Peace on the Korean Peninsula and the Church's Role

I am happy to greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. I bring greetings from all the members of The Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) to our brothers and sisters in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I deeply appreciate this precious opportunity to join this meeting and to offer my thoughts on the issue of peace on the Korean peninsula.

I am happy to greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. I bring greetings from all the members of The Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) to our brothers and sisters in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I deeply appreciate this precious opportunity to join this meeting and to offer my thoughts on the issue of peace on the Korean peninsula.

2005 is a significant year in many ways for the Korean peninsula. Korea has experienced a painful modern history, suffering the invasion of imperialistic superpowers, particularly the colonial rule by Japan, and the division of our nation with the inception of the Cold War era. In this year 2005 we are marking the anniversaries of many historical events.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Ulsa Treaty that marked the actual start of Japan's colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Japan's colonial rule continued until 1945 when Japan was defeated by the Allied Forces, bringing an end to the Second World War. During the long 45-year colonial period, the Korean people suffered terribly.

This year is the 60th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. On this anniversary we recall the intense joy of liberation from Japan and, at the same time, the bitter pain of national division imposed by outside powers immediately after our liberation. This anniversary marks also the 60th year of the presence of US military forces on the Korean peninsula. In the 5,000 years of Korean history, this is the longest that any foreign military forces have remained on the peninsula.

The Korean peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonialism, only to then immediately suffer the division of the nation and the subsequent tragic war that forced people of the same blood to kill each other due to the deadly tensions of the Cold War. While the world community overcame the Cold War structure long ago and established a new world order, the chilling danger of military confrontation continues between the two Koreas divided by the 155-mile-long demilitarized zone.

This year is the 5th anniversary of the June 2000 Summit Meeting between the two top leaders of North and South Korea which resulted in the historical joint statement of June 15th. In the painful history of the divided Korean peninsula, the Summit was one of the most powerfully meaningful events in our journey toward reconciliation and peace. Since then, the two Koreas have been jointly celebrating the June 15 Joint Statement every year at the non-government level. This year for the first time government officials from the two sides joined the anniversary event held in Pyongyang, North Korea.

In this year 2005, we on the Korean peninsula are reflecting on all the events which have held special meaning in Korea's modern history and which brought so much deep suffering to the Korean people. This year, more than any time before, we are urgently seeking ways to build peace.

Koreans have been struggling with the difficult challenges of dealing with the nuclear crisis, national division, and North Korea's economic crisis. Today I want to reflect on Korea's history and what the church can do for true peace on the Korean peninsula, as well as how Korean Christians can work together with sister churches in neighboring countries to bring peace to the world.

Current Situation of the Korean Peninsula and the Church's Role

As I have said, the modern history of Korea is mainly defined by the tragedy of national division. The two Koreas have been engaged in adversarial competition and, consequently, peace has been destroyed. The competition has resulted in excessive military spending, the continuing presence of foreign military forces in the South, and political dictatorship. Neither the South nor the North has been free from the impact of division and the competitive political environment.

In spite of our tragic modern history, the South Korean people have never forgotten our dream of achieving democracy, human rights, justice, peace. We have moved toward democracy step by step through constant struggle. We never ceased our efforts for reconciliation and reunification of the nation. The journey has been far from easy, and many people were killed, wounded, and imprisoned. However, the difficult ordeal could never extinguish the Koreans' will for democracy, human rights, peace, and reunification. In 1987, South Koreans achieved an important breakthrough to democracy through what is known as the June Democratic Struggle. Since then we have struggled even harder for democracy and national reconciliation.

The Korean churches have played an important role throughout the struggle. The labour movement and civil struggle were cruelly oppressed by the military dictatorship. The churches, however, could function in a relatively stable way, secure in the support of overseas partners, and could provide people with legal, safe spaces. The church could play a role as the hub of the struggle for democracy and human rights. Especially, the PROK has been in the front of the struggle, confronting the severe oppression by the military governments in the past.

It is true that not all Korean churches participated in the people's struggle. Most churches were very conservative and supported the government. However, conscientious Christians and churches, even if not large in number, took courageous initiatives, and their activities became a sign of hope to many people.

With the progress of democracy in South Korea many people who manipulated the situation of national division for their own vested interests and enjoyed their vested rights in the past, have been facing a new situation. For nearly 50 years those people never lost political power, until 1997. However, losing in two presidential elections in 1997 and 2002, they began to feel extremely insecure as they witnessed the dissolution of the Cold War structure and the progress of democracy. In addition, the emerging critical stand of the majority of Koreans toward the unilateral foreign policy of the US has become a threat to those people who have maintained their political power and influence with the two pillars of division and pro-Americanism.

There have been many changes within the churches since the 1987 June Democratic Struggle. As South Korea has progressed toward full democracy, the churches that were vitally involved in the movement for democracy and human rights have experienced a loss in momentum under the present situation where political oppression and social contradiction rarely exist. Social movements that were active in solidarity with the churches have developed into labor and civil movements, and the churches' involvement has relatively weakened.

