Eugene Cho

going to jail for adultery

I’m not sharing this to propagate gossip.  There’s enough of it – both in the secular and sadly, christian community as well.  But, when I read this news of a famous Korean actress and her lover being “sentenced” this morning, it really intrigued me because even after living in Korea for several years as an adult and doing pastoral ministry for couple years in my birthplace referred to some as the Land of the Morning Calm, I had absolutely no idea that adultery was “illegal” and a crime.  I enjoy following Korean films when and IF they’re available here in the States but I don’t follow pop culture in Korea especially since my reading capacity is elementary.

In addition, you know that I’ve been posting thoughts and stories about government, politics, religion, morality and how they all engage together.  Simply, the question I keep coming to is,

“What is the government’s role in legislating morality?”

I vacillate back and forth regarding the government’s role and constantly feel conflicted.  I agree that adultery is “damaging to the social order” in addition to the clear damage to the SOUL.  For the record, I acknowledge that your assessment and/or criticism that I have inconsistent views about the government’s role have weight.  And there are days when I just think we should run everything by LAW all over again.  Why?  Because all of us have such an undeserving and under appreciated entitlement to freedom and grace. 

What do you think of the above and below? 

park chul and ok so ri

Regarding the story below [BBC News], everyone loses in a situation of adultery and splitsville but it’s incredibly sad and painful to see how in most cultures, the blame and shame is placed on the woman.  I find this to incredibly ironic in contexts such as the Confucian culture where much revolves around the hierachy and patriachy of men and in conservative Christian contexts where men are supposed to be the clear leaders.  If a marriage fails in that context, why do we then choose to blame the wife or the whole marriage?  I’m being too simplistic, right?

One of South Korea’s best-known actresses, Ok So-ri, has been given a suspended prison sentence of eight months for adultery.

She admitted the offence and the court suspended the sentence for two years.

The trial took place after Ms Ok failed to get the constitutional court to overturn the strict law that makes adultery a criminal offence.

In her petition she said the law was an infringement of human rights and amounted to revenge.

According to the BBC correspondent in Seoul, John Sudworth, the scandal has kept South Korea’s tabloid newspapers and internet chatrooms buzzing for months.

‘Damaging to social order’

South Korea is one of the few remaining non-Muslim countries where adultery remains a criminal offence.

A person found guilty of adultery can be jailed for up to two years.

More than 1,000 people are charged each year, although, as in this case, very few are actually sent to jail.

The law has been challenged four times, but the country’s top judges have always ruled that adultery is damaging to social order, and the offence should therefore remain a crime.

In this case, Ms Ok was sued by her former husband, Park Chul.

She admitted having an affair with a well-known pop singer, and blamed it on a loveless marriage to Mr Park.

The 40-year-old actress sought to have the adultery ban ruled an inconstitutional invasion of privacy, and in a petition to the Constitutional Court, her lawyers claimed the law had “degenerated into a means of revenge by the spouse, rather than a means of saving a marriage”.

But the adultery ban was upheld, and judges in Seoul have now given her an eight-month suspended sentence, and her lover a six-month suspended term.

“I would like to say I’m sorry for stirring up such a controversy,” Ms Ok said after the court judgement.

According to a survey carried out last year, nearly 68% of South Korean men and 12% of women confess to having sex outside marriage.


The Anti-Adultery Law:

  • Enacted in 1953; initially applied only to married women
  • Constitutional Court upheld the law in 1990, 1993, 2001 and 2008
  • But the judges’ support for the law has gradually declined. The law’s repeal would require backing of six of the court’s nine judges – in the last case, five judges backed its repeal
  • Hundreds of people are charged under the law every year, but only a few dozen are jailed
  • Supporters of the law claim adultery undermines the social order, and say the law protects women’s rights in marriage
  • Its opponents claim the law is often abused as a means of revenge or securing greater financial divorce settlements; and say in reality those who suffer under the law are most often women

Filed under: christianity, culture, family, , , , , , , ,

21 Responses

  1. Matthew says:

    I think you raise some good questions here, Dr Cho. It seems to me that equality is more the issue here than privacy, since, however you slice it, adultery simply is not a private act without a plethora of adverse social consequences. But if the law was applied only to married women, I would argue that of course it should be repealed! What legal recourse would Ms Ok have had if she had found that her husband had been cheating on her?

    You’re absolutely right that it is tragic that so much blame and shame lights on women for these kinds of situations, while many men shamelessly abuse their privileges. Something to reflect on and pray about – and hopefully change!

    God bless,

  2. chad m says:

    oh man. watch out. how many pastors and church leaders would be thrown in the clink if this were the case in the US? in my opinion, nothing is more threatening to the idea of “family” and “marriage” than adultery, so why are folks blaming homosexuality and other “liberal” influences for the decline of the family?

