I’m sorry to everyone who keeps up with me for not posting for over a month now. My schedule has been very busy and exhausting lately. I have experienced a lot in that time, and I have definitely grown a lot. Please be warned that this post is quite a bit longer, unpleasant, and also more “activist-ey” than most.
About two weeks ago we spent a few days in the Korean capital, Seoul. It is a very energetic and exciting city, and our days we’re packed with meetings and tours. I saw lots of things and met a lot of fascinating people. However, I am only going to focus on one point of our experience in Seoul here.
During our stay, we visited the recently opened War and Women’s Human Rights Museum. The museum serves as a memorial to a very deep scar that is still in the Korean memory. In the years preceding World War II, and during the war, Japan was a major imperialistic power, occupying the entirety of the Korean peninsula, and making inroads in China and other parts of Eastern Asia.
Many people in Korea, as well as in China and even Japan, were uprooted from their homes, shipped to a new place, and made to do forced labor under the Japanese military. What is commonly considered the most atrocious of these actions by the Japanese is what are called the “comfort women.” Basically, young Korean women between 16 and 19 were kidnapped and forced to be a kind of sex slave for Japanese soldiers. Done in a disturbingly systematic fashion, Japanese military camps would have “comfort stations” of women trafficked in from all over Eastern Asia.
After the World War, these women were psychologically and physically damaged, as well as ostracized for the impurity forced upon them by the Japanese. What probably made it even harder was that these women were ostracized for something that wasn’t even their fault. These women kept silent about the abuses done to them by the Japanese until, in the 1990′s, one came forward with her experience, which caught national Korean attention. This opened the floodgates for all of the “comfort women” to publicly relate their story without the fear of being ostracized.
There is now a national movement, supported by virtually every citizen of Korea, with a goal of getting certain concessions from Japan. For over twenty years, former “comfort women” and their supporters have gathered every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, demanding Japan’s government to 1. make a formal apology for it’s military’s abuse of Korean women during World War II and 2. provide legal reparations to the victims who are still living. Unfortunately, for over twenty years, Japan has remained silent, not giving any response. There have even begun protests for this in Japan proper, but still the government has made no response. These Wednesday protests continue to this day.
If you are interested in this cause, you can learn more and help by adding your name to the official petition of the movement, found here: https://www.womenandwar.net/contents/custom/campaign/en/campaign.nx?page_str_menu=230401.
Shifting back to the present, the museum we visited in Seoul was in honor and memory of the Korean “comfort women,” relating the history of events during the World war, and of the current appeals for the Japanese apology. One of the revelations I had there was that the appeal for a formal Japanese apology was not a stubborn sticking point to have the satisfaction of an apology, but an appeal to have Japan recognize the sins of its past so it does not commit them again in the future.
One of the philosophies of the museum and the movement behind it is the sensible one that by understanding one’s past mistakes and atrocities, future errors can be avoided. Because of this, the museum provides resources for education on how in many places in the world, war is used as an excuse for the abuse of women.
After processing all of this, I came around to reflecting on it at a more personal level. Naturally, it led me back to the Bible, and what it has to say. So, what really causes abuses like those done to these Korean women? And, how do Christians (and myself) interact with women in a way that really shines the light of Christ? Let me start with broader reflections, and move towards more personal.
It is becoming more and more widely known that even in the American military, there are cases concerning the rape of servicewomen. But if that isn’t disturbing enough, in overseas service locations, the military’s solution to this is to encourage venues of prostitution in the area around the bases, to “protect” the American women. So, not only are soldiers being encouraged to support prostitution by military authorities, instead of them dealing with the internal rape offenses in a direct way, they are sending the message that the women of the country (who supposedly the military are there to protect) are somehow lesser than American women and not worthy of having their purity protected. Then the authorities defend the need for prostitution venues, saying that soldiers need some sort of way to relieve the tension of military service. Of course, these problems in no way reflect every soldier in the military, but there are a few bad apples in the bushel, as they say.
So, what does the Bible have to say about all of this? If we go back to creation, we see in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So, by design, men and women were made to reflect God’s image, both having authority over the earth.
Turn the page of your Bible, however, and you’ll find a different story. After the fall, God gives this condemnation to the woman in Genesis 3:16b: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” So, sin seems to have corrupted the relationship between men and women that existed before the fall. Like any evil, the abuse of women comes from sin and its deceptions. Abuses like those done to the comfort women are part and parcel of a fallen world.
The redeemed elect, however, are witnesses to the risen Christ, who was perfect, just as Adam and Eve before the fall. So, with Christ and our brief glimpse of men and women before the fall as our model, how do we live our personal (and public) lives in a way that gives witness to those models as the way the world is supposed to be?
First, what does it mean for me, an American, to live in and pay taxes to a country that supports abuses of women by its military? How can I be a witness to Christ regarding this? Next, how does my personal life reflect Christ? As a person justified before God, do I interact with others in a way that gives witness to the way an unfallen world would look, and thereby give glory to Christ?
I naturally look first to my fiance for this, who gave me permission to write about her. We try to mutually recognize our insights in any decisions. My marriage is still in the somewhat-hazy future, but it is clear what God expects of me as a husband in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” To a somewhat lesser degree, my other relationships should follow the same principles. After all, the golden rule applies for everyone.
As I’ve been reflecting on these themes, I have been realizing just how far I still am from the perfection of God, but also how the Spirit is continually sanctifying me in powerful ways. <><