In the meantime, some big churches have regarded the "crisis" of influential people's waning political power as their own crisis. They have taken the role of spokesperson for those people and started to actively participate in political activities. This is a remarkable change from their silence of the past. As a result, churches as a whole are now facing society's criticism that the churches work for the vested interests of fundamentalist right-wing people.

The general situation in South Korea is becoming increasingly complex. But the most crucial factor is that the mainstream of history is moving toward the dissolution of the Cold War structure and toward reforms in Korea. However, there is one major power that is blocking this irreversible flow of history in Korea, and that is the hegemonic behaviour of the United States.

Today, the issue of North Korean nuclear power carries one of the most serious threats to peace on the Korean peninsula. US hegemony is a hidden driving force behind this issue. The Bush Administration is under the powerful influence of a group of hawks or so-called neo-conservatives who are pushing the Korean peninsula to the edge. The most absolute and immediate national issue for North Korea is to maintain its regime, and the mounting pressure of US neo-cons has forced North Korea to use the nuclear issue as a tool for negotiating with the US.

In this situation we must seriously ask what the churches can do for reconciliation and peace of the two Koreas.

First, the Korean church must work for peace, reconciliation and co-existence. On May 23rd-25th of this year a very meaningful event took place at Mt. Gumgang in North Korea. Christians from the two Koreas gathered there and held a prayer meeting and choir festival together. Two hundred ordained and lay Christians participated from the South, representing member churches of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), and twelve Christians from the North represented the Korea Christians Federation. This prayer gathering was a highly significant, historical event in that it was the first joint effort of North and South Korean Christians for a gathering of lay people as well as ministers, and the first such event held on the Korean peninsula. In the past North and South Koreans could meet only in a third country. The main events of the prayer gathering were worship services and a special choir festival. We believe the prayer gathering will give strong momentum to opening up a new history of Korean Christianity leading to peaceful reunification.

Secondly, the Korean church must continue to provide food support to the starving North Korean people, and to encourage the ongoing exchange of personnel,. The South Korean churches must strongly support the North Korean churches. There is some criticism that such support is abused and manipulated by the North Korean dictatorship. But 60 years of division has deepened political, economic, and social differences between the two Koreas. The differences can be overcome by mutual trust and exchanges. As one means of overcoming the differences, churches must help North Korea recover its economy so that it can end the food shortage and feed its people. In fact, we are afraid that the economic suffering of the North can not be solved in a short period of time in spite of our support. It is known that 3.5 million people are in danger of dying unless the international community gives North Korea adequate food support.

Churches must give first consideration not to ideology but to love. If the churches do not care for their hungry brothers and sisters they will be subject to the criticism specified in James 2:17, "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." The South Korean churches must continuously help their sisters and brothers in the North. To translate the PROK commitment to peace into action, the most recent annual meeting of the General Assembly resolved to set up a Campaign Centre for a Community of Peace, and to continuously engage in the peace movement in the years to come.

Thirdly, we must endeavour to change the hegemonic behaviour of the US which is forcing North Korea to make extreme choices. If the US insists on its unilateral diplomatic solutions and continues to pressure North Korea, North Korea will give in to its desire to possess nuclear weapons. If the US is determined to use military force in dealing with the problem of North Korean nuclear power, it is very likely there will be another Korean war which will bring a total disaster to 70 million Korean people. The current abnormal relationship between the US and North Korea must be normalized, and this must be done through changing the present armistice on the Korean peninsula to a full peace treaty. Churches in South Korea can play a role in persuading the US government to change its policy. For this, we urgently need the prayers and cooperation of US churches. The US government's unilateral diplomacy will not be in any way helpful for the US interest in the long run.

Fourthly, we must try to change the thinking of people in South Korea who reject peace and want to maintain the status quo of a divided Korea so that they can maintain their political influence and power. We must show them the road to peace. South Korea is still under the grip of the National Security Law which, still labelling North Korea as an enemy state, is an obstacle to reunification. There are also other policies which are shaped by nationalistic and militaristic thinking and run contrary to human rights. Korean law, for example, does not permit conscientious objection to military service, and conscientious objectors are subjected to harsh punishment. Churches must play a leading role in finding a way out from the legacies of the Cold War era. We must make every effort to build a society that tolerates differences and where none are marginalized. Only then can peace be eventually realized on the Korean peninsula.

Conclusion

We have learned precious lessons from our painful history. We have learned that peace means harmonious co-existence. Through our painful history we have come to realize that the ideal state of co-existence is as described in Isaiah 11: 6-8: "The wolf shall live with the lamb..... and the young child shall put its hand into the adder's den."

We therefore must seek an order of co-existence. We must not oppress or eliminate those with different thoughts and ideas, and different economic powers. We must reject the logic of exclusion and isolation. We reject unilateralism pushed by the few powerful countries in the world. We dream of a world where all people live in peace and harmony. In order to realize this dream, the PROK together with all Christian communities in the world will continue to articulate our vision on peace and to consolidate our solidarity with all peace-loving people.


Thank you.


 


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