The Volatile Mix Of A South Korean Church, Politics And The Coronavirus

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Members of conservative right-wing and Christian groups take part in an anti-government rally in Seoul on Aug. 15.

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A decade ago, building cleaner Noh Il-soon was in the market for a new church. She had previously moved within Seoul, and when she did, she looked for a local congregation to join. A missionary introduced her to a Presbyterian church called Sarang Jeil, Korean for “love comes first.” Noh says she was immediately captivated by the sermons of the charismatic pastor, Jun Kwang-hoon. “If my previous way of knowing Jesus, during 50 years in other churches, was like licking the outside of a watermelon,” she says, “then knowing Jesus through our pastor was like splitting open the watermelon and tasting the sweet and juicy fruit inside.” The church had become increasingly visible and influential among fundamentalist Christian groups in South Korea, but its fortunes recently soured. Authorities say the church has become the main cluster in a new wave of COVID-19 infections that has threatened to reverse the country’s early success in controlling the virus. In addition, Jun, the charismatic pastor, is now in …

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