On Thursday June 7 the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a lobbyist wing of the Religious Society of Friends, in conjunction with the National Council of Churches (NCC) hosted a prayer event in anticipation of the upcoming summit between the United States and North Korea next week.
The small gathering featured Christine Ashley from the FCNL, Jim Hawkins from the Presbyterian Church (USA), Maidstone Mulenga from the United Methodist Church, and NCC President Jim Winkler, among others.
Most of the brief prayers emphasized the desire for a peaceful resolution to the military standoff that has gripped the peninsula for over 75 years. Hawkins advocated for “fierce non-violent resistance” and pointed to the Peace Testimony formulated by George Fox, the founder of the Quakers as a guideline on how Christians should reject war. Ashley talked about obligations to the Peace Testimony and concluded that “we get involved in the politics of peace because we have no choice.”
Maidstone quoted Isaiah 2:4 to passionately advocate for peace in Korea. He then talked about the close relationships the Methodist church has with many South Koreans and prayed for the safety of every person in Korea “whether they be on this side or that side.”
Winkler blamed both sides as being partially at fault for the current situation and called for the United States to “Turn away from militarism to peace.” He noted the Korean peninsula’s tumultuous history as it suffered under “colonialism, war, massacres, privation, famine, and dictatorship” and reminded the audience of the North Korean soldiers the United States killed in the Korean War. He went on to advocate the importance of “refusing to demonize the other.”
Noticeably absent was any mention of the brutality of the Kim regime in North Korea, although Winkler readily reminded the group that the United States was the first to violate the armistice by bringing nuclear weapons onto the peninsula in 1958. While it is true that President Eisenhower deployed nuclear weapons in South Korea to contain the interests of North Korea, China, and Russia, the U.S. has not maintained any there since President Bush removed them in 1991. Since then, North Korea has aggressively pursued development of their own nuclear weapons and constantly threatened to attack the U.S. with them.
The speakers acknowledged the high stakes that have been placed on the summit, which has already been cancelled once, but prayed to God to provide “success as you define it on June 12.” Jim Cason with the FCNL pointed out the importance of viewing this summit as part of an ongoing peace process saying “We know that one summit can’t fix it or even two or three” and he talked about the need for grassroots and Congressional support of peace for any real progress to be made.
Winkler said that in the future he would like to see a reduction of tension between the two countries, an official end to the war that has technically never ended, the end of U.S. sanctions, denuclearization on both sides, and eventual unification of the two countries. Both Winkler and Mulenga endorsed the strength of Methodist and Presbyterian churches in South Korea and pointed to them as being integral to spreading the Bible to the North. It is “important to respect the vision of Koreans” said Winkler who also mentioned the growing skepticism of South Koreans to reunification with a country that is becoming increasingly culturally distinct. Winkler was optimistic about the prospects of Koreans ministering to their own people as South Korea has become one of the world’s leading producers of missionaries in recent years.
Hawkins offered a prayer for unity with the many organizations and individuals around the world praying every day for a successful negotiation. Winkler described how surprised he was that Trump had been able to lead the two countries to the negotiation table and compared the situation to the moment when Nelson Mandela was unexpectedly freed from prison. He asked for a similar miracle to occur during next week’s summit.
David Jensen is a Summer intern for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is from Newport Beach, California and is a rising senior at the College of William and Mary where he is majoring in History and Government.