  3. Kevin Davis says:

    I think that is an awesome law – not from a morality perspective, but thinking of it contractually. We Christians see it as moral, but I’d love for the Gov to legislate morality in that sense – you were in a covenant with another person and if you break it, then you have consequences.

  4. elderj says:

    I think at some point, and probably still on the books in many states, adultery is a crime in the US. Before the era of “no-fault” divorce, adultery, abandonment, and abuse were usually the accepted grounds for applying for a divorce decree, based loosely on the scriptural grounds for divorce.

  5. Tiger Doll says:

    What is the government’s role in legislating morality? Given that all laws are the legislation of someone’s morality, the government has a pretty big role. So the question becomes: whose morality should the government legislate and regulate? I believe that Christians can have an enormously positive influence on law since we have high ethics and robust morality.

    Spousal desertion is hugely damaging to the social order, as it represents a breach of contract by one family member against the other family members and normally results in severe long-range economic harm.

    Just like business partners enter contracts to protect themselves from economic ruin and fraud, so, too, heterosexual partners enter the marriage contract to protect against economic harm. Raising families is a long-term enterprise and involves serious risk to family members. As such, breach of contract must be heavily penalized by law. A heterosexual does not have a right to sire children and then walk away, placing the burden on the other spouse or passing child-rearing responsibilities to the neighbors down the street. Whenever a person tries such a stunt, the rest of society has to team up and compel the individual to abide by the stipulations of the marriage contract.

  6. Tom says:

    As for your more general issue/question, Eugene, no one is consistent about how they think government should respond on an issue by issue basis, if by consistent you mean ‘always choosing governmental intervention to penalize a particular behavior the bible seems to disapprove of.’

    I always start on any issue by getting clear on what we’re talking about when we say ‘government.’ In my case, I start by recognizing that we live in a secular, pluralistic democratic political order which I think greatly benefits religious institutions and relgiious people through the basic right of freedom of religion. Theocracies or states with state sponsored religions are virtually always damage the vigor and vitality of faith communities.

    No reason why religious people shouldn’t be involved in helping shape social policy. On the other hand, because it’s a secular, pluralistic democracy, its not enough to simply say, ‘God says such and such.’ Religious people have got to translate our scriptural values into language accessible in the public square, and we have to show how prohibiting a particular behavior by law contributes to the public good in a way that appeals to the consciences and common sense of people outside of the faith community.

    Of course, deciding just what God says about something can be challenging at times, and then trying to apply that teaching to a contemporary context is almost always challenging. And even when we decide that the bible teaches that we should oppose a particular behavior in our own context, we’ve got to ask whether attempting to prohibit it by law will actually lead to more social damage rather than less. And then, of course, you’ve got to look at the many real life exceptions to even the most iron clad prohibition.

    Given that process, there are few easy answers, and as a result, the charge of ‘inconsistency’ is easy to make even when it’s false.

    Let’s take the case of a hypothetical Christian ethical/political decision making citizen faced with three issues.

    After careful study, our citizen believes that the bible disapproves of homosexual behavior. But at the same time she supports laws that encourage gays to commit to long lasting and stable relationships because she believes outlawing homosexual behavior is counterproductive and does nothing to diminish that behavior, that there is no compelling evidence accessible to all citizens that long term and stable gay relationships damage the social fabric, and that to the contrary, the state and the broader community have a strong interest in seeing more stable and long lasting relationships among gay people.

    She also disapproves of taking recreational drugs based on her biblical values, but she supports their legalization because she believes regulating them legally and destroying the immense crime networks and corruption that spring from making them illegal are smarter social policy. Many conservative Christians supported (and continue to support) the end of prohibition of alcohol for exactly those reasons, even though alcohol continues to do tremendous damage to society.

    And she also believes that the bible teaches clearly against divorce, that the social evidence clearly available to any citizen suggests that divorce exacts a major social toll so the community has an interest in restoring some penalties and social censure in the case of frivolous divorce, and that those measured penalties and prohibitions will likely reduce the incidence of divorce without producing destructive unintended side consequences (like an upswing in suicides, for example).

    So, as a hypothetical ethical/political decision maker, who is she? She supports gay marriage, the legalization of most recreational drugs, and increased penalties for divorce. Is she conservative? Liberal? Inconsistent?

    I’d say none of the above. She’s a careful and thoughtful and serious Christian who wants to take the bible seriously, understands that she lives in a secular/pluralistic democracy, and follows where she believes the spirit and the evidence lead. She’s not dogmatic about any of these positions because she understands the complexities, but she’s confident enough about them to become politically active on behalf of those issues.

