”  Even condemnations of the killing of police officers have seen more token lip-service with an implied threat of change or else.  It is just another group exercising power for more influence.


This is why Palestine and the Arab/Muslim nations will never win the moral high ground.


Israel’s bad behavior is no excuse for its own actions.  They are quick to condemn harm upon Palestinian civilians, but cheer at harm upon Israeli civilians.  No one disbelieves that their ultimate goal is to push all the Jews into the sea.  It is hard to seize the moral high ground when you are constantly targeting civilians with suicide attacks, mortar fire, hiding rockets in schools, hospitals, and religious centers.  True or not, Islam has a credibility problem as a religion of peace.  Malcolm X was an influential Muslim leader who underwent a spiritual transformation after experiencing the pilgrimage to Mecca. After breaking bread with Muslims of all nationalities, he started to moderate his views and was subsequently assassinated.


Palestinians do not need to resort to violence to bring down Israel.  Israel is dependent upon Palestinian labor and they could cripple Israel economically. Or they could adopt Gandhi and Dr. King’s methods using peaceful non-violent protest to shame Israel who pride themselves as moral, godly people. Otherwise it is just two powers vying for dominance.  Why should the world care for one over the other?






Racial segregation in Africa dates back centuries to its colonization by European powers. In South Africa it was instituted by Dutch Rule of the Dutch East India Company prior to 1795. Post-World War I and accelerating after World War II, this European colonization was rapidly disintegrating in the phenomena known as ‘Decolonization’ where European powers were ‘liberating’ their possessions to domestic rule.



Resistance to this change helped create an amalgam of British and former Dutch colonies’ descendants named the Union of South Africa. (MacCulloch, p. 981) Apartheid – a derived composite Old Dutch word meaning ‘setting apart’ or ‘apartness’ – was instituted after the general ‘election’ of 1948. (Digression: NB again the influence of economic reasons for segregation, apartheid and the Union of South Africa.)



Germane to our discussion is the role (unfortunate as it may be) of the Church in African segregation and specifically apartheid in South Africa.



Afrikaners – the Dutch colonists’ descendants – “buoyed by militant Reformed Protestantism which told them that God had delivered them this land” conspired in the 1948 elections, which they finagle or rig to be all-white, to bring the Afrikaner Nationalist Party to power.  (MacCulloch, p. 981)



Furthermore, “cabinets stuffed with Reformed pastors and elders, turned this de facto situation into a system with its own crazy and cruel logic, known by the Afrikaners as Apartheid, separateness.” (Glossed over by the Government as ‘separate development’.) (MacCulloch, p.981)



In the process, the Afrikan government took over all education from the Churches and turned the education system into an instrument to promote apartheid. (MacCulloch, p.981)


However, my purpose for writing about apartheid is not to dwell on the past. We have read in MacCulloch about similar Church doings far too often. Rather, I desire to discuss the present and to influence the future. I simply ask the question to all Christians TODAY: are WE committing the same mistakes, atrocities and sins as our ancestors? I will illustrate by using a simple quote from Wikipedia of a part of an article on Apartheid (full disclosure I use Wikipedia as a quick and available source for other items in this discussion):


“…residential areas were segregated. From 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million non-white South Africans were removed from their homes, and forced into segregated neighborhoods, in one of the largest mass removals in modern history. Non-white political representation was abolished…and…black people were deprived of their citizenship…  The government segregated education, medical care, beaches and other public services, and provided black people with services which were often inferior to those of white people.”


I ask the question, would this statement make sense for us Christians TODAY if I changed the words ‘white’ to ‘Israelis’ and ‘non-white/black’ to ‘Palestinians’ (and of course the dates)? I despair that the answer may be ‘yes.’ It seems that we Christians and ‘Christian Nations’ not only sanction and justify similar conditions in Israel today, but FUND it to the tune of billions of dollars a year. (US military assistance alone exceeds $3 billion.)


Is it not time for us to step up, address the situation and influence change, walking in the footsteps of Huddleston, Tutu and Collins? (MacCulloch, p. 982-3)  Our influence does not come from ‘writing our congressman’ but from ‘writing’ our fellow Christians (especially on the ‘Fundamentalist Right’) that what WE are doing TODAY is wrong and must be stopped.


(PS May I recommend a recent book, Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright, as a primer to understanding the apartheid tendencies in Israel today.)






Discuss the development of minjung theology in South Korea during the 1970s.  How was it tied to the Korean past and how was it received by the Korean government?  How did it coincide with the rise of Pentecostalism and the ‘prosperity gospel’ movement in South Korea?


