Participants in a previously-scheduled consultation here last week on mutual mission between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church in Korea (PCK) expanded their talks to include a joint statement on the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
“While each communion has spoken for peace and justice on the Korean Peninsula in the past, this marks one of the few times that representatives of the two communions have made a joint statement,” participants write in their introduction to the statement.
The centerpiece of the statement is a call to Korean and U.S. Presbyterians to engage in a “season of prayer” between the historically significant dates of June 25 (the date the Korean War began in 1950) and August 15 (the date Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation in 1945).
“This season of prayer is very important because the PCK has declared a special three-year emphasis on the peaceful reunification of Korea,” PCK General Secretary Hong Jung Lee told the Presbyterian News Service in an exclusive April 19 interview. “We are asking for these days of prayer by both churches each year between 2013 and 2015.”
For the people of the PC(USA), the statement reads, “this season of prayer will be a time to reflect critically on how the division of the Korean Peninsula, the unended Korean War, and the separation of families have harmed the Korean people and on what the historical roles of the United States have been in relation to the Korean Peninsula; and to call the United States government to implement a policy of peaceful engagement in relation to Korea.”
Both churches have long advocated for the peaceful reunification of Korea. That call was renewed at the 2012 General Assembly when representatives of both the PCK and the Korean Christian Council of North Korea were present in Pittsburgh to address their hopes for reunification.
Recent events ― North Korean nuclear tests, joint U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers on the peninsula and the closure of a joint-economic project near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in North Korea ― have exacerbated long-existing tensions.
“There are no exchanges between peoples and churches allowed right now by both governments,” said Lee. “There is no exception, even for humanitarian aid.”
In the short-term, the statement calls for resumed dialogue between North and South Korea and the U.S., with support for such talks from Russia, China and Japan. The statement also calls for the resumption of humanitarian aid to the North, the lifting of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, and for the U.N. to appoint a “special representative” to work for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
“Many churches and religious organizations in Korea have issued statements expressing concern for the situation and calling on everyone to cease their military posturing and engage in dialogue,” Lee said. “Whenever tensions rise reunification efforts recede.”
The call to the June 25-Aug. 15 season of prayer is a practical way U.S. Presbyterians can support peace in Korea, said PC(USA) General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa in the same interview. “How we come alongside our Korean brothers and sisters in this time of heightened tension is our continuing gospel witness,” he said.
The consultation also worked on the statement about mutual mission between the churches, whose history together goes back 129 years to the first arrival of U.S. Presbyterian missionaries in Korea. The two statements are intimately related, Presa said.
“As we both seek to address evangelism, poverty and reconciliation (Presbyterian World Mission’s three key global issues),” Presa said, “the current tension touches so many levels of life, livelihood and Christian witness.”
And, he added, it’s not just a problem on the Korean Peninsula. “This tension speaks to our context in the U.S., as well,” he said. “The context of this conflict is global so the issues there are multi-faceted and affect us all.”
The statement calls for both churches to engage together in new and ongoing ecumenical efforts to address healing, peace and reconciliation in Asia ― many of them leading up to and connected with the upcoming 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. The Assembly runs Oct. 30-Nov. 8, 2013.
PNS’ Bethany Daily will be part of the reporting team for the Assembly.
The statement also calls for the PCK and PC(USA) to “support people-to-people interactions between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea in religious, cultural, artistic, academic, athletic, and other fields.”
Complex relationships between North and South Korea and between Korea and the U.S. ― political, ideological and economic ― make such relationship-building essential, Lee said. “We need to develop people-to-people contacts so we can all pursue peaceful reunification tother,” he noted.
“People are more than their states.”