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Faith leaders advocate for peace and reunification of Koreas (UM News)

September 28, 2023

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The Fourth Roundtable for Peace on the Korean Peninsula, hosted by the Korean Methodist Church, The United Methodist Church and the World Methodist Council, was held Aug. 28-29 at the Ambassador Hotel and Kwanglim Methodist Church in Seoul, South Korea.

The Roundtable had not met since 2018; the fourth gathering had been postponed for several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event featured two special lectures and two peace ministry reports each day.

The first lecture, delivered by Prof. Beom-Shik Shin of Seoul National University’s School of Political Science and Diplomacy, analyzed how the war in Ukraine affects the security environment on the Korean Peninsula.

Shin said that the long-running Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was replaced by the conflict between the United States and China, and that the two countries’ strategic competition strengthens the conflicts between the South Korea-United States-Japan alliance and the North Korea-China-Russia block on the Korean Peninsula.

“It is important to solidify and value the alliance pursued by the U.S.,” he said. “However, it is also necessary to realize the appropriate geopolitical intermediary diplomacy for Korea based on flexible and practical strategic thinking to set a proper balance point for Korea and maintain it well.”

The Rev. Do Woong Park, a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, shared a summary of the history and efforts of the World Church and the Korean Church to achieve peaceful reunification on the Korean Peninsula.

Park suggested that the church needs to find faith and practical directions that today’s Korean church and society can engage and agree on.

“(We want to see) the participation of all the peoples of North and South Koreas, and invite the Methodists of the world into prayers for peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “(We) especially want to see it included in the Korean Methodist Centennial Prayer Campaign starting in 2023.”

The Rev. Gun-Won Hwang, co-chair of the Movement for Restoration of the North Korean Church Community, shared activities from the field of peace and reunification and spoke about the need to work to move beyond the pain of the division.

“We need to revise Article 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea to recognize that North Korea is an independent country because two countries are already recognized as members of the United Nations,” Hwang said. “Let us exchange official diplomatic missions, and allow free exchange of civilians — not just government leaders.”

In his sermon the next morning, Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council and Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, said, “Peace never happens by accident. We make peace, and peace is love in action.

“We are called to be people of action, peacemakers and harbingers of hope in a world full of possibilities. Let us work for peace, speak for peace and pray for peace.”

The third lecture, “Overcoming Divisions and Working for Peace — Learning from Ongoing Journey in Germany and from Ecumenical Partners,” was given by retired United Methodist Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany, who is Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council.

Wenner captured the audience’s attention with her words of exhortation to the Korean church, sharing the experience of how the German church played a major role in the reunification of Germany before and after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

“History can take unexpected turns,” she said. “Expect miracles, prepare for miracles and think about possible next steps and scenarios.”

Wenner emphasized the need to resist the temptation to justify violence as a means of change, and to pray and work for even small changes.

“Peaceful unification is never done; it is a journey, an ongoing task, nourished by our longing for justice and our hope in Christ, the Prince of Peace,” she said.

To those working for peace and reunification in South Korea, Wenner urged, “Have faith, hope and confidence in this journey, and keep going, going and going, thinking not only about the steps to reunification but also expecting miracles and preparing for the next quest for peace and reunification of Koreas.”

The final lecture, given by former Korean Prime Minister Dr. Sang Jang, was “The Road to a Unified Future.”

Jang acknowledged that it is an uncomfortable matter to look forward to the unification of Korea today, while people’s attention is focused on nuclear deterrence and defense. 

“However,” she said, “a path of communication between North and South Korea should not be ignored.”

Jang added the Korean church should be a community of forgiveness and reconciliation, as in the Lord’s Prayer.

“As we pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ we have to pray for ‘daily bread for North Koreans,’ and as we pray ‘forgive our trespasses,’ we have to seek a community of forgiveness, reconciliation and grace,” she said.

The Rev. Hyang-Ja Lim, principal of Heavenly Dream Academy, which was founded in March 2003 for North Korean youth defectors in South Korea, explained that the school has sent more than 90 students to universities and is working to help them overcome the trauma of their lives in the North and the pain they are experiencing in South Korea.

Participants to the Roundtable adopted a statement containing four action items resolved at the meeting:

  • To observe the Sunday before Aug. 15 each year as Prayer Sunday for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula and to pray with the churches of Korea.
  • Methodist churches and ecumenical partners worldwide, through dialogue and relationships, uphold, support and stand in solidarity with the Korean church and the Korean diaspora as they seek lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Develop youth and women’s leadership in peace work, ensuring that young people have an equal and meaningful role in peace.
  • Encourage Methodist churches worldwide to organize a joint peace pilgrimage to fulfill their role as peacemakers and bridge builders.

Quoting Matthew 5:43-48 at the closing worship service, United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Conference said, “The Bible passage doesn’t give us any room for other interpretations. It says, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute,’ and it is very shocking.

“Do we love those who persecute us? Do we love those who have divided our country into North and South? Can we forgive those who have harmed us?”

Jung called the work toward reunification an opportunity to witness the power of Jesus Christ in our individual and community lives.

“We are called to do that hard love, not an easy love,” he said, noting that love can bring pain and make it difficult for us, but we must still love and forgive.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, told UM News that the event was educational and personally helpful for him to understand the geopolitical situation around the world — for example, how the Ukraine-Russia war affects the tensions surrounding North Korea’s nuclearization.

“And it was also a good educational time to get that perspective to hear how we can advocate and support people dealing with the issue of North Korean refugees and who are constantly working to solve very real problems on the ground,” he said.