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The Peninsula

Public Image Decline of South Korean Churches

Published September 15, 2020
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Pastors in South Korea claim that church-linked COVID-19 outbreaks have tainted the public image of churches in the country.
  • Most recently, a church in Seoul emerged as the source of the country’s second largest infection cluster following a spike in cases associated with a religious sect in Daegu earlier this year.
  • 2015 Gallup Korea poll finds that more South Koreans, particularly those in their twenties and thirties, are moving away from religion.

Implications: Scrutiny of churches amid the coronavirus pandemic highlight how religious institutions are losing their social influence in South Korea. While Christianity continues to be the leading faith in South Korea, more of the country’s population is abandoning faith entirely. This is reflective of a national trend towards increasing secularism, especially among young people who often feel out of touch with religion. In fact, some Koreans find that churches are out of step with issues like abortion and homosexuality. And still others are critical of instances of failed church leadership. Thus, once considered to be an integral part of civil society, churches in South Korea are now seen as less relevant than they were in the past.

Context: According to the Pew Research Center, South Korea has the world’s third-largest age gap in religious affiliation. Less than 40 percent of those under 40 are religious while 63 percent of those over 40 are. Experts argue that young adults are too occupied by the demanding education system and job market to spend much time on religious activities.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo, Sonia Kim, and Chris Lee. Picture from the flickr account of New Morning Korean Church

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