Korean Crisis Was Focus of Ecumenical Gathering

Jul 14, 2003 12:04 AM EDT

Valley Forge, Pa -- Participants at an ecumenical consultation on the Korean crisis held June 16-18 in Washington, D.C. acknowledged that this is "a terribly dangerous time" in U.S.-North Korean relations but believe there is cause for hope for a peaceful resolution. Sponsors of the gathering, the National Council Churches of Christ (NCCC) and Church World Service (CWS), together with their 36 member denominations have been working with their North and South Korean counterparts for more than two decades in peace building, reconciliation and humanitarian assistance. Escalation in the tensions between the United States and North Korea prompted consultation participants to "bring their particular voice in favor of a peaceful resolution of the Korea crisis."

"A clear statement from the White House that North Korea will not be attacked will establish a political climate for progress in negotiations," participants noted in a formal statement, adding, "It is our conviction that diplomacy and negotiations remain the best approach for finding durable solutions." They also called for a non-aggression pact and peace treaty between the U.S. and North Korea, the exchange of liaison offices between the two countries, and immediate action to address the grave humanitarian needs of the North Korean people.

Consultation participant the Rev. Benjamin Chan, area director of East Asia and India for American Baptist International Ministries, commented on the need for diplomatic initiatives in pursuit of a peaceful resolution of the crisis. ""When I visited the DMZ last year I was so frustrated and sad seeing a line of just a few inches that separated 100,000 Korea families between the South and the North," said Chan, who represented American Baptist Churches USA at the event. "Many people I talked to asked when the hostility between North Korea and the U.S. and South Korea could be ended so that people of two Koreas could become one unified nation again."

Maurice Strong, advisor on Korea issues to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, maintained that if the United States were to take the lead in effecting a peaceful settlement, it would get universal support. Strong also said he was optimistic about the likelihood of success for a comprehensive settlement that guarantees North Korea's security and sovereignty and helps North Korea solve its food and energy crises, develop economically and normalize relations with other countries. Strong and others have emphasized that North Korea needs to agree to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for those guarantees. NCCC General Secretary Robert Edgar told consultation participants that their task was to help break the downward spiral of hatred--"to advance not a view of preemptive war but of diplomatic priorities, not of first strike but a view of care for one another."

The 50th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that divided the Korean peninsula into North and South will be noted on July 27. "We continue to mourn the separation of the Korean people," said CWS Executive Director John L. McCullough as he called on church leaders from the United States and from Korea "to come together and merge our voices and passion to effect a different future."

American Baptist International Ministries has been involved in relief and development assistance to North Korea in partnership with Baptist World Aid, the Hungarian Baptist Aid and the Baptist Missionary Society of the United Kingdom. Many American Baptist churches have given to the relief assistance and the orphan support through the OGHS offering.

"I am very happy to tell our churches that the malnutrition rates were considerably improved, according to a survey conducted by Central Bureau of Statistics and Institution of Child Nutrition in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund and World Food Program," Chan noted. "The proportion of children underweight fell from 61 percent in 1998 to 21 percent in 2002; and acute malnutrition fell from 16 percent to 9 percent in the same period of time. We will continue to explore relevant ways to help the most needy people of North Korea, while we join with the global Christian community to seek a peaceful way to resolve the Korean crisis."