As a WCC-convened forum on peace on the Korean Peninsula came to a close, participants from around the world, representing many churches, vowed to work together in accompanying the Christians of North and South Korea in their efforts for peace, reconciliation, and development.
The Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula (EFK) convened in Leipzig, Germany, on 7-8 July, at a time of greatly heightened tensions in the region. EFK participants, in turn, heightened both their hope and resolve for a peaceful outcome.
Thirty-two people from churches and related organizations from North Korea, South Korea and seven other countries took part in the meeting, which was hosted by the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).
From Mimi Han, representing the YWCA in the Republic of Korea who asked for “more safe and inclusive space for youth and women at the decision-making table,” to Steve Pearce, partnership coordinator for Asia with the Methodist Church in Britain, who asked for “concrete actions for peace from the international community,” participants felt strongly that churches have a role in building peace.
“The responsibility we carry as churches from this meeting is to speak of this need at every opportunity and to contribute to the building of a new and fair understanding of the present reality,” said Pearce. “Having heard the pain of my brothers and sisters in the North and the South, I certainly pledge to do this.”
Christine Elliott, director of World Church Programmes for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), said: “It is critical at this time of heightened tension around the Korean Peninsula that we challenge the rhetoric of fear and promote a belief in the power of reconciliation and love to build a lasting peace in the region.”
Current situation calls for immediate action
The EFK was launched in 2006 as a network of churches, national councils of churches, mission organizations and church-related development agencies in cooperation with the World Council of Churches (WCC), Christian Conference of Asia, and other ecumenical bodies, and is convened and moderated by the WCC.
The WCRC, as well as many other churches, have a longstanding commitment with the Korean Peninsula. At its just-concluded General Council meeting in Leipzig, the WCRC has articulated this commitment in a resolution, “Ecumenical Accompaniment Process for Healing, Reconciliation and Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.”
WCRC general secretary Rev. Dr Chris Ferguson said: “We cherish the longstanding ecumenical accompaniment of the relationship, dialogue and exchange between Christians from North and South Korea, as a rare and now possibly unique resource for peace in the region.”
The next meeting of the EFK is expected to take place in Geneva in June 2018 in connection with WCC’s 70th anniversary.
At the EFK meeting in Leipzig, participants outlined elements of an advocacy plan they hope will help advance the ecumenical vision of a just, durable and sustainable peace in the Korean Peninsula. “The plan addresses the collective longing by the Korean people for true security and just peace—in the north and the south of the peninsula,” said Rev. Dr Liberato Bautista, co-chair of Asia Pacific Forum of North American church executives, as well as assistant general secretary for United Nations and International Affairs for the General Borad for Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, USA.
“This plan is a summons to provide platforms and venues for the voice of the Korean peoples, and their struggles, to be heard, loudly and urgently. The world’s political and religious leaders must hear our collective voice for the immediate de-escalation of tension in the region to make way for the building of trust that is crucial in the building of a durable peace.”
In Germany, the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) and Brot für die Welt are involved in conversations with the government about the impact of the current sanctions regime on provision of humanitarian support in response to disasters.
“The Peace Treaty Campaign is supported by mission agencies and partnership groups in churches that have relations to churches in Korea,” explained Rev. Claudia Ostarek, executive secretary for East Asia, Australia and North America for the EKD. “The EKD enables forums for discussions about the peace process on the Korean peninsula and is committed in promoting networks. The German experiences of living in a divided country and of the process of reunification is an important contribution to the debate about peace and reconciliation in Korea.”
Judith Königsdörfer (EKD), a member of the WCC Central Committee, expressed concern about geo-political issues and media messages that are often one-dimensional. Despite this, she said, “we have experienced again that moving together is an ongoing desire.”
Königsdörfer also emphasized the group’s confirmed wish to put a special focus on the involvement of women and youth. “All parties of the EFK should mobilize their powers – and women’s voices and a new generation are essential parts for peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” she said. “We are on a pilgrimage of justice and peace – we should contribute that a broader picture becomes visible to the world.”
Presence from people of faith
EFK participants agreed that, when peace is threatened, Christians and other people of faith need to be present and active. “We need to witness to that calling, and seek positive, just ways to lessen conflict. The Ecumenical Forum for Korea provides a rare space for dialogue, discussion and encounter among Christians from North and South Korea and international partners,” reflected Patti Talbot, team leader for Church in Partnership with the United Church of Canada.
