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Forum emphasizes need for peace in Korea

7/28/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Brenda Wilkinson*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Marking the 50th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, a United Methodist forum called on congregations to support peacemaking efforts for North and South Korea in the year ahead.

The Korea Peace Forum, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, adopted a statement of "Advocacy and Action for Peace in Korea." The forum was held July 23, four days ahead of the anniversary of the 1953 signing of the armistice.

In opening remarks, the Rev. R. Randy Day, top staff executive of the board, acknowledged the many lives lost and families divided by the Korean War. Hostilities lasted from 1950 to 1953, but a formal peace treaty was never signed afterward.

Those at the forum stressed the need for preventing another war on the Korean Peninsula and discussed efforts to reunite people in the Democratic Republic of Korea in the North and the Republic of Korea in the South. About 40 people - primarily Korean and Korean-American clergy, laypeople, scholars and activists - attended the event.

The Rev. S. Michael Hahm, president of the Korean-American National Coordinating Council, reflected on the agony that the prospect of war brings to his community.

"It would be devastating," he exclaimed, pointing out that many Korean Americans have relatives in both North and South Korea. "Our sons and daughters also serve in the Armed Forces of the United States, including in South Korea, where the U.S. still maintains some 37,000 troops."

The forum affirmed the United Methodist Church's resolution, "Korea-Peace, Justice and Reunification," adopted in 1988 and amended in 2000. The church states that peaceful reunification should be a formal U.S. policy goal and that the United States should negotiate a "comprehensive peace settlement" in Korea. The statement can be found in the denomination's Book of Resolutions.

Members of a Board of Global Ministries fact-finding team that visited North Korea last year were among the speakers at the forum. The team included Hahm; director Mary A. Baldridge of the Baltimore-Washington Conference; the Rev. Youngsook Kang, board staff executive over Mission Context and Relationships; and the Rev. Paul Dirdak, who heads the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

During their visit, delegates said they were frequently asked questions about the inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil" reference made by President Bush in January 2002.

Team members said they heard numerous pleas for reunification during their stay, and they observed the need for more humanitarian aid.

Baldridge highlighted the importance of continued support for Christians with whom they worshipped in North Korea.

Warnings were sounded by Professor Charles K. Armstrong of Columbia University, who specializes in modern Korean, East Asian and international history, and Leon V. Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research in New York.

Armstrong, author of The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 and other works on Korea, chronicled the events that he believes led to North Korea's distrust of the United States. "We must remember that views of the world are shaped by historical circumstances," he said.

Likewise, Sigal challenged participants in a presentation titled, "North Korea Is No Iraq." "There is a great divide in American foreign policy-thinking between those who believe that we have to push other countries around to get our way in the world and those who think that cooperation can sometimes reduce threats to our security," he said.

Day closed the forum on an optimistic note. "As United Methodists, we have been consistent and in the right place on these issues for a long time," he said. He stressed the importance of being persistent in contacting U.S. politicians at both the local and national levels in support of peace in Korea.

"Now is the time to step forward," he said. "Let us not be fearful but confident that we can make an impact."
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*Wilkinson is a retired staff writer for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

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