Friday, 15 September 2017

Confucius, Benevolence and Peace on the Korean Peninsula

Rev Dr Ji Zhang 张骥 Assembly Theologian in residence

This week the Victoria/Tasmania Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia passed a resolution to call for the Australian Government to work with the governments of South Korea, the United States of America and allies to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula through negotiation rather than escalating confrontation.

Today North Korea defiantly fired another ballistic missile over Japan, the second such action within a month. It followed the United Nations Security Council imposing its ninth sanction against North Korea over its nuclear testing program which was restarted in 2006.

Church leaders including our President Stuart McMillan have reiterated their call on the international community to work towards a context where dialogue and peace negotiations can take place.

Military conflict during the Korean War never achieved peace even though there was immense loss of life. Despite 35 years of international isolation North Korea has still developed nuclear capability for what it says are weapons of deterrence and preemption.

The need to defuse the tension in this region is now urgent.

Rather than allowing tension to slide into what we hope is unthinkable – war, we should be using whatever influence we have in the region to rebuild bridges across the divide.

Separate from the political dialogue, I think we need to look deeply into eastern culture. Despite more than half a century of conflict, the traditional Confucian values are still intact in the Korean Peninsula.

During China’s Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC), Confucius spent his life trying to end a two-century war among the Princes and War Lords. Although he did not succeed, his thoughts are still the roots of the Eastern thinking today. Among his highest moral principles, the first one is called ren 仁 – benevolence. Confucius argues, war cannot overcome centuries of hatred, but people can only be freed from the circle of chou 仇 - enmity by ren 仁 – benevolence. This kindness towards each other is not self-generated, but is the mandate of Heaven (tian 天).

The Earth is held together by this Heavenly benevolence, just as in Hebrews 1: 3 we read “Christ is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”

This historical lesson has a practical implication. A wall takes two people to build, and two people to bring it down. And it takes a stronger person to show benevolence. At the time when a young leader of North Korea wants to draw the world’s attention to his regime, it takes a wiser elder to point this nation – locked in isolation – to another path. Only by working on the connection, can divisions be removed.

These ideas are comparable to Christian understandings. On Easter Day, God has demonstrated to the world that the Creator did not overcome evil with power, but goodness. Jesus was not freed from the circle of suffering by weapons, but by the love of God. New life is not found among the dead. (Luke 24:5) What moves history is not vengeance driven by enmity, but by the forgiveness of sins. (John 20: 23)

Standing under the Cross, we see reality differently. Nuclear weapons are not the vehicle of peace, but the reverse, insecurity. Sanctions are not bridge-building, but isolating. Since 1953, history has told us confrontation in this region is not a means to bring down the divided wall, but only a way of fostering a narrowly defined self-security rooted in instability.

Standing in the shadow of the Cross, we see the importance of connecting people across the divide.

Dialogue within the Korean Peninsula, Six-Party Talks, multilateral engagements, and humanitarian contacts are valid paths that have not been exhausted.

Churches too have a part to play. The World Council of Churches recently gathered 40 church leaders from North Korea and South Korea and around the world. They came for one purpose – to set an example of peaceful dialogue on the common interest of peace.

The meeting ended with the sharing of Communion where international representatives came to receive the elements from two national leaders from the divided North and South.

On the Cross, suffering and life, division and wholeness, meet face to face and become one.

This is the very reason that the Church sees the world with hope.

As Uniting Church members, our calling is to be a fellowship of reconciliation, building the bridges across human divides which can lead to peace, to model and to advocate for connection rather than isolation, and to encourage our Government to participate in processes of conflict resolution on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere in God’s world.