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Cho Yong-gi resigns

Like most Americans I don’t know much about Korean Christianity. Our local Korean community is tiny, but I know of at least two Korean churches here in the area: one shares a building with Westminster Presbyterian here in Santa Fe; another last I heard was meeting in buildings owned by the Christian Church in Los Alamos, but was affiliated with the Korean Presbyterian Church. It’s complicated.

I don’t have much of a view into the Korean Church; I’ve heard the rumors that the church itself has cultish tendencies, or is just an extension of Korean ethnic identity. I really have no idea. It’s not like I can just stop by and blend in, being an Anglo and all, with no command of Korean whatsoever.

About all I know personally about the church comes from a couple of anecdotes. I knew a Korean woman when I was in school who was briefly Roman Catholic and attended the Korean diocese in the Washington DC area. She said Koreans in Korea who converted to Christianity were sometimes viewed as being “less Korean” for having converted, in particular because they stopped observing certain rituals meant to honor the spirits of dead ancestors, and often separated loudly from friends and family members who continued to offer prayers to those same spirits, e.g. inviting them to share in a meal, or whatever.

On a visit to Seoul a few years ago I happened to be out and about on a Sunday morning, and I encountered a handful of Korean believers distributing literature on a mostly empty street. One of them asked me in perfect English if I’d accepted Jesus as my personal Savior. Unfortunately the literature they were handing out was entirely in Korean, so I couldn’t even tell you what tradition within Christianity they were from.

During that trip I had a chance to pick up a Korean-published English-language history of Christianity in Korea and passed. I wish in retrospect I’d gotten it, since I’m at a loss to explain the Yoido Full Gospel Church [link] phenomenon.

I’d be willing to bet that not many American Christians know anything about this church, and those who do don’t know much more than I do, namely that by the latest count (circa 2007) one million (1,000,000) people attend church there every Sunday; that it uses the “cell church” or “cell group” model, and that it was founded by Cho Yong-gi in 1973 as a successor to one founded by Cho in 1958.

Cho, known as David Yonggi Cho [link] in English, 75, has finally stepped down as chairman of the board of the church [link] amid some controversy. He’s had some trouble letting to of the reins at the church, having missed his retirement deadline by about two weeks. There were other concerns:

Cho previously retired three years ago, handing over the position of Yoido Full Gospel Church senior pastor to Lee. However, he continued on as the church’s effective leader in the capacity of chairman of the board with the launched the Full Gospel Church Corporation, which carries all property rights for the church and its foundation and receives 20 percent of contributions from Yoido Full Gospel Church and twenty disciple churches.

Three years ago, Cho met with officials in the Christian Alliance for Church Reform, which was set to lodge an accusation with prosecutors regarding improprieties by his family members, and asked them to hold off on their accusation for three years. Cho said he would exclude his relatives from employment and could not immediately quit as chairman of the board, pledging to retire within a maximum of three years.

Let me restate the above: according to Hankyoreh correspondent Cho Yeon-hyun, pastor Cho had set up a separate corporation and transferred control of church property to it, had placed family members on staff at the church, and had missed an agreed-upon deadline for his retirement. Of course I have no first-hand knowledge of the situation, but these accusations sound entirely familiar. If true this wouldn’t be the first church to encounter these problems with long-time leadership.

What’s the takeaway here? If a church has leadership that has been in place a long time, and the church is relatively independent (i.e. is nondenominational or part of a movement, network, or denomination with not much administrative oversight), look for family members on staff and find out who owns what. And of course, if the pastor has trouble making good on promises he’s made to leadership, don’t hesitate to consider leaving.

  1. Jimmy Teo
    September 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    History is resplendent about leaders not wanting to relinquish their leadership, and got stung by imploding their own family financial improprieties. I understand one of Rev Cho’s son committed suicide sometime back. Another joined the Korean Yakuza some many years back with a failed marriage to a Korean Starlet. These are very sad happenings. He has 3 sons & 2 of them are now involved with his church businesses. Rev. Cho certainly taught well & brought many to the good Lord. I cannot understand why he must be mired with money controversy by supporting his sons & perhaps their misdeeds. There may be worse revelations forthcoming as investigations are now ongoing.

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