The archbishops of the Anglican Church in Japan and Korea drew laughter when they described their initial mutual dislike for one another, for historical and personal reasons.
Old hurts die hard, and it took faithfulness, forgiveness, dedication, patience and listening for the two — South Korean Archbishop Paul Keun Sang Kim and Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Anglican Church in Japan) Archbishop Nathaniel M. Uematsu — to build the friendship and ministry of reconciliation they now share, they told a July 5 gathering at St. Mary’s Church in Los Angeles.
The complexities and challenges of navigating differences in language, custom, culture, race, and ethnicity are nowhere more evident than at St. Mary’s, an historically Japanese American congregation located in Koreatown which is experiencing an influx of Oaxacans from Mexico, according to L.A. Suffragan Bishop Diane Bruce, who hosted the event.
“We gather together today as brothers and sisters in Christ, brought together by Christ’s love … to celebrate the work of reconciliation that continues to flow in and through our provinces, our dioceses, our congregations, our people,” Bruce told the gathering during a quadri-lingual service.
“That love is eternal — and the bond that we share. It transcends language, place of birth and heritage. It reminds us that as Christians our true heritage is much deeper — it is at the heart of God.”
Panelists Kim and Uematsu, along with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, urged some 75 participants hailing from New York to Hawaii to get involved with the political process, to build relationships and to be prepared to make sacrifices to effect change.
Bruce said she hoped the gathering would be a “beginning of this kind of conversation for this church, this Anglican Church, this Episcopal Church, this worldwide network of people in love that we can have together.”
Jefferts Schori said the work of reconciliation and peacemaking begins when we “grow closer through confronting the fear and injustices that divide us. Telling the truth about our experience of fear and injustice is essential, for it is in discovering the other’s suffering that our hearts begin to open and change.”
The actions of the 78th General Convention, which met June 25 – July 3 in Salt Lake City, to earmark $2 million for racial reconciliation, Jefferts Schori said, are representative of the church’s mission “taking flesh as people confront racism and the Doctrine of Discovery, as we teach and form leaders within and beyond the Church to transform the systemic and generational injustice that prevents true peace and wholeness,” she said. “It takes honesty about the past, awareness of our own complicity, and a willingness to reach across the walls that divide us. It requires recognizing our own sinfulness as well as asking for and receiving forgiveness.”
Stories of grace and ‘han’
Experiencing the power of forgiveness propelled Uematsu toward ordination and the work of reconciliation. While a graduate student in Enid, Oklahoma, he was aware that the senior warden at the Episcopal Church he attended hated Japan and the Japanese people because he had been a Japanese POW during World War II. But he refused to believe that he was responsible for wartime actions.
“I told myself, ‘I belong to the post-war generation, so I am not to be blamed for this crime committed by the previous generation,’” Uematsu said.
When he married four years later, that same senior warden asked to accompany the bride down the aisle, to stand in for her father. “He was crying aloud,” Uematsu recalled. “After the ceremony, he hugged me and said, ‘Nathaniel, today the war is over.’ From that moment on, I began to feel my own responsibility for the war.”
In a prepared statement, Kim told the gathering that in 5,000 years of Korean history the country had been invaded 7,500 times, in time evoking a “sentiment of han … an internal energy to go on with life, knowing that having revenge cannot help your anger or sorrow disappear, and that it is silly to avenge in any case.”
The reverberations of the 1910-1945 Japanese colonization of Korea, during which citizens were forcibly relocated to Japan and young women were treated as “comfort women” or sex slaves, remains “as a great wound to Korean people even after 70 years of independence” — wounds the Japanese government still refuses to acknowledge, according to Kim.
Walking the path of reconciliation
But in 2014, the Anglican Church of Korea and the Nippon Sei Ko Kai celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Korea-Japan Anglican Mission Partnership, a precursor to much of the tough work of reconciliation, Uematsu said.
“Even after we started the official relationship, we admit that the work of reconciliation between two churches was not easy,” he said. “But now we can tell many stories of grace which we rejoice and celebrate as a result of walking together the path of reconciliation.”
Along the way to reconciliation, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai adopted a 1996 statement on the church’s war responsibility, “and looking toward the 21st century, we determined to walk with those who were historically persecuted and victimized during the war and still discriminated against, including Koreans in Japan,” said Uematsu.
“Admitting our own guilt and sin is always the most difficult thing,” he said. “However then, only from then, we can go on to repentance and then we can experience the blessing that we are forgiven.”
Through his daughter, the Rev. Esther Kim, who served as translator, Kim agreed that the road to reconciliation was not an easy path.
“It did not happen overnight. It is important that our approach toward reconciliation and peacemaking is by sharing responsibility and understanding each other,” he said. “We need to pay attention to what situation the others are in and try to listen to what they are asking for and what they are suffering from.
Kim said he feels sad and sometimes bitter that although statements of culpability are made, they are not publicly acknowledged outside the church. He challenged Uematsu to find a way to hold the government accountable. He also challenged Jefferts Schori to work to increase awareness about the conflict still caused by present-day military bases in Korea and Japan.
Lack of access to the political process is a liability for the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, Uematsu said. But, he added that “it is our work as an Anglican church to go out and … be proactive with the political leaders.
“We want our government to apologize and admit the past and what happened during the wartime,” he said. “It’s a big problem, but we do not give up.”
Jefferts Schori told the gathering, “There’s a sense that you can’t simply engage government. We have to engage individuals.” A lot, she said, depends on making personal connections and telling the truth about what is known of the past and present continuation of injustices. “I think that’s the way people’s hearts get transformed and they begin to find the courage to stand up to their donor base,” she said.
Uematsu said listening and honoring others is key to building relationships.
“What we have learned from our relationship with the Korean church is that we should meet and talk with people of the other side,” he said. “Relationship is an actual encounter with people: visiting them in their places, listening to them, eating with them, talking to them, praying with them, and sharing their pain, anger, and joy with them.
“It is of no use just to talk about what the relationship or reconciliation is,” Uematsu continued. “We need to keep in our mind that it would take time, a long time, and a lot of work; therefore we should not give up. The other thing is that we should not cling to our own rights.
“It is obvious that when we pursue peace and justice, we regard our given rights as very important. But there can be no realization of peace if people insist on and protect only their own rights and justice for themselves. When we let our own rights go and try to protect the rights of others, or those who lack even basic rights, the seeds of peace and reconciliation are sown.”
He told the gathering: “I want you to come to Korea, to come to Japan and talk to the people there. Talk to us. To make reconciliation between people it is very, very important to visit each other, to talk to each other, to pray together. That’s very, very important and necessary for peacemaking.”
Bruce agreed. “The work of reconciliation is never ending, and it is difficult. It requires each of us to deal with our prejudices and preconceived notions on a personal level,” she said.
“It requires us to be open to hearing others whose experience and opinions differ from ours. It demands our prayerful consideration of our own actions and thoughts, and it requires our best effort in moving our relationships with every person to be able to recognize and embrace the Christ that dwells in them, as Christ dwells in each of us. It is hard — an accent, skin color, country of origin, political party can stir up strong emotions — both positive and negative. It is the work of the Church to transform the negative to positive — seeing the face of Christ in all.”