World Council of Churches visiting North Korea

UPDATE 2: Well apparently the World Council of Churches is in bed with the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  According to their most recent press release:

Nearly 140 leaders from the world’s churches, North and South Koreans among them, have called for the formation of an inter-Korean confederation even before complete reunification of Korea can take place. Agreement was reached at the close of a three-day meeting in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong where the Christian leaders expressed unrelenting hope for peace and reconciliation among Koreans, despite the stark realities of the ongoing division of the Korean peninsula.

The call for a confederation came in a communiqué developed by the group at the end of their international consultation on Korean reunification. The “Tsuen Wan Communiqué” says the confederation option would involve progressive steps such as peaceful co-existence and the furthering of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

The proposal for an inter-Korean confederation was presented to the group jointly by church leaders from North and South Korea on the final day of deliberations.

The “confederation system would respect both governments”, said the Rev. Kang Yong Sop, chairman of the Korea Christian Federation of North Korea, in a presentation to the group on Friday morning.

“North and South Korea must first recognize each other’s systems and engage in cooperation in any field possible, and institutionalize the results,” said Suh Bo Hyug, a member of the National Council of Churches in Korea’s reconciliation and reunification committee: “Only then will they move closer to reunification.”

The communiqué was the outcome of a consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula held 21 to 23 October 2009, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

Of course the confederation plan was raised by Kim Il sung years ago and the DPRK is still pushing that vision as an intermediary step towards reunification.

And if there was any doubt remaining:

They also called for all sanctions against North Korea imposed by the United Nations Security Council to be lifted, for immediate bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, and for North and South Korea to implement fully the 15 June 2000 North-South Joint Declaration and the 4 October 2007 Declaration, both of which spelled out a number of goals and steps toward reunification.

UPDATE 1:  The WCC issued an interesting press release following their visit to the DPRK.  Here is an excerpt:

Visiting North Korea at the invitation of the Korean Christian Federation of North Korea, Kobia and the delegation visited three churches on Sunday 18 October.

In addition to visiting the Bong Soo Church the delegation also visited the Chilgol Church in the capital, Pyongyang, and a house church of 12 members in the town of Sunam which is near Pyongyang.

Continuing with the Corinthian example Kobia told the Bong Soo congregation that no church is more important than the other. “The body is whole when all the parts cooperate with each other,” he said. “Therefore in his letter to the churches in Corinth, Paul appeals to the community to recognize each other as being a very important part of the body.”

The Bong Soo Church was constructed in 1987 with funding from the North Korean government and the Presbyterian Church of Korea. The church is thoroughly modern with a full sound system, balcony and music text on a large screen in front of the church, a video camera system, a high-lofted ceiling and an area for a large choir.

Bibles and songbooks line the seating areas for the congregations. Within the church compound is a recently constructed theological seminary where 12 students are now enrolled to earn degrees in evangelism.

The Bong Soo worship service overflowed with music from the choir, soloists and several women’s groups, mostly singing traditional hymns. Asked if the abundance of music was especially for the WCC delegation, a congregation member said no, “this happens every week.”

The smaller congregation at the Chilgol Church, which the WCC delegation also visited, has been in existence since the late 1800s. The current building is relatively new, as the original building was destroyed in the Korean War by the U.S. bombing of Pyongyang.

A WCC delegation member asked the congregation about the noticeable absence of children in the churches. While acknowledging this is a challenge within North Korean society, they said the children are involved in a broad range of other activities and some will at a later age come to church. They said it was their job to teach their children at home about Christianity.

On Sunday afternoon the WCC delegation visited a house church of 12 members who meet in a home in the community of Sunam outside of Pyongyang. They said the house church movement within North Korea is growing.

The church meets on Sundays, sitting on the floor of the living room of a member’s home. One member brings an accordion to accompany the singing. The singing in the North Korean church tends to be extraordinarily rich and is a key part, along with prayer and teaching, of any worship service.

Read the full press release here.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the press release on their web page (written before departure):

The visit is at the invitation of and being organized by the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) of North Korea and will take place 17 to 20 October.

“We will be meeting with the churches, government officials and learning about the life and witness of churches in North Korea,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC Public Witness programme and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, who will be a member of the delegation travelling with Kobia. “We will be participating in the worship service at Bong Soo Church in Pyongyang, where the WCC general secretary will preach.”

The churches in North Korea are involved in social development and humanitarian aid assistance, and the members of WCC’s ecumenical fellowship have been supportive to the KCF for the past several years, said Chunakara.

The visit is taking place at a time when intense multilateral diplomatic efforts and negotiations are under way on issues related to denuclearization of North Korea and resumption of Six Party Talks, which were stalled for some time after North Korea withdrew from the talks.

Although North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is said to have made the announcement to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang last week during his three-day visit that North Korea would return to the Six Party Talks, it is also reported that Kim Jong-il said the return would be dependent on the progress of its planned bilateral talks with the US.

The WCC has been relating with the churches in North Korea for the past 25 years, with the first official visit having taken place in 1985. In the early 1980s the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs initiated a process aimed at peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula and bringing church leaders from North and South Korea together.

This is the second visit of a WCC general secretary in ten years. In 1999, then general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser visited North Korea.

After the visit to North Korea, the delegation will travel to Hong Kong to participate in an international consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula, which will be held from 21 to 23 October.

The WCC general secretary will be accompanied by WCC staff members Mathews George Chunakara, Christina Papazoglou, Mark Beach and Peter Williams, as well as the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Dr Prawate Khid-arn.

Critics of the DPRK have long argued that the primary purpose of Korean Christian Federation is to attract aid from foreign religious organizations. This is probably true to some extent, but the organization has been around since the 1940s so it is likely that by this point its mission within the political system is more complicated than to function only as an aid magnet.

Here are a few older posts about the KCF.

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