At this time of heightened tension around the Korean peninsula, The United Church of Canada stands with its global partners in their calls for dialogue to reduce tensions and renew international efforts to promote peace and reconciliation.
The United Church of Canada has a long history of mission relationships in Korea spanning well over 100 years, says Patti Talbot, who is responsible for United Church Partnerships in Northeast Asia.
“Today, Korean partners call upon us to challenge the rhetoric of fear, and seek positive, just ways to lessen the ongoing conflict,” says Talbot. “When peace is threatened, Christians and other people of faith need to be present and active. The United Church of Canada is asked to pray for peace, and stand in loving partnership with all those who seek peace and reconciliation in Korea.”
The United Church affirms the courageous witness of its global partner, The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), which continues to urge the South Korean and other governments to engage in dialogue, de-escalation, and disarmament, rather than taking steps toward military action.
An August 10, 2017 emergency letter from the NCCK to South Korean President Moon Jae-In notes that the “road to peace” has been made more difficult in recent days. North Korea has reinforced its nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, while South Korea has accepted a U.S. anti-missile program and intensified joint military exercises.
“Military tension is at its height in the Korean peninsula and there is fear of war spreading among the people,” the letter states. “The lives of the people in South Korea should not be threatened by the provocative acts of the U.S. and North Korea.” The NCCK letter urges the South Korean president to engage in unconditional dialogue with North Korea to resolve the current crisis. The NCCK also offers to participate in this dialogue
The World Council of Churches (WCC), of which the United Church is an active member, also urges dialogue and engagement with North Korea. In a statement issued on August 9, 2017, WCC General Secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed “grave concern and alarm at the escalating rhetoric, and accelerating cycle of threat and counter-threat between antagonists in this situation.”
There must be a “serious reconsideration of the failed and counterproductive policy of pressure and sanctions,” Tveit says. “We call for a sea-change in the international community’s approach to North Korea, in favour of dialogue and engagement rather than military and political confrontation … The possible consequences of the failure to do so are too appalling to contemplate or to risk.”
On August 10, 2017, sister churches in the United States issued a Statement Calling for Immediate Cessation of Hostile Acts and Rhetoric Between USA and North Korea through the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. The statements says, “steps must be taken immediately to avoid the possibility of a cataclysmic nuclear war. Increased tension and destabilizing actions and rhetoric by both sides make such a war more likely.” The statement ends with a commitment to continue to pray fervently and “stand in solidarity with the National Council of Churches of Korea (South Korea), the Korean Christian Federation (North Korea), and all others who are committed to a nonviolent resolution of this conflict.”
In this context, the United Church notes North Korea’s release of Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim on August 10, 2017 as an example of what can come from quiet diplomacy and prayer. Pastor Lim, the senior pastor at the Light Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ont., was sentenced to hard labour for life in 2015 after North Korea accused him of attempting to overthrow the regime. We join Pastor Lim’s church in celebrating his release.
On Sunday, August 13, 2017, United Church members are asked to take part in a "Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula." Churches around the world are invited to mark this event annually on the Sunday before August 15. That date is Liberation Day in both North and South Korea, and it marks the day in 1945 when Korea won independence from brutal Japanese colonial oppression. Ironically, August 15 is also the day when the peninsula was divided into two countries in 1948.
The 2017 Joint Prayer was prepared by Christians in both North Korea and in South Korea. It was forwarded by United Church of Canada global partners, the National Council of Churches in Korea (South Korea) and the Korean Christian Federation (North Korean).