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Pastors, Korean public poles apart over churches' responses to social distancing

People queue to enter Yoido Full Gospel Church for Easter service in Seoul, April 4. Yonhap
People queue to enter Yoido Full Gospel Church for Easter service in Seoul, April 4. Yonhap

Church leaders blame media's biased portrayal of churches during pandemic

By Park Ji-won

A recent survey has found a deep gap in perceptions about the role of Protestant churches in social distancing with the vast majority of pastors saying churches were cooperative and did a good job in their responses to the government's regulations, while non-Protestants disagreed.

The survey by the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary conducted on 1,406 respondents found eight out of 10 pastors were positive about the role Protestant churches are playing during the pandemic. However, among the general public only 12 percent spoke positively about the church's cooperation with social distancing.

Pollsters surveyed four different groups: pastors, lay Protestant believers, journalists and activists from Jan. 1 to 17. The results showed a divide between Protestants and non-Protestants. Nearly 60 percent of lay Protestant people spoke positively about cooperation with the government in social distancing, but journalists and non-Protestants gave a negative response.

Pastors complained that the media were responsible for the negative portrayal of churches during the pandemic.

"The non-Protestants had the most negative view on the handling of churches during the pandemic and they were heavily influenced by the media. The media and non-Protestants presented similar negative views about the church," Ji Young-geun, CEO of Ji&Com research, said in a press release.

Jang Man-shik, secretary general of Christianity Media Forum of Korea, said in a press release, "We can assume that media reports have had a large impact on the public. And the media exaggerated mass infections in churches and thus created a negative image of them, causing the churches to lose trust among the general public."

The survey results were unveiled amid a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases in Korea. The country's daily new cases breached the 700-level a few times earlier this week, while infections clusters continued to break out at Korean churches. In addition to the previous infections of 1,162 members of the Sarang Jeil Church and 4,350 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the number of infections at smaller churches is still rising.

Among pastors and believers, 66.3 percent of the former and 56.5 percent of the latter said churches were on the same page with society when it came to social distancing. However, only 17.6 percent of journalists and 15.3 percent of non-Protestants thought so.

When asked whether churches were cooperating with the government's social distancing rules, pastors and the general were poles apart.

About 91 percent of pastors and 62.7 percent of Protestants gave a positive assessment of the churches' cooperation with the government while only 25.5 percent of journalists and 13.2 percent of non-Protestants agreed.


Park Ji-won jwpark@koreatimes.co.kr


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