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What Exactly Are They Apologizing For?

Thanks to Sonya Bearson for helping me find this article:  Hostages’ Pastor: ‘Remorse Is the Face of the Church’

Here are few quotes from the ex-hostages in the article:

“I’ve had sleepless nights, thinking of what we have caused the country. I am deeply sorry,” Yu Kyeong-sik said at a press conference.

“Remorse is the face of the church,” said Park Eun-jo, senior pastor of Saemmul Church. The Presbyterian congregation that sponsored the trip, in the Seoul suburb of Bundang, has a weekly attendance of about 5,000 people.

What exactly are they apologizing for? What did they do that was so wrong?

This is a strange age we’re living in – when we care more for animals than we do people, and terrorists don’t apologize, but missionaries have to.  Since when did the church become such a burden on society? Have we come to a point that we expect missionaries to apologize when the gospel they wield is subversive enough that terrorists find it threatening? We have come to a point where are more angry at the missionaries for being held hostage than the terrorists who held them hostage. How screwed up is that?

That’s like telling an abused woman that she had it coming. The church shouldn’t have to apologize, they should be the ones to have the government apologize for this same sentiment also expressed in the article:

After the hostages’ release, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told the Associated Press that the group plans to abduct more foreigners.

“We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful,” he said

Separation of church and state is fine, but know this, this one’s on the state. Nonviolence should never have to apologize to those who use violence. Just because there are cowards in the state, doesn’t mean the missionaries have to apologize. C’mon South Korea, don’t boast about missionaries if you’re not willing to send them out. The Taliban is not entitled to perpetuate violence, nor should we, for fear of death, allow them to think that they can.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

12 responses to “What Exactly Are They Apologizing For?

  1. Sam S

    Dave, I couldn’t agree with you more. I posted on the same subject.

  2. daniel so

    David — Well said. In many ways, it feels like the world is turning upside-down, but not in the ways of the Kingdom (e.g., the first shall be last, to die is gain, etc.). Rather, we end up with this messed up logic that the way to create peace is through violence (as you pointed out in your earlier post) and that those who did nothing but love and serve with great humility and sacrifice should be very sorry for what they’ve done. Makes no sense at all.

    It is astonishing to me that the Taliban spokesman was so casual about their plans — “Yeah, man, it totally worked. Will we do it again? You know it!” Again, though, this shows broken, backward thinking because — by threatening the lives of those who come to help — the end result will be more suffering for their own people.

  3. -Sam S, it’s uncanny that we make the same point. I guess it just goes to show the increasing allergy the world has to people of the Christian faith

    – Epeu… Word indeed. I take that as high praise coming from the multi-linguist! 🙂

    – Daniel, there obviously is a working assumption that the church has played some role in hegemony historically and that’s perhaps why missionaries aren’t seen as merely aid workers. Do you or would you ever recommend that missionaries simply do not call themselves missionaries? Is there a need for them to emphasize the label? Would they be any less of a missionary, if they simply said, “what are you doing? I’m a teacher!” I wonder if we need to address our missiology now in terms that do not reflect historical issues of power, but assume a more ‘guerilla’ posture vs. the institutional one. just food for thought.

  4. elderj

    I don’t know that changing the name of a missionary is a solution. In some ways we are coming full circle because in the earliest days of Christian evangelisation martyrdom was just part of it. In any event why should we lie… even if we go to a foreign country to teach, part of our motivation is the sharing of the gospel.

  5. Just to clarify, I don’t mean changing the name or title, but simply not to use it.

    For instance, if I were let’s say a carnivore going to a brahmin Hindu temple gathering, let’s just say I might not bring that label of carnivore up. If they were to ask me what I’d like to eat, I wouldn’t say, “well, I am a carnivore”, I might say, “Do you have anything else here?”

    While we understand what our motivations are, perhaps we can be more nuanced in the labels that accompany them, knowing that the labels themselves can become obstacles to the work that we’re motivated to do. I don’t know, it’s just thinking out loud.

  6. daniel so

    David — I think I hear where you’re coming from… I know it’s kind of in vogue to use this phrase these days, but isn’t this what being missional is all about? Mission not so much as that thing we do, but it’s who we are — whether we’re venturing off to far-away places or dropping off the kids at preschool, we are bearing the presence of Christ to everyone we meet. In that sense, the specific label of “missionary” is unnecessary…

    I love the idea of taking a more guerrilla approach… again, not to use these buzzwords too much, but I think that’s the idea behind much of this “organic” thinking these days. Instead of relying on the institution or establishment, we might be able to reach our communities in a more meaningful way by sharing our lives more naturally…

    I hear what elderj is saying too — we must never deceive people or intentionally mislead them. I have had major objections to some evangelism techniques I have seen in the past (e.g., asking people to take a “survey” when the real intent is to witness to them).

  7. James

    Hi David —

    Great point, and a needed one.

    Replying to your comment, it would be great to meet someday. The Korean Christian world is very, very small, so I’m sure our paths will cross soon.


  8. bolim

    David, I appreciate your blog and this post. I agree it sounds foolish that these Christians would be apologizing for doing missionary work yet I completely understand where they are coming from as well. As you know they have received harsh criticism from those within and outside their country. As you note in an earlier post the government paid a hefty sum to get them out. Now I would assume that the government was receiving a lot of pressure from Christians to do something. I.e., had the government’s attitude been, “We have a right to do mission work in your country, we’re not paying a dime” would Christians in Korea responded positively? Or what if the government responded to the Korean church, “This is your problem, you fix it.” My guess is that Korean Christians are glad that the government did what they did. Lesson learned for me is that the Korean church needs to reflect upon their relationship to the state and culture. Will they choose to stand for Christ in the face of shaming their culture and state?

    I recall a Korean student of mine being angry that the president of Korea publicly apologized for the actions of Seung Hui Cho. She remarked how she doesn’t see Bush doing that if an American acts inappropriately in another country. Whether it is right or wrong, I’m guessing that much of the apologies from the Korean Christians are just gut expressions of a communal shame.

  9. Thanks bolim, I appreciate the comment. While I too understand that this is no simple dilemma for the Korean government or the church, I hate the fact that we are ashamed of those who were willing to serve the Afghan people and through no fault of their own were captured by people who had so little regard for life.

    That being said, I agree with you that the church should re-evaluate its response and relationship to the culture and the state. What I sense is self-interest was protected that should not have been. Instead of making this about Korean hostages, we could have made this about the nation of Afghanistan and how the Taliban is holding the entire country hostage.

    What could have been an opportunity for missionary work to be validated and appreciated, and not simply (mis)labeled as proselytizing, was squandered and devolved into an apology. Ultimately, this implies that what the missionaries were accused of was true – that Christianity is equivalent to imperialism and that all works of goodwill are duplicitous. But we lost on both counts, they called our bluff that we cared more for our Korean citizens than we do for the nation of Afghanistan, and secondly that Christian aid workers can be paid off because really they are agents of the state.

    And while I agree that this is a matter of wrestling with our culture of collective shame and cohesiveness, the church should impress upon the state this scenario does not bear apologizing for.

  10. Jocelyn ⋅

    The point is that they went into an area that is a known war zone and very dangerous. If they were willing to die for their work and not expect rescue from others, kudos to them. But don’t tell me that you are willing to risk your life for your beliefs then grovel and ask for help when things are not so peachy. I’m glad that they are alive but if anyone did this again, I’d say let them reap the consequences of their own action.

  11. Great point Jocelyn. There did seem to be that double-speak from the missionaries…that’s where the criticism of “camcorder missions” came from.

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