Ecumenical Accompaniment for Building Justice and Peace in Korea by Erich Weingartner

[This article was written for a discussion on “The Korean Peninsula: Towards an Ecumenical Accompaniment for Building Justice and Peace” at the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which took place in Busan, Republic of Korea, from 30 October to 8 November 2013.]

Site of the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, ROK

Site of the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, ROK (Photo by EW)

The Korean War claimed millions of lives between 1950 and 1953. Sixty years ago, that war paused with the signing of an armistice, marking the cessation of the hot war on the Korean Peninsula. But an armistice is not a peace, and the hostilities of the Cold War have not ceased to this very day. The world’s largest armies, with the most powerful weapons, still threaten each other across the so-called “demilitarized” zone that dissects this beautiful country. This seemingly endless confrontation continues to be used by those in power to prove that the price of security is readiness to resort to arms, and that justice is irrelevant to peace.

In the name of this false security, economic well-being continues to be sacrificed in favour of military prowess. But though the pain of this tragedy is borne primarily by Koreans, the illness that caused it is global. When the WCC thirty years ago embarked on a mission to forge lines of communication between North and South Korea, we could not help but challenge the sanity of the bi-polar world that was taken for granted as a necessity for the preservation of security in our World. We no longer have a bi-polar world, but we still have a bi-polar mentality. Bi-polar illness is what used to be called schizophrenia. The continued division of Korea is a clear symptom of our global schizophrenia. Read the rest of this entry »

KCF appoints new leadership

Erich Weingartner with Rev. Hwang Min U, chief minister of Chilgol Church, and Rev. Ri Jong Ro in Pyongyang, November 2012. (Photo by Stuart Lyster)

Erich Weingartner with Rev. Hwang Min U, chief minister of Chilgol Church, and Rev. Ri Jong Ro in Pyongyang, November 2012. (Photo by Stuart Lyster)

We reported last year on the death of Rev. Kang Yong Sop, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), the only officially authorized Protestant church body in North Korea. (see “North Korean church leader Kang Yong Sop dies“, 23 January 2012)

For more than a year, this vacancy has been unfilled. This morning I received a fax from Pyongyang announcing the appointment of Rev. Kang Myong Chol as the new Chairman of the KCF. Kang Myong Chol had previously served as Chair of the Pyongyang City KCF.

At the same time, Rev. Ri Jong Ro was appointed KCF Vice-Chairman. Ri started in KCF as an interpreter, accompanying Kang Yong Sop at numerous international meetings, as well as visits by KCF delegations to churches around the world. He later studied theology and was ordained. He subsequently served as Director of the KCF International Affairs Department, maintaining relationships with the World Council of Churches and various denominations such as the United Church of Canada.

Text of his fax reads as follows:  Read the rest of this entry »

United Church of Canada issues statement on the crisis in the Korean Peninsula

[The United Church in Canada on 15 March 2013 issued the following “Statement on the Crisis in the Korean Peninsula.” The original text can be accessed here. –CanKor]

UCC crestThe United Church of Canada is gravely concerned about the escalation of tension in the Korean Peninsula. We fear for the safety of the people in North and South Korea, and the whole of Northeast Asia, should a war erupt.

We are concerned by the ongoing joint military exercises of the United States and the Republic of South Korea and the mounting threats of military actions from the Governments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, and South Korea. We fear that these provocative actions are increasing the danger of armed confrontation in the region.

The current crisis in the Korean Peninsula points to the unresolved issues in the region, including the failure to obtain a peace treaty to end the state of war, and the international sanctions against North Korea. The resolution of these issues requires re-engagement of all parties in finding lasting solutions to the problems in the Korean Peninsula.

