American Southern Presbyterians and the formation of presbyterianism in Honam, Korea, 1892-1940: traditions, missionary encounters, and transformations
The missionary enterprise of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS, American Southern Presbyterian Church) in Korea was initiated by the arrival of ‘seven pioneers’ in Korea in 1892. By a comity agreement between the three Presbyterian missions, the southwestern region of Korea, known as Honam or Jeolla province, was assigned to the American Southern Presbyterian Mission. Until 1940, when they were forced to end their mission work in Korea and to leave the country by the Japanese colonial administration, the American Southern Presbyterian missionaries contributed to the formation of indigenous Protestant Christianity in Honam by planting churches, and building hospitals and schools. They also encouraged the Korean converts to establish their own churches following the Nevius method which stressed the founding of threeself independent churches. In this thesis, I attempt to analyze the process of the formation of indigenous Protestantism in Honam according to the three themes of traditions, encounters, and transformations. Presbyterians in the South shared with other leading Southern Protestants such as Baptists and Methodists both the warm evangelistic impetus of evangelicalism and an appeal to the Bible to justify racism. In particular, ecumenical missionary movements originating from a series of evangelical revivals helped the Southern Presbyterian workers in foreign lands overcome their inherited identity as the adherents of a geographically, culturally, and theologically sectional organisation to become the advocates of a more pan-evangelical obligation. Southern Presbyterian Korea missionaries already shared many common elements of evangelical theology and middle-class values with other Protestant missionaries even before the initiation of their mission work in 1892. From 1892 onwards, in response to the example of their Northern Presbyterian counterparts in the Korea mission field in initiating a more amicable relationship with their Southern colleagues, their isolated Southern identity gradually began to dissolve. The dominance of the pietistic stream of evangelical Christianity in Honam resulted from the congruence between Southern Presbyterians’ missionary Christianity and the traditional worldview of Honam people. In addition, a series of events, such as the revivals in the 1910s, the March First Movement in 1919, the complete revision of the constitution of the Korean Presbyterian Church in 1922, and the devolution of church and school management administration were the primary landmarks in the successful founding of indigenous Honam Christianity. If mission history is in part about what happens to one Christian tradition when it crosses geographical and cultural frontiers, my primary contribution in this thesis is to show in what ways the evolving Southern Presbyterian tradition at home was further changed and transformed, and then indigenised, in the Honam context. The thesis concludes that the progressive weakening of Southern Presbyterian sectional identity, first in the United States and then in Korea, significantly facilitated the indigenisation of Christianity in Honam. Crucial in this process was the democratising impact of revivals and the implications of wider ecumenical relationships with representatives of other denominations and regions. Honam Presbyterianism today is not a replica of the American Presbyterian tradition in its traditional Southern form. However, it does display many of the same features as the broad pan-evangelicalism to which the Southern Presbyterian mission increasingly adhered.