SEOUL (OGA) In a sermon here November 1—All-Saints Day—Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, pledged that the denomination would continue to press the United States government to formally apologize for a massacre of Korean civilians that claimed as many as 300 lives in the early days of the Korean War.
“I cannot apologize for the government of the United States,” Nelson told the Korean congregation in his sermon, titled When the Righteous Perish. “However, we who are here today from the United States can pledge to not let the silence of this massacre continue.”
On July 26–29, 1950, elements of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment opened fire on a group of civilians at a railroad bridge near the village of No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of Seoul. In 2005, a South Korean government inquest identified the names of 163 dead or missing and 55 wounded. The South Korean government-funded No Gun Ri Peace Foundation estimated in 2011 that 250–300 were killed, mostly women and children.
After the Associated Press finally reported the story in 1999, the U.S. Army conducted an investigation and acknowledged the killings, but dismissed them as “an unfortunate tragedy inherent to war and not a deliberate killing.” Then-President Bill Clinton issued a statement of regret “that things happened which were wrong,” but the army rejected survivors’ demands for an apology and compensation.
“All war is wrong in the sight of God, because the Bible reminds us in 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love,’” Nelson declared. “Therefore, any act that is oppositional to love is oppositional to God. Jesus’ command to love our neighbor in Luke 10 immediately places the events of No Gun Ri in opposition to the love ethic of Jesus.”
Nelson led a delegation of U.S. Presbyterians that included OGA’s ecumenical officer, the Reverend Robina Winbush; PC(USA) World Mission director, the Reverend Jose Luis Casal; and World Mission’s East Asia coordinator, the Reverend Mienda Uriarte.
The delegation visited South Korea (and No Gun Ri) at the direction of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the PC(USA), which approved a resolution (an alternate resolution to Item 12-01) from the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse acknowledging the massacre, calling on the U.S. government to admit its responsibility and issue a formal apology, and to work with partner churches in South Korea to create educational and worship resources to advance healing for all those affected by the massacre, including the forty surviving victims of No Gun Ri.
During its weeklong sojourn in South Korea, the delegation also took steps to fulfill the mandate of the 2016 assembly to “explore possibilities for joint prayer and witness regarding continuing tensions on the Korean peninsula, in the South China Sea, and other considerations for peace, world order, security, and meeting basic human needs that are currently before their congregations and members.”
The full text of Nelson’s sermon:
WHEN THE RIGHTEOUS PERISH!
Our Old Testament scripture is taken from Isaiah 57:1–2:
“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away, while no one understands.
For the righteous are taken away from calamity,
and they enter into peace; those who walk uprightly
will rest on their couches.” (Isa. 57:1–2)
Our New Testament Scripture is taken from 2 Corinthians 4:17–18:
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be unseen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
Our presence here today is directed through a call by God upon the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to remember the victims of the No Gun Ri massacre. The massacre is a reminder that the ravages of war impact the lives of unborn generations. The story of a young man who was killed in the massacre impacts a child who grew up not knowing his/her father or a grandchild not knowing their grandfather. Similarly, the death of a woman who was not engaged in war, but an innocent bystander caught in the line of fire—a mother, a sister, an aunt—remains the symbol of a life cut short by a senseless act of violence. The defining story of war is formed by the inhumane act of lethal aggression against persons we have never met nor formed a relationship. All war is wrong in the sight of God, because the Bible reminds us in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.” Therefore, any act that is oppositional to love is oppositional to God. Jesus’ command to love our neighbor in Luke 10 immediately places the events of No Gun Ri in opposition to the love ethic of Jesus. Therefore, our presence here today is to witness to the truth about our own nation’s dismissal regarding the No Gun Ri massacre.
The No Gun Ri massacre is representative of an act of non-love by the United States of America. It is clear that we are a nation that is ashamed of its occurrence. However, it seems to be more convenient to ignore its repercussions. “On July 26–29, 1950, early in the Korean War, when an undetermined number of South Korean refugees were killed in a U.S. air attack and by small- and heavy-weapons fire of the 7th Calgary Regiment at a railroad bridge near the village of Nogeun-ri (Korean: 노근리), 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Seoul. In 2005, a South Korean government inquest certified the names of 163 dead or missing and 55 wounded, and added that many other victims’ names were not reported. The South Korean government-funded No Gun Ri Peace Foundation estimated in 2011 that 250–300 were killed, mostly women and children.
No Gun Ri is a forgotten war. It is forgotten in the United States because it is not a victory, but a mistake. It is not a proud moment in our history. Jesus calls us to repent of our wrongdoing that has impacted so many lives.
Our Old Testament Scripture, taken from Isaiah 57:1–2, reminds us today that
“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous are taken away from calamity, and they enter into peace; those who walk uprightly will rest on their couches.”
While these words give some comfort to the believer in the faith of Almighty God through Jesus Christ, there is still a need to hear the truth told by the perpetrators of such unwarranted acts of pain and suffering. Isaiah states that it is our righteousness that will bring healing. We are propped up in hope by our righteousness, he exclaims. And, I want to suggest that you have experienced this type of comfort. You have turned to the living God, who has given hope through Jesus Christ. Faith has led you on while the pain of persecution, by no fault of your own, has been endured. You are here as witnesses to that truth and we have come to stand with you as Christians who believe in the healing power of Jesus, even when it seems that our hopes and expectations have fallen short.
I grew up in a community with a childhood friend whose father fought in the Korean War. I often heard his father speak of the war with a strong sense of duty to his country. However, he never explained why we were fighting the Koreans. He never mentioned No Gun Ri. I submit that many who fought in the Korean War were in Korea due to their understanding of serving their country, but did not know of the faulty intelligence or quest for power that took human lives through propaganda and deception. And, for those who did have knowledge of these events of deception, who had no power or courage to say or do anything about it, we must respond in the faithfulness to Almighty God through Jesus Christ by offering forgiveness even when we know that the truth is still being hidden. I am saddened that while standing here before you the United States has still not repented. Even President Bill Clinton, in his statement following an investigation of the No Gun Ri events fifty years later, offered regrets, but not an apology. Nor did the United States government offer compensation to Korean refugees living in the United States whose loved ones were killed at No Gun Ri. I cannot apologize for the government of the United States. However, we who are here today from the United States can pledge to not let the silence of this massacre continue. Just as the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse has called on the denomination to both acknowledge and repent of our silence as a denomination, we [the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)] must call upon the United States government to publicly repent of its actions at No Gun Ri.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) remains faithful to our longstanding partnership with our Korean brothers and sisters in urging the U.S. government to admit its’ wrongdoing related to No Gun Ri and compensating survivors of victims. We are here to assure you that even under our present presidential leadership, we will be steadfast in our commitment to peace and justice for all people around the globe who seek the peace that surpasses all understanding. And we will do these things because we know that the challenge of faith is to free our own souls while living into the victory that God has already promised. This is what the writer of Isaiah is telling us today when he writes, “the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace” (Isa. 57:1–2)
Entering into peace and walking into righteousness comes from within. It is directly related to our ability to look within our own souls and know that God knows all about our troubles and will take care of us.
Jesus, the son of Almighty God, came and faced an undeserved punishment by unrepentant government rulers and military officers leading to his execution on Calvary’s cross. Falsely accused, he faced his execution for a crime he did not commit. Buried in a tomb, the world thought he was done, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, he lives with us even now. This is the hope we have been promised. This is the power that overcomes our disappointment with the actions of powers and principalities. This is the hope upon which we stand and give resonance to the power of our great God who hears our cry and promises to wipe every tear from our eyes.
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!