Methodists from around world gather amid global tensions


SEOUL, South Korea (UMNS) - Concerns about tensions on the Korean Peninsula and bombings in the Middle East were acknowledged as more than 2,500 Methodists gathered in Seoul.

Drawing representatives from churches in 132 countries, the World Methodist Council met July 18-19, followed by the July 20-24 World Methodist Conference.

"God in Christ Reconciling" (II Corinthians 5:18) is the theme for the 19th conference, which is meeting at Seoul's Kum Nan Church for worship, dialogue and study. Conference participants come during a time of high tension following North Korea's recent missile tests.

Bishop Sunday C. Mbang of Nigeria, council chairman, expressed concern over the situation. "It is through the special providence of God that all 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."

Council delegates affirmed their support of Korean Methodist concerns by unanimously approving a resolution for reconciliation and peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

In the resolution, the council calls upon the 70 million Methodists of 132 countries to be mediators for peace and reconciliation as well as advocates for the peaceful reunification of Korea. Church members are encouraged to participate in the ecumenical efforts of the council and the National Council of Churches in the United States to help reunite separated Korean families.

The resolution also asks the 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."

Further, the statement urges North Korea to honor the principles of the United Nations' guidelines and to find a resolution to the nuclear issues through peaceful cooperation. It denounces the development of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and expresses the desire for an immediate end to the development of such threats.

Some United Methodists had previously planned a visit to North Korea before the conference with the intent of sharing interests and understandings concerning peace, but the visit was cancelled at the urging of the U.S. State Department following the North Korean missile launches. 

Middle East message
Because of the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah faction in Lebanon, the Rev. Elias Chacour, recipient of the 1994 World Methodist Peace Award, was unable to come to Seoul as a keynote speaker for the conference.

Chacour, who is founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions at Ibillin, Galilee, also was recently elected archbishop of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee in northern Israel.

He sent a message, dated July 17, to the conference. Part of the message noted: "… Since I was elected Archbishop of Galilee for the Melkite Church, which is the largest Christian Church in the Holy Land, my obligations are completely different from what they were.

"Presently I am touring our parishes to encourage them and be present to them mainly since the outbreak of new hostilities. We have never seen such danger and such dependency on the Lord. …

"No place is secure any more. Lebanon has been destroyed with the Israeli war machines. Israel's northern and central parts are daily exposed to the worst bombing with rockets and Katioushas of the Hezbollah from Lebanon. The language on both sides is one of vengeance, of hatred, of retaliation. No red line any more. Everything is possible.

"Everyone is exposed to death. Yesterday while traveling to church at the Cathedral in Haifa, the first rocket exploded one hundred meters away from my car. Haifa, which is actually my residence, is daily bombed with horrible rockets. Yesterday's results were eight deaths and 20 persons injured. Everybody calls on the bishop, on me: What to do? Where to go? People are frightened. They are scared.

"The Holy Eucharist which we were supposed to celebrate on the 20th of July for the day of the Prophet Elias (Elijah) is cancelled by the security forces. We were convinced that Galilee is the most secure place in the Middle East. No more now. The destruction is almost in every town and every village is a kind of apocalyptic reality. Nearby, in Lebanon, the destruction comprises whole villages, towns, and even Beirut. It is simply scary, absurd and satanic."

His full statement was presented July 18 to the council's governing body and received with prayer and a proposal that it be shared with the larger Methodist community.

The body also approved a statement on the latest violence in the Middle East, calling upon the governments to comply with all United Nations resolutions pertaining to the region and to cease violent acts and seek resolution of their differences through peaceful means.  The resolution requested that member churches continue praying and working for a peaceful resolution of the issues involving Palestinians and Israelis.