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A Philosophical Problem of the Korean Church’s Missiological Use of Sports

Song-Chong Lee (University of Findlay)

Abstract: This paper discusses a philosophical problem associated with the Korean Church’s missiological use of sports. North American missionaries first introduced Western sports to Korea in the late 19th century and endorsed them as a means of promoting Christian education and Western culture. Sports activities have subsequently become a useful instrument for the Korean church’s ministries and missions. In the 1980s, when the country hosted two major international sporting events (The Asian Games in 1986 and Seoul Olympics in 1988), it became clear that the versatility of sports could help the Korean church to grow and achieve solidarity. As hallyu rapidly spreads throughout the world today, the Korean Church has become increasingly confident in the value that sporting activities can offer as a missionary tool. The World Sports Mission plans to send 1000 sports missionaries abroad by 2020. In a conference entitled “the Korean Church and Sports Missions” Pastor Choi claimed that sports is one of the most effective jeopchokjeom (contact points) in mission fields.

In this paper, the author argues that the missiological use of sports violates the two fundamental principles of sports: the principle of fair play and the principle of Olympism. He uses two philosophical theories—Rawls’s notion of fairness and Habermas’ discourse ethics—to refute the rationality of the Korean church’s theologisation of sports. Discussing these theories, the author shows that missionaries as players ignore the internal goods of sports and violate the informal or constitutive rules that players should adhere to in order to achieve fair play. The author also presents the fundamental principle of Olympism, which is based heavily on liberal humanism, to justify his criticism of the hidden and deceptive religious motivation of sporting activities in mission fields.