88 Declaration International Ecumenical Conference Report

Cultivating Peace, Proclaiming Hope

The National Council of Churches in Korea hosted an international conference revisiting the Korean Church’s 1988 Declaration from March 5th – 7th, 2018 in Seoul. The conference welcomed about 140 participants with 100 participants attending from inside Korea and 40 participants joining as delegates from international church and civil society partners. The conference took place at the Ramada Hotel in Dongdaemun, Seoul. The conference opened with worship, then heard two days of presentations and panel discussions regarding the Korean Church’s situation and conflict around the Korean peninsula beginning each day with a prayer service, and then adopted a communique on the last day.

  • Living Division in Two Parts
    • Intergenerational Talk
      • Five different speakers spanning several generations spoke of their experience of living with the division of Korea and all conflicts related to this and Rev. Lee Moon Sook moderated. The panelists illustrated the divisions within South Korea even among progressive communities regarding the possibility of reunification such as older generations still hoping to reunite with family members and younger generations without the experience of living in “one Korea” unsure of the need for reunification so long as there is a peace system preventing war. Dr. Victor Hsu and Mr. Lutz Drescher gave responses.
    • People’s Stories
      • Three different persons shared stories they experienced during division while Dr. Lee Un Sunn moderated. Ms. Ko Wan Soon spoke of living through the uprising and subsequent crackdown on Jeju island beginning in 1947 where an estimated 30,000 people were killed or disappeared. Mr. Hong Gang Chul spoke of defecting from North Korea and then being mistreated in South Korean custody. Finally, Ms. Lee Sang Young spoke of her family opening up a business on Mt. Keumgang when the tours were open, only to have their livelihood fall apart when South and North Korea closed the tours following a shooting of a stray tourist.
  • Keynote addresses
    • Three different speakers, two from the ecumenical movement and one former
      South Korean government official spoke of the context of working toward peace
      and reunification on the Korean peninsula.

      • Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit was not able to attend so Mr. Peter Prove read his presentation regarding the history of the World Council of Churches facilitating meetings of the North and South Korean churches and assisting in their movement for reunification, also known as the Tozanso Process. Rev. Dr. Lee Hong Jung recounted Korea’s history to put the current crisis in context beginning with the most recent imperial domination by Japan. He then noted the church’s opportunity at this moment and urged the conference to uphold “people’s security” rather than “national security,” calling on our respective governments to do the same.
      • Dr. Jeong Se Hyun spoke of his experience working as South Korea’s Minister of Unification under two different presidents, and the context in which South Korea’s current president is seeking to engage North Korea in dialogue in contrast to the previous two South Korean administrations. A number of participants noted their surprise at hearing the US government had introduced nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula in 1958 without the knowledge of the Korean government. His experience presents a stark contrast to the US assumption that diplomacy only ever broke down because of North Korean actions.
  • Panel Presentations
    • Session 1 – Towards a Permanent Peace System on the Korean Peninsula: Role
      of the Ecumenical Community

      • Mr. Peter Prove (WCC), Mr. Jim Winkler (NCCCUSA), and Dr. Yi Ki Ho (NCCK) presented the ways in which the ecumenical community has participated in advocacy for a peace system in Korea, and how it can use its voice to continue that advocacy now. Mr. Prove detailed current efforts of the ecumenical community such as the ecumenical campaign for a peace treaty that has visited by Europe and the US. He also challenged partners to help in building a culture of peace on the Korean peninsula. Mr. Winkler described the willingness of the NCCCUSA to critique US government policy in the past, and solidarity with the NCCK, however, he also noted observing an insufficient amount of concern among the average US Christian regarding the possibility of war in Korea. He marked this awareness raising as an urgent need and responsibility for NCCCUSA. Dr. Yi’s suggested, based on the positive outcome of the Pyeongchang Olympics this year and past Olympics like the 1965 Japan Olympics, that an Olympics be held in Pyongyang in 2030 as a means for further building trust and peace.
    • Session 2 – Transforming Division and Making Peace on the Korean Peninsula:
      Concrete Alternatives

      • Moderated by Ms. Mimi Han (YWCA), panelists Dr. Matthews George Chunakara (CCA), Rev. Chris Ferguson (WCRC), Rev. Dr. Kim Sung Jae (NCCJ), and Ms. Patti Talbot (UCC) discussed issues that the ecumenical movement has been addressing and suggestions that could move the conversation forward. For example, Dr. Chunakara described the conflict no the Korean peninsula in relation to the larger context of conflicts around Asia. He urged churches to work toward building harmony through reconciliation by guaranteeing space for truth. Rev. Ferguson described the actions the WCRC and its former iterations took in support of the 88 Declaration, and he described the WCRC’s current desire to develop the agency of churches to contribute to peace processes and government policymaking. Rev. Dr. Kim talked of the resurgence of the far-right community in Japan and the current administration’s attempt to revise Japan’s history books. He lifted up the ecumenical effort in Japan to fight a rise in hate speech and to halt revision of Article 9 of Japan’s Peace Constitution. Ms. Patti Talbot discussed the lessons learned from holding the Vancouver Women’s Forum on Peace and Security on the Korean Peninsula immediately prior to the Foreign Ministers Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula held in Vancouver in January 2018. They found the conference of foreign ministers simply reinforced hostile policies against the suggestion of the Women’s Forum, however, it did include a mention of the need to include the value of women’s contributions to conflict resolution. She also noted that the particular need to focus efforts on preventing the US from re-starting open warfare with North Korea.
  • Group Discussions
    • Small groups met Tuesday evening to process the issues they were hearing, to
      air further issues, and to respond to the proposed communique and action plan.
    • Small group leaders reported on the discussions and shared suggestions for
      edits to the communique and action plan Wednesday morning.
  • Communique and Action Plan
    • The draft committee received suggested edits to the communique and presented
      the final version based on group suggestions Wednesday just before lunch
      (communique attached).
    • The draft committee decided that approval of the action plan would be postponed
      and passed on to the NCCK itself in order to consider the full breadth of
  • Closing
    • With a final worship led by a Korean member of the Taizé community, the
      conference concluded on the remarks of Rev. Ra Haek Jib, chair of the NCCK
      Reconciliation and Reunification Committee.
    • Participants who were available went on an exposure trip to Imjingak
      Reunification Observatory.

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