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This paper examines the Protestant stance on war and the relationship between religion and the state in Korea by scrutinizing Protestant churches’ responses toward the government’s militaristic action of war. Although most of the previous studies on the subject of Korean Protestantism and war have focused on major denominations, such biased approaches may pass over peculiarities of diverse denominations and sects. Moreover, there is a danger of disregarding unique status and meaning of minor Protestant sects. Major Protestant denominations and minor sects have showed greatly different reactions in war situations. While the former’s stance on war has been converged into the holy war theory, the latter has displayed different practices of pacifism. This is what most of the previous studies have not noticed. Although most Protestant churches present themselves as victims of the Korean War, and officially insist on anticommunism, they do not admit churches’ responsibility in war. This is because their identity is constituted based on religious dualism, which designates themselves as a holy group and their opponents as unholy groups. Similarly, during the Vietnamese War, to which Korea dispatched military forces, almost all the Protestant theologians defended such action through holy war or crusade theories and only a few expressed justice war theory. On the contrary, minor Protestant sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventist held fast to pacifism. Their anti-war practice including conscientious objection to military service has been maintained till present since the Japanese colonial period. Responses toward the minor Protestant sects’ objection to military service can be divided into three kinds: First, by strictly enforcing the universal conscription, the state has stringently dealt with objectors according to the martial law; Second, the civil society and the press have treated them with indifference or criticism; And lastly, having upheld the holy war theories, major denominational theologians have recognized minor sects’ as problematic. Since the issue of objection to military service and permission of alternative service came into the fore in 2001, diverse opinions on the subject have been expressed even in major Protestant churches. Especially, after the fervent disputes over dispatching Korean forces to Iraq, such phenomenon has been becoming more conspicuous. Korean Protestant churches’ view on war, which once converged into the holy war theory, is opening in fissure. As Korean Protestant churches are not state-based as those in Europe but denominational as churches in U.S.A., more detailed and separate analyses on diverse denominations and sects are strongly required. This suggestion is significant, for the views on and the responses toward war are greatly different between major denominations and minor sects.


This paper examines the Protestant stance on war and the relationship between religion and the state in Korea by scrutinizing Protestant churches’ responses toward the government’s militaristic action of war. Although most of the previous studies on the subject of Korean Protestantism and war have focused on major denominations, such biased approaches may pass over peculiarities of diverse denominations and sects. Moreover, there is a danger of disregarding unique status and meaning of minor Protestant sects. Major Protestant denominations and minor sects have showed greatly different reactions in war situations. While the former’s stance on war has been converged into the holy war theory, the latter has displayed different practices of pacifism. This is what most of the previous studies have not noticed. Although most Protestant churches present themselves as victims of the Korean War, and officially insist on anticommunism, they do not admit churches’ responsibility in war. This is because their identity is constituted based on religious dualism, which designates themselves as a holy group and their opponents as unholy groups. Similarly, during the Vietnamese War, to which Korea dispatched military forces, almost all the Protestant theologians defended such action through holy war or crusade theories and only a few expressed justice war theory. On the contrary, minor Protestant sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventist held fast to pacifism. Their anti-war practice including conscientious objection to military service has been maintained till present since the Japanese colonial period. Responses toward the minor Protestant sects’ objection to military service can be divided into three kinds: First, by strictly enforcing the universal conscription, the state has stringently dealt with objectors according to the martial law; Second, the civil society and the press have treated them with indifference or criticism; And lastly, having upheld the holy war theories, major denominational theologians have recognized minor sects’ as problematic. Since the issue of objection to military service and permission of alternative service came into the fore in 2001, diverse opinions on the subject have been expressed even in major Protestant churches. Especially, after the fervent disputes over dispatching Korean forces to Iraq, such phenomenon has been becoming more conspicuous. Korean Protestant churches’ view on war, which once converged into the holy war theory, is opening in fissure. As Korean Protestant churches are not state-based as those in Europe but denominational as churches in U.S.A., more detailed and separate analyses on diverse denominations and sects are strongly required. This suggestion is significant, for the views on and the responses toward war are greatly different between major denominations and minor sects.