Master of Theology (MTh)
Martin Luther University College
Today, current global economic crises are forcing us to examine what the capitalist, industrial economy has done to workers and to explore alternatives to the prevailing concept of labor. For Koreans, who are involved with the Korean Labor Movement, their American counterpart that played a significant and an important role fighting the capitalists for the rights of laborers has taught them many lessons.
The Social Gospel Movement in America was started to fight "the real powers of darkness"—the economic corruption in high places and grinding poverty among lower sectors—both arising from industrialization and urbanization. Seeing that the labor movement coalesced more around action than belief, the Social Gospel leaders (Washington, Gladden, Richard T. Ely, and Walter Rauschenbusch) hoped to renew the reform spirit of their own time, which had guided certain benevolent forces of the United States in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. They emphasized transforming the social order and dealt with the problems of society. They urged that the rights of labor should be recognized. They warned that there must be social changes and improvements in the condition of the laboring classes if revolution were to be avoided. They urged just wages and shorter working hours.
Like the Social Gospel Movement, the Minjung Theology Movement was started to fight economic and political corruption. Its founders were Park Hyung-gyu, Suh Nam-dong, and Ahn Byung-mu. In the Urban Industrial Mission Movement, it had a great impact on the development of the Korean labor movement. When even the most conservative churches avoided participation in economic, political and social injustices, the Urban Industrial Mission and Minjung Movement were instrumental in helping the laborers. From the 1960s to the 1980s Minjung activists and theologians were active in the Korean labor movement. They struggled for worker's rights, such as like better wages, a shorter working day and week and secure employment. The Social Gospel and Minjung Theology were reactions against the exaggerated conservatism and pietistic individualism that had been so largely responsible for the churches’ removal from the field of social action; and in the end, they were to reawaken the churches to their responsibility for addressing labor concerns.
Even though their social work has been important, there are some shortcomings and dangers in the theology of the Social Gospel and Minjung Theology. One example is that their lack of rheological concern could be accused of reducing the Christian faith to the problem of humanitarian reform. Another is that lack of concern for and treatment of certain Christian doctrines could be seen as ignoring the traditional Christian teachings.
The issue of labor is unavoidable as long as there are owners and laborers. In Christian communities, this is not any different. In every church there are going to be owners and laborers, who depend on one another for their livelihood. The Social Gospel and Minjung Theology were instrumental in bringing to our consciousness the kinds of problems that can and do exist between these two groups of people, even though both movements lacked sufficient theological depth. Unlike the Social Gospel that stands now as a part of the past, Minjung Theology is still in the process of development, where the earlier theology has became mature and is ready to take its share of global leadership. If we look at the history of the Social Gospel it died out without realizing its potential. This should not happen to Minjung Theology.
The purpose of this thesis is to describe and analyze the relationship between the American Social Gospel and the labor movement in the United States and between the evolving development of the labor movement in Korea under the impetus of Minjung Theology. To examine the relationship between the Social Gospel and Minjung Theology, I have chosen the works of Social Gospellers and Minjung theologians. They have had a great impact on Christian thinking in the field of labor. Their major concern was to understand labor, to investigate labor problems and to support the labor organizations.
Ro, Kee Hyang, "The American social gospel and Korean Minjung theology look at labor: A comparison" (1993). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 822.