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Methodists sign historic peace, ecumenism documents

By George Abrams

Meeting in Seoul, Korea, in July, the five-day World Methodist Conference pressed for reconciliation on two fronts.

First, a peace march by 300 of the 2,500 delegates in the Imjingak Memorial Park near the 38th parallel sought reconciliation for “the last divided country on earth,” also expressed in a conference resolution.

Second, the delegates the next day watched as leaders of the Lutheran World Federation, the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Conference signed a declaration of reconciliation, reversing a 500-year-old rift among these churches. 


Peace march in Korea

The peace march followed an outdoor worship service at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  Bishop Shin Kyoung Ha, president of the Council of Bishops of the Korean Methodist Church and others placed a placard at the site to commemorate the service.

The test launch of North Korean missiles early in July had led some delegates to cancel coming.  Stress from that and from sitting in humid, 90-degree heat, wearing eyeshades, added to the delegates’ stress of knowing they were protesting under North Koreans ‘watchful eyes. 

Three young women refugees from North Korea offered sacred dance.    At a signal, worshipers released helium balloons to fly into North Korea.  Then they lined up behind several bishops carrying a banner proclaiming “God in Christ Reconciling.” They walked to a Korean War monument overlooking North Korea. 

George Abrams

Bridge over Imjing-gang River

As they marched, they shouted, “Peace now!”  South Korean soldiers stared, unconcerned.  Marchers paused where a passenger train from South to North Korea stopped during the Korean War on the bank above the Imjing-gang River, just inside the 38th parallel. 

Bishop Sunday Mbang of Nigeria commented, “Through the special providence of God, Methodists from around the world are coming together in Seoul to pray for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula in such a time of heightened tension.”

The 19th World Methodist Conference in 100 years opened on July 20 in the air-conditioned 110,000-member Kumnan Methodist Church in Seoul to consider the theme, “God in Christ Reconciling.”

Representatives from Methodist churches in 132 countries walked into the sanctuary of the nine-story church behind the banners for their countries. 

They posted the banners around the sanctuary below the two balconies as a 25-piece orchestra accompanied the 160-voice choir. 

“When people of all nations celebrate Holy Communion together, the future is present,” said German Bishop Walter Kaiber.

In business, delegates approved a resolution for reconciliation and peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. 

The resolution encourages Methodists around the world to participate in ecumenical efforts through national council of churches and other bodies to reunite separated Korean families. 

It also asks South Korean and North Korean governments to support “wide levels” of cooperation and collaboration, continue exchange programs, increase humanitarian programs and “consider mutual understandings and cooperation which would lead us toward peaceful unity.”

The decision calls on 70 million Methodists around the world “to be mediators for peace and reconciliation, as well as advocates for the peaceful reunification of Korea.”

The second effort toward reconciliation was the Methodists’ signing a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with Lutherans and Roman Catholics.

During the Reformation in the 16th century, the doctrine of justification became a major cause of the split in the western churches.  Part of the issue was whether sinners are justified through “good works,” as the Roman Catholics maintained, or “justified by faith,” as Martin Luther preached.


Lutherans, Methodists and Catholics sign agreement on justification.

In 1999, after official approval by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church, these bodies signed an Official Common Statement, confirming a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”  This document outlined the basic truth of the doctrine of justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ and helped bridge the 500-year old rift.

At that time, the World Methodist Council observed that justification by faith and assurance of salvation belonged at the core of Methodist preaching. 

United Methodist discipline says that “both faith and good works belong within an all-encompassing theology of grace.

On July 24, Methodists, through the World Methodist Council, joined delegates from the Lutheran Federation and cardinals from the Roman Catholic Church, in committing themselves to “strive together to deepen their common understanding of justification in theological study, teaching and preaching.”  

The signers also agreed that the document was part of their pursuit of “full communion and common witness to the world that is the will of Christ for all Christians.”

As a result of this conference, Methodists are now a part of a dialogue with the North Koreans, and with the Lutherans and Roman Catholics.

For information, call 235-4940.

The Rev. George Abrams, retired pastor of the Cheney United Methodist Church, attended the World Methodist Conference—the fourth he has attended—with his wife, Jan.

Methodists challenge nuclear proliferation

The 2006 World Methodist Conference’s statement on Korea urged North Korea to honor United Nations guidelines to find resolution on nuclear issues through peaceful cooperation and to end development of nuclear weapons and threats.

On Oct. 9, the chief mission executive of the United Methodist Church (UMC) protested North Korea’s testing of a nuclear weapon on Oct. 8.  The Rev. Randy Day called it “a deplorable act of aggression against the prospects of a more peaceful world” in a statement issued the opening day of the annual meeting of directors of the church’s General Board of Global Ministries.

He called all nations with nuclear weapons to eliminate them.

North Korea, he said, is not the only country that holds the threat of nuclear holocaust over the heads of the world’s people.

Randy said the UMC has a history of opposing nuclear weapons. Its 2000 General Conference called use or threat of such weapons “evil and morally wrong.”

He expressed concern for the people of North and South Korea, and called on nuclear powers and the United Nations to use the occasion of the test “to hasten the work of nuclear disarmament.”

“Nuclear weapons are menaces to all forms of life on the planet and to the earth itself,” he said. “Such weapons must be controlled and rapidly eliminated by international covenant.

“The church has repeatedly called for ending all testing, use or stockpiling of nuclear weapons and for enforceable means to bring the age of nuclear weapons to a close,” Randy continued.

He expressed concern that North Korea, a poor nation, uses limited resources for nuclear military purposes.   The General Board of Global Ministries has sent food to North Korea and expressed concern for the people.

“We value our links with the Christian Federation in North Korea,” he said.  “We are prayerfully concerned for the people of both South and North Korea.

“We join our friends in the Korean Methodist Church in prayer for peace, stability and eventual unification,” he said.  “We hold our brothers and sisters in our hearts in this crisis and extend love that defines the God of peace and hope.”