Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who helped avert a crisis between North Korea and the United States in 1994, has been working for peace for the entire Korean Peninsula ever since.
In his opening address at the 2018 Roundtable for Peace on the Korean Peninsula — a Nov. 9-11 event hosted by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries — Carter commended representatives of various Methodist denominations and ecumenical organizations for their own peace efforts.
“I can’t think of a more worthy comprehensive effort for the Methodist churches of the world and for the World Council of Churches together and others … than to work for peace in the Korean Peninsula and also particularly for peace between North Korea and the United States.”
During the roundtable’s morning session Nov. 9 at the Carter Center, the 39th U.S. president joined his longtime friend, the Rev. James Laney, in offering both a historic and current perspective of the situation. Laney is a retired United Methodist minister and former president of United Methodist-related Emory University.
North Korea has always demanded the U.S. deal directly with its leaders to forge a final and binding peace agreement treaty, Carter told participants. “When I was in the White House for four years I tried to accomplish this, unsuccessfully.”
But Carter was successful in 1994 when he was dispatched on behalf of the Clinton administration to meet with then-President Kim Il Sung and avert a nuclear crisis. Laney, a former missionary in South Korea, was the U.S. ambassador in Seoul at the time.
While there is reason to be distrustful, he said, “the fact is that peacemaking is not a witness to the good of peace. Peacemaking is the actual activity of making peace happen.”
While still concerned about human rights violations in North Korea, Carter said he was pleased with the progress made between Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea and Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who have met three times in the past year.
“I am very prayerful that the recent effort by President Trump to find common ground with the North Koreans will be successful,” Carter said.
Continuing steps, said Carter, include proceeding with peace talks, forming a conference or coalition of the two Koreas, the U.S. and China; having the U.S. sign a complete peace treaty officially ending the Korean War and monitoring each other’s compliance with the proposed agreement outlined earlier between Trump and Kim.
In a congratulatory letter to Carter and church leaders and members, the South Korean president saluted the work of the roundtable and noted the strong United Methodist connection to his country and the Korean Peninsula.
“Right now on the Korean Peninsula, a historic window of opportunity is being opened,” Moon wrote. “Longstanding prayers and efforts by Koreans and people around the world who long for peace are coming to fruition.”
The Rev. Jong Chun Park, president of the World Methodist Council, told United Methodist News Service he appreciated how Carter and Laney shared their experiences in 1994. “And their actions were based on their faith,” he noted. “That’s why their presentation were even more powerful. I appreciate their Christian approach toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
A panel of speakers also reflected on the presentations by Carter and Laney and offered perspectives based on their own experiences and Christian viewpoints.
Christine Ahn, founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, talked about how political rhetoric stymies progress toward peace. “But a peace agreement could defuse tensions while serving as a security guarantee, as Laney and Carter both noted this morning,” she said.
“It is our ethical and moral responsibility to bring a closure to this war,” she told the gathering.
Hong Jung Lee, top executive of the National Council of Churches in Korea, was present when Moon and Kim signed an agreement after meeting for a third time in September.
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