Finding Unity: Christian Reflections on Overcoming the Inter-Korean Division

Abstract

This collection of articles considers the problem of inter-Korean division from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including history, missiology, theology, and political science. It provides fresh insights into the ideational structures that perpetuate the division, particularly in relation to identity and ideology, which have made the inter-Korean conflict seem so intractable. Each author addresses these issues in different ways, while providing a range of recommendations through which reconciliation, and ultimately reunification, might be achieved, and the key role the Christian church might play in such a process.


This project, “Finding Unity,” was initiated by the North Korea Committee of the Lausanne Movement. In October 2017 a group of Korean and overseas scholars and fieldworkers gathered in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss the persisting problem of the inter-Korean division from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including missiology, political science, theology and history. As part of the proceedings, a “Unification” working group was formed to explore the sources of conflict and ideological disunity that have perpetuated almost seventy years of division on the Korean Peninsula. The contributors were also encouraged to share their insights on how the people of both Koreas, in partnership with foreign stakeholders, might design and implement strategies that not only move toward reconciliation but also serve to establish a new collective vision for the future. The six papers from this workshop contained in this issue of IBMR benefited from the input and suggestions of other workshop participants.

The setting of the Lausanne Movement for this discussion was crucial. Both North and South Korea appear in the international consciousness for varying reasons. South Korea is well known for its rapid industrialization and economic success, for its megachurches, and for being the second-largest missionary sending country in the world. The North, conversely, is known for the brutal oppression of its people and its continued affront to the region and the world via the pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Yet, little is known generally within the world church or the international community about why the peninsula is divided, what perpetuates this state of affairs, and how the world church might engage with the Koreas to facilitate reconciliation and potential reunification of the peninsula. In addition, it was felt that the experience of the churches in South Korea—many of which were founded by North Korean refugees both before and after the Korean War (1950–53)—in maintaining work on North Korea, needs to be heard more widely. The Lausanne Movement, with its global reach and broad participation, was considered an appropriate forum in which to discuss the challenges found within the inter-Korean conflict and to consider what remedies a biblical approach to reconciliation might bring.

The articles within this collection illuminate the problem of division in all its forms in the Korean context: ideological, social, generational, denominational, and physical. A common theme throughout these articles is that of identity, whereby division has been internalized in the collective psyche of Koreans, making reconciliation seem untenable. Chang-seok Yang provides a necessary discussion on the important precedent set by the other great example of Cold War national division—Germany. Although the experience of the German people in overcoming their own struggle has limited applicability to the Korean context, the collective will present on both sides of the border to bring down the wall and reclaim their united identity is instructive in this case. Kyo Seong Ahn and Sebastian C. H. Kim then lay important groundwork for understanding the South Korean church perspective by providing a thorough accounting of the history of mission focused on North Korea and of the development of a theology of reconciliation from a Korean standpoint.

Christopher Rice and Sarah Son’s articles then address directly the question of identity conflict between the two Koreas: first, in terms of the way South Koreans identify with North Koreans, and second, regarding how disparities between the ways North and South Koreans view each other may affect future a reconciliation process. Recommendations are made on the key aspects of potential reconciliation, including what will be required to force a shift in the collective psyche in both North and South to move past seemingly intractable differences. The final contribution, from Michael Schluter and Jeremy Ive, presents an overview of an innovative approach that is currently underway to promote inter-Korean reconciliation through a relational lens. This approach has been applied and developed in South Africa, Sudan, and Rwanda and, it is hoped, will gain traction on the Korean Peninsula also.

Through a range of disciplinary lenses, the articles collectively initiate a long-overdue discussion from a Christian perspective on how to reinvigorate the momentum toward overcoming the inter-Korean divide. They do so by providing crucial insights into the complex nature of the division, alongside biblically sound but as yet untested approaches to reconciliation that hold promise for the future.


This is the author-accepted manuscript. The fully-published article can be found here.

Sarah A. Son, Finding Unity: Christian Reflections on Overcoming the Inter-Korean Division. International Bulletin of Mission Research,  42 (2), pp. 102-104. Copyright © 2018 by the Author(s). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Ltd.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sarah A. Son, a British-Australian academic and researcher, has served in missional church plants in Japan, the UK, and South Korea. She is currently a research professor at Korea University’s Human Rights Center and research director of a Seoul-based NGO called the Transitional Justice Working Group, which focuses on North Korean human rights issues.