the missionaries came to Korea at the end of the 19th century, Christianity
has blended with local religions and beliefs and has often been used
to promote a strong sense of nationalism. The Unification Church was
founded in the 1950s by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed
messiah. This was during the Cold War, and the sect thrived in the
economic and political climate of the time. It spread a message of
anti-communism, which was very popular with political leaders and
justified the presence of the U.S. military in South Korea. It further
showed the country's superiority over North Korea. It success was
based on a mixture of politics and religion.
In 1980, Jesus Morning Star (Jông Myông-Sôk) founded
a dissident group, the Church of Providence, which in the place of
promoting anti-communism, glorifies and celebrates the game of football
(soccer). Its religious celebrations are held in university football
stadiums and are centered on a match which takes on a character of
sacredness. The Church of Providence won the support of government
officials, since its message was in line with the image they wanted
to project of South Korea: industrial superiority, readiness for the
1988 Olympic Games, etc.
The Church of Providence trains football players, who must be followers
of the sect, and has built an enormous sports center. It has sanctified
the status of an ordinary game. It conveys the same messages as a
successful football team: applying individual efforts toward a greater
goal, making sacrifices, tolerating pain, etc. The spectators at the
game, who are members of the sect, give the matches a metaphorical
dimension, enabling the sacred and the profane to co-exist. The church
makes use of the collective emotional release of watching a match,
transforming it into a religious celebration, glorifying competition,
representing the triumph of capitalism over communism, South Korea
over North Korea.
CNRS scholar Nathalie Luca of CEIFR ("Centre d'études
interdisciplinaires des faits religieux") has analyzed the socio-cultural
context in which the Church of Providence has developed and has written
several works on the subject, including a book entitled "Le
salut par le foot. Une ethnologue chez un messie coréen."
Labor et Fides, Geneva, 1997.