    Can she be criticized for her ethical decision making? Sure. Should she be dismissed out of hand as ‘not a part of the evangelical community’ because she holds some currently unpopular positions. I don’t think so, though in real life she probably would be by many conservative Christians. That’s part of the problem we’re facing.

  7. elderj says:

    @Tom – I appreciate your thoughtful response. I think one of the problems or rather unrecognized realities is that our society has progressively moved away from what was a legal jurisprudence based loosely on a Judeo-Christian ethic. We enacted no fault divorce laws, created abortion on demand, made birth control widespread, and did all sorts of other things which shifted significantly the social order all under the idea that such changes would not be detrimental to the social order, and yet it is evidently true that our society has less social stability than ever. Divorce and out of wedlock births are common, rape and sexual assault as well as domestic violence are no less prevalent than before, children are raised increasingly in single parent usually female headed households and consequently are much more likely to grow up in poverty or to be involved in delinquency. In other words, our moved away from the previous ethical framework for law and social policy has largely been a failure, and yet we seem determined to continue experimentation based on some very vague and rather unsupported notions. In addition societies that have gone further down this path than we often end up with ever larger bureaucracies as government and courts increasingly take over roles that previously were handled in the private sphere. The growth in the prison and welfare industries can be tied very much to the collapse of previous social norms of conduct that were enshrined in law.

  8. Tiger Doll says:

    Brilliant analysis, elderj.

    When the nuclear family breaks down, the traditional roles and responsibilities handled by parents and local institutions like church and clubs and such transfer to the state—only the state must then become much larger and more dictatorial so as to forcefully micromanage the wayward masses and all their increased drama, bad decision making, and financial and moral chaos.

    The liberal progressives seem to long for an all powerful state, a non-existent traditional family structure, and comprehensive sexual libertinism. I don’t know why the democrats have adopted that worldview so quickly since the 1960s, but they have. I don’t know how much longer I can be a democrat, given this shift.

  9. Tom says:

    Oh well. I tried. Change takes time.

    I had hoped to spark more thoughtful discussion on this issue, but obviously I pushed some buttons here.

    My bad.

  10. JKP says:

    NYS actually has criminal law that makes adultery illegal…but it’s not enforced. You can google NYS Penal Code Adultery and get the actual law. Crazy, huh?

  11. Laws like these generally serve to hurt those with less power. Its like at christian colleges where the girls who got pregnant would get kicked out – but not the guys.

    your question though is broad. morality. Do you just mean bedroom morality? We do a pretty good job at hurting the minority on that issue in our country. Consistency would make more sense – punishing divorce, and adultery as well as rights for gays, but we reserve punishment for those we don’t like at the bottom of the social ladder. Its more about prejudice than morality in that regard.

    I’m all for the government setting up laws that protect people from getting hurt. That strays into issues of morality. But often those moral laws have the opposite effect – taking away rights and keeping women in abusive situations. in the name of protecting the family, individuals pay the price.

  12. Dadofiandi says:

    I don’t think our prisons are overcrowded enough, it might change the recidivism for adulterers tho.

    @Julie excellent points

  13. Kyoung says:

    As a Korean, who grew up in Korea, it’s my knowledge that this law is viewed to actually in some ways to PROTECT women. I don’t really know the whole legal issues involved, but I heard that by current laws, if a woman gets a divorce they don’t get much alimony, and a lot of times, they don’t even get custody of the children. This law kind of balances that out in a way? and makes sure that women can get justice for their cheating husbands. Although I think, well if that’s the case, why not change the law so that women have more rights in a divorce? I don’t know if either of the party benefits by sending their spouse to jail..

  14. Kyoung says:

    oops you mention that in your post. i missed it.

  15. blackwasp19 says:

    The government is going to, inevitably, manage morality. That is the complexity of government. Choices come down to what people think are right or wrong: Morality. The government has to manage that chaos. Personally, I see a Christian ethic – that is not always represented in Christianity – as the best underlying morality. However, I struggle – as I believe we all should – to balance my beliefs with a pluralistic culture.

    I don’t think there can be universal answers. Should we make abortion illegal? And if so, are we then obligated to eliminate the option of divorce (save adultery or domestic violence)? Both of which, generally, have negative ramifications on society and families. Its complicated

  16. stephanie says:

    how do we determine what is moral and what is not? if we are a society that encourages people to engage in “safe sex” with whomever one chooses – so long as it is consenting – and then that person grows up and has a problem with only being with one person, is that really immoral? because it seems to line up with the morals that have been taught. people are taught that it is okay to be angry and vengeful – and yet we punish people who murder for revenge. it just seems weird to me that we would condone parts of one thing, but condemn the actions those things created.

    i don’t even know if that was relevant. there were like 18 different places my brain went in the past 5 minutes, and that’s all that came out.

