The E.T. Thompson award is named for the founding editor of The Presbyterian Outlook. Thompson was a journalist, a professor of church history, a promoter of Biblical Christian education, and a tireless advocate for denominational reunion, racial reconciliation, and women’s rights – many causes that were not stylish in his day. The award is presented at General Assembly meetings in recognition of lifetime service to the church consistent with the values exemplified by its namesake.
Rhee was born in Korea, the son of a minister. His father was murdered in 1950 by the North Korean regime while held in prison. His mother sent him and a brother across the border in search of peace. He would hear nothing of the rest of his family for 28 years. After serving in the South Korean army, the Presbyterian Church U.S. provided funds for him to come to the U.S. for study. He completed undergraduate studies, attended Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1960. He married a childhood friend, medical doctor Haesun Lee. He served two churches, became a campus minister and college professor. He also earned two additional postgraduate degrees, and has received four honorary degrees.
He became a denominational missions executive, and served on major ecumenical boards. He joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Education (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in 1998 as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Missions and Evangelism. The title later changed to Distinguished Visiting Professor of Intercultural Studies.
Outlook Editor Jack Haberer presented to Rhee a resolution that referenced his year of service (2000-01) as moderator of the General Assembly (2000-01), his past presidency of the Nation Council of Churches of Christ, his 25-year leadership of the denomination’s worldwide/global mission ministries, his two Kentucky pastorates early in his ministry, and his tireless efforts to broker reconciliation between North and South Korea.
Haberer also announced that the board of directors of the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation, Inc., had voted unanimously and enthusiastically to approve the editor’s recommendation of Rhee to receive the award – none of them knowing that this honor would be bestowed exactly three weeks prior to the 50th anniversary of Rhee’s ministerial ordination and four weeks prior to the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Haesun.
Accepting the award, Rhee gave tribute to Haesun culminating with the words to her, “This one is for you.”