Lee Myeong Bak Stirs Controversy by Kneeling at Korea National Breakfast Prayer Service
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President Lee Myeong Bak stirred up a wave of criticism by kneeling in prayer at the 43 Korea National Breakfast Prayer Service (prayer service for the nation’s welfare held by the Korean Christian community). He is the first President to kneel at the prayer service, which has been held since 1968. There were critical public opinions calling this act, “an unforgivable divisive act.” This is a sensitive time since the Buddhist community is at odds with the current government for what they consider religious bias policies.
Minister Gil Ja-yeon, President of the Korean Christian Association said at the prayer service, “Let us all kneel and rejoice in confessing our sins. Let us pray with the contrition of a sinner in front of God.” At this, President Lee stood up from his seat and kneeled on the platform and prayed. The congregation prayed out loud for five minutes. President was seeing leaving the prayer service with a bible in hand.
After this incident was made public, a wave of negative opinions came out on the internet and Twitter. Netizens pointed out that the President has violated Article 20 of the Korean Constitution of the separation of state and religion. On Facebook’s Korean Buddhist group “Buruna,” there were many critical remarks. “The scene of the President kneeling and praying to their god left a bitter taste. Many thoughts came to me.” New Hampshire University Professor and Korean Buddhist monk Ven. Hyemin said, “Let’s invite politicians to a dharma service and make them do three bows.” There was even an opinion that we should elect a president that has no religion to avoid religious bias.
The Buddhist community is especially outraged by this incident. The Buddhist community has shown concern over the current administration’s religious bias policies. This incident only caused more resentment from Buddhists.
Son An-shik, Chairperson of the Committee for Religious Harmony said, “If the President prayed only at the request of the minister, then will the President do 108 bows in accordance to temple practice?” He continued in a raised voice, “This is an unforgivable act to divide the nation.”
Jeong Wu-shik, President of Korean Buddhist Young Adult Association said, “If Korean churches want to sincerely build a bridge for the unity of the nation, they must kneel before the Korean people and take responsibility for the harming the welfare of the people.” Bak Kwang-seo, the representative for the Research Group for Governmental Policies on Religion said, “We will pursue a way of prohibiting public officials from attending the Korea National Breakfast Prayer Service.”