“As we met in Leipzig, and political tensions increased in northeast Asia, we recognized the imperative to increase efforts for peace, reconciliation and reunification on the Korean peninsula,” she said.
Participants named this as the moment for de-escalation, de-militarization, and dialogue.
Talbot added: “Together, we prayed for reconciliation and peace, and committed ourselves to advocacy and renewed action for engagement. We know that this is essential for peace in Korea, and globally.”
Rev. Dr Lee Hong-Jung, former general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, referred to the division of the Korean Peninsula as a structural sin against God, humanity and nature.
“The division is in contradiction to God’s will for the fullness of life for all,” he said. “If we see the history of the Korean people from a perspective of the whole story of God’s salvific action and of what God wants for the world, the division of the Korean Peninsula is not the end of the history.”
He added: “Contrarily, the division is an omega point of springing up all the will of renewal and transformation in which God’s people are called to engage in healing, reconciliation and peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.”
Lutz Drescher, retired liaison secretary for East Asia and India for the Evangelical Mission in Solidarity (EMS) and acting EFK Coordinator, reflected on the conceptual difference between unification and reunification. “I’m not using the term reunification which could be misunderstood as an attempt to return to something which has existed in the past,” Drescher said. “Unification will be a creative process in which something new comes into existence.”
Unification will not become possible without the support of the USA, China, Japan and Russia, Drescher added. “Maybe the churches present from these countries and from northeast Asia at large could try to influence their governments,” Drescher suggested.
Many EFK participants reflected that the pilgrimage of justice and peace is a lifelong, worldwide quest not limited to a single meeting or nation. “Peace is not an idea that helps one to keep dreaming but an agenda for life that helps us to design a process for destination,” reflected Salomon Benjamin, programme executive for East Asia and India with the EMS.
“An enemy is not the one who hates you, but one whom you hate,” he added. “God help me and us to pursue the pursuit of peace for the survival of the extended human family.”
A path forward to peace
The tragedy of past conflicts is still fresh for many people, noted Rev. Dr Hyun Ju Bae (Presbyterian Church of Korea), a member of the WCC Central Committee. “The Cold War in the 20th century has engendered tragedies and deep pain among people in the Korean Peninsula, such as 3 million casualties and 10 million separated families,” Bae said. “The EFK is a unique and precious platform that the ecumenical friends and partners gather together to discuss important strategic matters and ways of overcoming this pain.”
The recent sharp military escalation in the Korean Peninsula, as well as the troubled history of the region, have underscored the importance of efforts to bring about reconciliation, peaceful coexistence and unity.
In 2018, Korean churches will invite members of the EFK to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “Declaration of the Churches of Korea on National Unification and Peace” issued by the National Council of Churches in Korea in 1988. The declaration, groundbreaking in its time, has continued to exert a significant influence among Korean churches and within Korean politics.
Religious leaders in Korea are also planning observances of the 100th anniversary of Korean independence from Japan, with a focus on strengthening interreligious efforts to promote peace.
In addition, EFK participants spoke of promoting dialogue among all stakeholders and international partners through a church leaders’ summit.
“The summit agenda should include calling on the United Nations Security Council to lift existing sanctions,” said Rev. Dr Victor Hsu, the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s outgoing associate general secretary for ecumenical relations.
Hsu also urged the National Council of Churches of Christ (USA) to mobilize church leaders to advocate with the US Administration to refrain from provocative military engagement in the Korean region.
“We stressed the necessity of an effective advocacy that would make use of the media to demonstrate the faith community’s commitment to peace and reunification of Korea and to state with clarity that an alternative path to peace is possible and desired by the Korean people,” reflected Hsu.
The meeting closed with a worship service on 8 July, during which a pastor from North Korea – Rev. Kang Myong-chol, Chair of the Korean Christians Federation – and a pastor from South Korea – Rev. Kim Young-ju, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea – presided over Holy Communion together.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the United Methodist Church USA, offered a sermon, reflecting: “We who follow Jesus are connected because God has brought us together. We’re connected to God, to Jesus, to each other. Our lives are connected – whether we like it or not.”