We call on the Government of Canada to help in promoting an atmosphere conducive to renewed negotiations among the states involved in the conflict by renewing its engagement in confidence-building measures and contact with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea urging the Governments of the United States and of North and South Korea to return to the negotiating table. Read the rest of this entry »

WCC general secretary calls for end to increased tension on Korean peninsula

[The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has called for an end to the increase of tensions on the Korean peninsula and encourages the parties involved to move immediately to dialogue about peace, reconciliation and reunification. The WCC comprises 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. –CanKor]

Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit (Photo by Peter Williams, WCC)

Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit (Photo by Peter Williams, WCC)

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is of increasing concern to the WCC not only because of the impact on its member churches in South Korea, but also for the Korean Christian Federation in North Korea with which the WCC has developed long term dialogue and relationships.

The WCC is scheduled to celebrate its 10th Assembly in the South Korean city of Busan from 30 October to 8 November this year. The assembly is held once every seven years and brings together Christians from around the world in one of the most diverse gathering of churches.

“We have no plans to have our assembly anywhere else but in Busan,” Tveit said. “The theme of the assembly is ‘God of life, lead us to justice and peace.’ It is now that the Korean peninsula needs a message of justice and peace.” Read the rest of this entry »

Victor Hsu: “Separate humanitarian issue from politics”

[CanKor Brain Trust member Prof Victor Hsu was interviewed by The Korea Times correspondent Chung Min-uck on 25 March 2013. –CanKor]

Victor Hsu of Korea Development Institute (Photo by The Korea Times)

Victor Hsu of Korea Development Institute (Photo by The Korea Times)

Victor Hsu, 63, director of International Aid and Education at the state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), believes humanitarian aid should be given to North Korea regardless of the political situation.

“Humanitarian aid should be separate from political considerations,” Hsu said in an interview with The Korea Times. “The humanitarian principle suggests that one must give assistance because there is need, and a human being is suffering or ill. So, the humanitarian imperative should be foremost.”

“Coming from the NGO community, I would like to emphasize that very strongly,” he added.

The KDI professor worked for World Vision International from 2005 to 2010, providing humanitarian aid to North Korea.

He was the national director for North Korea, overseeing various types of aid given to the isolated nation. Hsu was also with the U.S. National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, and visited the North numerous times during his career, since the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry »

World Council of Churches statement on DPRK nuclear test

[The following statement by World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit was issued on 15 February 2013. According to its self-description, the WCC comprises 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. –CanKor]

Statement by the WCC general secretary on resolving the rising tensions over the Korean Peninsula

oikoumene_logo_colourThe World Council of Churches (WCC) is gravely concerned at the test of another nuclear device on the Korean peninsula this week and at responses which deepen, rather than address, the long-standing tensions in the region.

The nuclear test in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a destabilizing action in a fragile region. So far, the main responses risk tipping the region into greater crisis. The current situation demonstrates an urgent need for the members of the Six-Party Talks, the six governments most responsible for peace and human security in Northeast Asia, to return to their own earlier path of negotiations and confidence-building. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean church leader Kang Yong Sop dies

New Year's greeting by Kang Yong Sop

The Rev. Kang Yong Sop, chair of the Central Committee of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), passed away in Pyongyang on 21 January 2012, at the age of 80. I have known  Kang for more than 20 years. On the same day his death was announced, I received a New Year’s greeting card bearing his signature.

Rev. Kang Yong Sop at a WCC Consultation in Hong Kong 2009. (Photo WCC)

Rev. Kang was the son of another Protestant pastor, with family links to Kim Il Sung. Prior to his ordination, Kang served as North Korean ambassador to Romania. He was a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly and on occasion chaired sessions of the SPA. As KCF Chairperson, Kang led numerous delegations to foreign countries, including Canada on at least two occasions. He forged links with overseas churches and the ecumenical movement, attending three Assemblies of the World Council of Churches, as well as participating in numerous church-related events where both North and South Koreans were in attendance.

Under his leadership the KCF became active in humanitarian projects, building noodle and bread factories and distributing food, clothing and other items donated by churches abroad. Two Protestant church buildings exist in Pyongyang, as well as the KCF headquarters and a theological school for training deacons and pastors. Bongsu Church, the larger of the two, has recently been rebuilt, financed by South Korean churches. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: