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When Keeping the Sabbath Hurts Your Career

When Keeping the Sabbath Hurts Your Career

All that Jiman Han, a first-year medical student in South Korea, wants to do is to study to become a doctor. He wants to help people who are suffering and bring them healing.

Most people would consider this a noble goal. And, indeed, the very achievement of getting into medical school suggests that his university administrators agree. But despite completing the admissions process, and regardless of his academic achievements, Jiman may not be able to complete his medical degree and serve those in need.

That’s because Jiman is one of the relatively small number of Koreans who observe the Bible Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. (See Exodus 20:8–11.) And that day—called Saturday in English-speaking countries—is also the day medical students in South Korea generally take various tests in their classes. If you don’t take the test, you don’t pass the course, and you can’t be a doctor.

Such dilemmas are not unique to Jiman or South Korea. Many people in many parts of the world find that keeping the seventh-day Sabbath holy can hurt their business, their employment, or their education. Throughout Africa, for example, Sabbathkeeping students have often had to resort to various appeals—including court cases meant to protect their right to attend universities, take exams, and keep the Sabbath. Similar cases have also been frequently heard in America, Canada, and Britain, among other nations.

This world, this present age, is not always friendly to Sabbathkeeping believers. In the Luhansk People's Republic—a rebellious area of eastern Ukraine—churches that worship on the seventh day, among other Christian groups disliked by the authorities, have lost the ability to register with the government. Without such registration, it’s impossible to operate legally. Believers there now live in fear of government persecution.

There are other nations, which cannot be named for security reasons, where it’s very difficult or even impossible to keep the Sabbath or to organize a church that worships on the seventh day. Government regulations regarding registration of religious groups, prejudice from those who adhere to differing faiths (or no faith at all), and other cultural challenges make life difficult for those determined to follow God’s way, and not man’s. (See Acts 5:29.)

For Jiman, there may be some hope: The Supreme Court in South Korea may hear an appeal of his legal case—an effort that would require the medical school to offer alternative exam times for those who keep the Sabbath. A lower court ruled in his favor, but the university has appealed the court’s decision.

Prejudice or simple ignorance can be found at the root of many of these challenges. In some nations, there is, sadly, an active prejudice against those who keep the Sabbath. In other situations, particularly in university settings, it seems there’s a lack of understanding of the sacredness of the day of rest, besides the fact that “just an exception” can’t be made, even if the majority of students have no difficulty in taking an exam that day.

Sabbathkeepers appeal to both basic fairness—opportunity equally available and not subject to whether or not one worships God on a certain day—and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which marks its 70th anniversary in 2018. Enacted by the United Nations after the end of the Second World War, where millions of Sabbathkeepers were exterminated because of their race and beliefs, the document’s Article 18 is meant to ensure that individuals have the right to practice their faith without penalty, even if they are in a minority within a given country. Many nations have signed on to the document, but some have either exempted themselves from all of Article 18’s provisions or they simply ignore it.

Jiman waits for a decision from the highest court in South Korea regarding his future. All he wants is to help people get well when they’re sick, but the apparently unyielding position of his medical school stands in the way.

One thing to consider in this case—and in many other instances where Sabbathkeepers face difficulties in school, work, and life—is the close relationship between religion and government. This may not be an issue in South Korea, but in places like Ukraine and elsewhere, it can be. Our article about the Separation of Church and State offers some vital insights into this question.

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