The word minjung (민중) in Korean means ‘ordinary people’ or ‘mass of people’.  It is a combination of two words: ‘min’ translates to ‘the people’ and ‘jung’ translates to ‘the masses’.  A particular type of liberation theology called ‘minjung theology’ developed during the 1970s out of the rapid social change and political unrest occurring in South Korea during that time.  Several decades after the Korean War, South Korea began to rapidly develop economically where it saw its labor force change from primarily factory workers into a powerhouse information technology industry. (loc. 19050) Much of it was do to the republic’s strong emphasis in building educationally skilled workers which in turn formed a ‘cognitariat’ class of people in Korean society.


Two main principles lie at the heart of minjung theology.  The first is ‘han’ which arises from a sense of deep despair felt from the pain of life and the internalization of human suffering.  The second is ‘dan’ meaning ‘to cut off’, mainly to end or reject cycles of revenge and violence, both inward and outward, in response to oppression.  Jesus is the main example of ‘dan’ through his life, death, and resurrection and in whom Christians should follow after.[1]


Despite its expansive economic growth, much of the population was under authoritarian government oppression that had a strong tendency of being influenced by U.S. political interests.  Among its churches and theologians, a view of Jesus being minjung and as a friend of the minjung began to emerge in reaction against the political establishment. Other biblical characters, such as Moses, were also indentified as being minjung and joining in their opposition against political oppression. (loc. 19053)  They related the nation of Israel’s plight under other oppressive regimes to mirror Korea’s long history of oppression under other nations.  Many followers of minjung theology were tortured, imprisoned and executed by South Korea’s military dictators over the years.


After several decades under military dictatorship, Korea matured into a democracy to go along with its rapid economic development. Minjung theology adapted to this change by focusing more on social activism and political change.  However, during the same time, Pentecostalism began to gain a strong headway into South Korean society and minjung theology had a hard time competing with it. (loc. 19061)  Much of Pentecostalism’s success that attracted many followers was its strong anti-Communist stance (aimed primarily against North Korea of course) and its adoption of the American-style ‘prosperity’ gospel and ‘Word of Faith’ movements. (loc. 19065)  Many of the Pentecostal preachers scorned the ‘idolatry’ of Korea’s past. In contrast, minjung’s roots came from Presbyterianism that promoted a strong respect of Korean history, tradition, and culture.  In recent years, minjung theologians have explored the Korean past to relate Christian history with Korean history, and emphasized the need to be humble in light of new successes and to follow Jesus’ call to ‘deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’.  (loc. 19068)


Minjung theology seems to provide a narrative framework for Korean Christians (and even non-Christians) to express its long history of oppression from colonial and hierarchical structures.  For many years, Korea fought hard for its independence from Chinese and Japanese incursions.  Minjung theology developed to give voice to the voiceless and those suffering under political and economic injustice.  In many ways it is also a counter-cultural movement protesting against the strong Confucian culture that has permeated Korean society for centuries that emphasizes hierarchy and respect for authority.  For many, the minjung has been criticized as being too pro-Communist or Marxist in its ideology or connotations, and identifying the common people with the proletariat. Furthermore, its attempts to interpret Korea’s history in a socio-economic perspective closely resembled a Marxist perspective of history; however, its main difference was that minjung theology did not mention the separation of classes in Korean society.  Over the years, minjung theologians have shifted their focus from obtaining democracy (as South Korea has matured democratically over the years) to the unification of the two Koreas.  Many theologians blamed the country’s division as being the result of Western influence and identified the entire Korean people (both North and South) to be under the oppression of a system set up by foreigners.  Another critique of minjung theology has been its emphasis of men (or people) as being co-participants in mankind’s salvation.  This goes against more mainstream traditional views of salvation being God’s domain alone without any external help; some critics argue that minjung theology places more emphasis on human action rather than divine intervention.[2]  Oftentimes, the role of the minjung (or the oppressed common folk) seems to overshadow the role that God plays in history and life.  Minjung theology represents a curious relationship between Christianity and politics, but as we have seen time and time again, when Christianity becomes mixed with politics, the gospel message has often been superseded by a person’s or group’s own personal agendas.  The Christian message is adaptable and evolves to suite the needs of each culture it comes into contact with, but it often comes with a price where the interpreter’s ‘gospel’ can and will replace Christ’s gospel.  There is a fine-line that should be noticed and wary of.








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