Christian Ethics Movement Korea


  The ‘Christian Ethics Movement of Korea’ is an association officially established in December 1987, by a group of 38 Christians including Jang Gee-Lyu, Lee Myung-Soo, Lee Man-Yul, Choi Chang-Geun, Kim In-Soo, Sohn Bong-Ho, Won Ho-Teck.

In spring of 1987, the movement was first mapped out by several Christian professors who gathered for Bible studies at Gwan-Ak campus, Seoul University every Thursday afternoon. It was a time at the end of the Fifth Republic period of South Korea, when the democratization movement against the military rule of Chun Doo-hwan was reaching its peak and the whole nation was rattled with the issue of constitutional amendments.


There were three different types of Korean Christian thought in that period. Most noticeable was that of the liberal Christians who took an outspoken part in the struggle for democratization. These Christians believed that they were obliged to take part in the struggle for democracy and equality and took a leading role in the fight for social reform. On the side of the spectrum were the conservative Christians who held a dualistic view of religion. They advocated division between church and the rest of the world and focused all of their attention on the faith of each individual and missionary work. To them, social equality and democratization were secular matters that Christians need not take part in.

Most Christians found themselves between these two extremes. They acknowledged that even from a strictly Christian point of view the government’s current policies were far from right, and yet were doubtful if such drastic action was required on their side. They particularly disapproved of achieving their social goals through revolutionary or violent means. The liberal Christians accused them of compromising with and even encouraging injustice, at which the conservatives retorted by condemning their ways to be immoderate, violent, and even communist in nature.

This division of church though was more or less reflected by the attitudes of the Christian university students of the time. A considerable number of young Christians unhesitatingly took part in the radical struggle for democratization and social equality. But even more moderate Christian students had to undergo serious inner conflict. While these students wholeheartedly agreed with the democratic ideals the college students toiled so hard for, they were reluctant in accepting the radical measures students usually took. While wanting to shun violence, they resented the idea of excluding themselves from what seemed to be a noble struggle. The prevalent “fighter or traitor” black and white logic of the time made their situation worse.

Christian students were not the only ones with this dilemma; for the Christian professors who needed to be role models for their students, the problem could only have been worse. In between Bible studies and prayers the worried Christian professors discussed the matter, some being convinced to take part in the fight. Yet they avoided thinking in a black and white logic and believed that there could be various means to achieve the same goal.


Amid the controversy, one thing was left undisputed: that amidst the struggle Christians should lead ethical individual lives and set moral examples. A religious organization, however supreme, would lose its significance if the members were led immoral lives. The Christians realized that they would not have any right to criticize the moral corruption of the society if they did not show a good ethical example. Christians needed to find ways to support social reform without compromising morality. The ‘Christian Ethics Movement of Korea’ was founded upon this need.

It was not an alternative for the struggle for social reform?the Movement considered reform a duty to be held by none more than Christians. The heart of the Christian view of man is that humans, created in His form and serving the noble God, also retain the humanity to be responsible of others; it is upon this belief that the Christian view of humanity differs from those of other religions and ideological concepts. It is because of this view that we as Christians cannot divert the individual’s blame towards the organization, however theoretically logical the argument may me.

Nevertheless this movement does not dismiss the most fundamental doctrine of the Protestants, “salvation through faith.” The emphasis on ethical living does not mean that morality could be the grounds for salvation, for it cannot; nor can the moral doer expect compensation. The movement merely underscores that ethical life is a natural duty of those who hold God’s faith as well as an outward expression of faith. Therefore, even after leading an upright life, practicing the love Bible exhorts, and moralizing the society and church, before our Lord we ought to be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'(Luke 17:10)”