  17. I appreciate Tom’s thoughtful insight. I’m not sure we can cover all of those ideas on a single comment thread but it was illuminating just the same.

    I think it’s worthwhile to look closer at the term “morality.” It loosely means “what a person *should* do” but it’s tough to nail down. I highly recommend this talk by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt:

    He’s found five categories of morality that are noticeable not only across all human cultures but even several similar species. They are:
    – caring for others/not harming others
    – fairness
    – group inclusion and acceptance
    – respect for authority
    – purity

    What I hear folks talking about here is just the morality of purity. What about the others?

  18. Matthew says:

    Jack Danger Canty,

    Thank you for sharing the link. I am familiar with Haidt’s work, and I’m always glad to see it referenced. I think if you look carefully at some of the comments, though, we have been touching on a number of these aspects of morality – I find that the issue of legislating morality when it comes to adultery and divorce touches fairly obviously on three aspects (care, fairness and purity).

    I think that adultery is wrong in many cases because it is unfair to the spouse being cheated on, and is a severe violation of trust between them. If the couple has children, it also constitutes a breach of their trust, as they are psychologically dependent upon the stability of their parents’ situation. Thus, adultery is not a private act – it has severe consequences in the social world. I can understand reasons why someone might cheat on their spouse, but that would be akin to saying theft becomes permissible if someone is hungry (it doesn’t, though it may ameliorate their case somewhat). For me, the emphasis is on care as well as purity.

    But there’s also the issue of the fairness of the law. If it was originally applied only to women, then it would be a reprehensibly unfair law. However, if in practice, the law is pursued and applied equally among women and men, I wouldn’t really have that much of an issue with it, morally speaking.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing the link – let’s see if we can’t get a conversation going about the multiple aspects of this ethical question!

    God bless,

  19. joel says:

    morally speaking…what does morally speaking mean? and what does that have to do with law? everyone here that’s suggesting that there are social ramifications of adultery, are you likening it to other social ‘crimes’? which ones? and i wonder how ‘public’ adultery really is. what other sins would we like the government to get involved in? maybe churches that marry atheists should lose their tax-exempt status. or, maybe those who exude a certain level of pride determined to be detrimental to society should find themselves in court (i think this is mentioned more than any other sin in the bible, but wait, why focus on something so harmful and yet such a staple of our society and church?). the government could send out a quarterly Myers-Briggs pride test to each and every congregation as to discern whether or not the pastor is filled with ‘too much’ pride…if so, jail, fine, lose of job or any combination of the three.

    this is a classic example of picking and choosing…we want retribution, judgement now!! yah, sure God will judge in His time, but what about my immediate satisfaction.

    elderj, there is nothing in history to suggest a degradation of the social fabric as much as there’s been an elucidation of age old societal ills that can no longer be hidden as a result of antiquated norms.

    why, as christians, are we so worried that others might be ‘abusing’ grace? is it possible that some out there are taking advantage of God? seriously, are there people out there who believe this? because that is what’s being alluded to here.

    so, is grace not moral?

  20. Matthew says:

    Joel, you raise many interesting points, and I agree with many of them. I definitely don’t think it is our place to become ‘thought-police’, or to punish people merely because they have proclivities toward certain kinds of bad behaviour. But to my mind, that still doesn’t justify the bad behaviour. A person can have all the violent thoughts he wants – it only becomes a legal issue if he hurts or kills somebody, right?

    Adultery should be considered such a wrong, because it is an action (not a thought or a proclivity) which abuses and destroys a socially-recognised relationship which ideally should be predicated upon trust, care and erotic love (erotic in the broadest sense of the term, meaning not just sexual desire but a close, personal relationship of sharing and mutuality). It can be worse if there are children in the relationship because I know for a fact that it can cause real and lasting damage to the psychological development of the children of the married couple (how can a young girl trust men at all if the man who was closest to her in her life – her father – proved unfaithful to his own wife?). It can be mitigated by circumstances like Ms Ok’s, in which her husband was not living up to his obligations to care about her, to trust her and love her. But that doesn’t mean we should pretend it isn’t a social issue.

    As to God’s grace, I have no doubt that it touches even the worst of people. But trust in God’s grace shouldn’t have to mean that we forgo all forms of human justice, should it?

    Best wishes and Happy Christmas, everyone.

    God bless,

  21. elderj says:

    @joel – I’m afraid there is no way to properly respond to your comment since it is willfully uniformed about history. So have a Merry Christmas.

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
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on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
of our times.

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