What can the church learn from Korea's response to the Virginia Tech tragedy?
One of the random thrills that I have received in my modest second career as an author was receiving an unexpected box of books one day. I had not ordered any books that week (a rarity) nor was I expecting any shipments from my publisher. I opened the box and found six copies of a book written in some mystifying Asian language. Thinking this must be some mistake I looked more closely and recognized my name on the back cover blurb. My first book, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, had been translated into Korean and the new title was “The Bad Christian”.
I had no idea that the rights to my book had been secured and was now being sold in Korea. I was now a bilingual writer even though the only Korean words I could remember were both foods…kimchi and bulgogi.
I don’t know how the book has sold there. I don’t know how the average Korean relates to my odd brain patterns. But I do know that there is much that I admire about the culture and the people of Korea. I was in Seoul for the 1988 Olympics and got to see the warmth and dignity of the Korean people firsthand. Like every culture they have problem citizens and I saw that side of Seoul as well. But the Korean culture has one unique characteristic that I wish the American church would meditate about and debate as something we should consider.
The tragedy at Virginia Tech sent shockwaves of grief, shame, and apology through the Korean community. I read an editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News that was printed in the Korea Herald. Here is some of that article.
Many Koreans were dumbfounded and felt ashamed when they learned a Korean student shot dead more than 30 people at the university. Behind these reactions is a sense of collective guilt the Korean people feel about the heinous crime committed by a fellow Korean. Koreans, having traditionally been trained to think of themselves as members of a family, a group and a nation, rather than as individuals, have shouldered collective responsibility for the slayings.
My first reaction was to dismiss the collective guilt as misplaced and even a little silly. The gunman was one single deranged individual…not an entire country. Then I realized that it was somehow comforting to know that millions cared because one of their people had done an evil thing.
As I considered their response I wondered if followers of Christ should take a similar approach? Are we shocked and ashamed when a person claiming the name of Jesus does great harm? Do we think of ourselves as a family rather than individuals? Do we express heartbreak and care to others who are wounded even though we were not the one who damaged the name of Christ? Do we lovingly seek to show that such actions do not reflect the teachings of Jesus?
I learned from my first book that many people are helped by simply realizing that there are Christians that understand that there is a disconnect between words versus deeds by many believers. To anyone who stumbles upon this post I would humbly follow the lead of my Korean brothers and sisters. I am deeply sorry and saddened that anyone is wounded by a person who proclaims he is a follower of Jesus. Any action that does not show grace or love or tenderness is not in line with the teachings of Christ. When one of our body wounds another part of the body we should all feel the pain and we should all desire to be part of the healing. Forgive us for not always listening to the soft voice of the Holy Spirit to be a part of the solution. We really are in this walk together and Christians must shoulder collective responsibility for those who do not represent Jesus well. While we may not be the perpetrators we are the hands and feet of God that He uses to heal His wounded lambs.
The other encouraging aspect of this otherwise tragic event was the lesson the Korean people have learned from America.
Koreans residing in the United States feared they would be targets of reprisal attacks in an ethnic conflict. Here is more from the Korean Herald editorial.
Koreans, who have been in close and wide-ranging contact with Americans since U.S. participation in the 1950-53 Korean War, have come to believe that they are well aware of what America and its people are really like. But the Virginia Tech tragedy raises serious doubt about this widely held conviction.
But almost all of the scores of e-mails that The Korea Herald received from the United States reassured us that there will be no racial, political or other forms of retribution against Korea and Koreans. The writers made efforts to convince us that ethnicity had no place in the crime, and that it was committed by a deranged individual who happened to be Korean.
Among the e-mails is one from Kathy L. Cronin, who wrote: "Please convey to the people of Korea that America is a vast and diverse nation of vast and diverse backgrounds, opinions, abilities, and mental aptitude. There may be individuals who voice an opinion which 99.999 percent of the people in America would vehemently disavow."
Some of the e-mails also gave us valuable advice. They urged us to reflect on the emotionally charged responses we had against the United States when a U.S. armored vehicle accidentally killed two Korean schoolgirls in 2002. We have much to learn from the Virginia Tech tragedy.
I am so grateful that America has shown grace to our Korean friends. Paul wrote an amazingly concise roadmap about how to live as followers of Jesus.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Col 3 NLT
Perhaps combining the lessons would make for a much more effective body of Christ in this hurting culture. Collective and genuine concern for the actions of the church balanced with the amazing grace of Jesus would be an incredible balance to seek.
That is a response that can bring healing out of senseless tragedy.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com