Frankly Speaking ....
- Robert M. Franklin
- Reflections on Korea: The Scars and Ghosts of War and the Hope of Moral Leadership
Professor Robert Franklin
May 30, 2015
This is a selective summary of a seminar-excursion undertaken in May 2015 sponsored by Emory University.
A group of twelve bright and diverse students from the Candler School of Theology was selected through a competitive application process to participate in a seminar built around a ten day immersion in Seoul, Korea. During our pre-trip seminars we had lively discussions about Confucian culture, American foreign policy, and the role of religion in public life. Our orientation reading included the interesting national history, "Korea's Place in the Sun" by Bruce Cumings, and the cultural insights offered by the Korean novelist, Hwang Sok-Yong in his wonderful novel, "The Guest." Hwang's phrase about the "scars of the war and ghosts of the Cold War" provide the title of my reflection. Our preparation team included Richard Landers, senior program associate for the James T. and Berta R. Laney Program and Won Chul Shin, a Korean doctoral student in ethics at Emory and alumnus of Seoul's prestigious Yonsei University.
The purpose of our class exceeded expectations as we sought to understand and interrogate moral leadership in context, speaking with and even acting alongside the women and men who live and lead with integrity and imagination to serve the common good while inviting others to join them.
We began our excursion by immersing ourselves in a city tour and a pilgrimage to the the demilitarized zone (DMZ, a UN enforced border established during the war) just 40 minutes from the southern capital city. Our visit to the DMZ one day before a highly publicized visit by global peace activists set the stage for our reflections and support for national reunification. One of the odd measures of the 'architecture of war' here was our descent deep into the earth by tram into a tunnel that the North Korean Army constructed to move tens of thousands of troops over the border for attacks. Audacious, brilliant and haunting in its potential for social evil. (During the city tour, a couple of our class members were frequently mistaken by school kids for entertainment celebrities and we all had fun with their notoriety.)
We engaged insightful university presidents and deans like J.C. Park of Methodist Theological University and Dean Kim of Yonsei University. Park argues that Korea's diaspora (spread throughout 180 countries) could play a redemptive role in modeling forgiveness and reconciliation as it makes progress in reconciling with North Korea, Japan, China and America. Kim believes that all of us should pay more attention to China as the center for 21st century intellectual, political, cultural and theological ferment. But, he believes, China will need assistance and partners as they now lack the infrastructure and traditions for robust democratic ethical argument and congregational development.
- We worshipped with two very generous, competent and visionary pastors who wish to meet the needs of a dynamic and affluent middle class (Rev. Gu-Hyun Kwon at Sunlin Methodist Church and Rev. Eun-Pa Hong at Bupyung Methodist Church. I delivered an afternoon sermon at the Sunlin congregation and spoke of young Mary as an example of an unlikely moral leader who delivers truth and helps change the world. Class member Jermaine Pearson sang a powerful a cappella praise song that elicited strong approval from worshippers. During the morning service the pastor's father and retired pastor and bishop delivered a sermon on the anniversary of John Wesley's conversion. Bishop Kwon made a generous six figure donation to Candler in 2014.
During our visit to the 75th anniversary of the Bupyung congregation, we were treated to an amazing concert of vocalists and artists from numerous musical genres. They also welcomed a delegation of pastors from Russia and provided real time translation in Russian and English via audio and visual equipment. And, they made a substantial contribution to Candler School of Theology. We saw first hand the prosperity and generosity of contemporary Korean megachurches.
- We engaged a leading public intellectual, political science professor and president of the Kim-Dae Jung Presidential Library. Dr. Chung-In Moon is also Editor-in-Chief of GlobalAsia magazine and seeks to remind the society of the historic role of students as the social conscience of the nation. He also reminded us of the brief but important progressive era in modern Korea guided by two leaders who count as moral leaders, Kim Dae-Jung the first South Korean president to meet with his North Korean counterpart. Often referred to as the Nelson Mandela of Korea, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. And, his successor, Roh Moo-Hyun, who continued the Sunshine Policy of Engagement with the North. His remarkable life, transformation from a self-absorbed lawyer to a courageous public servant was captured in the very popular Korean film, 'The Attorney." My class saw the film on the campus of Yonsei University and spoke with one of its sponsors.
- A conservative government official and director of the Korea Hana Foundation, Dr. Chung Ok-Nim is leading the Republic of Korea's efforts to resettle, welcome and integrate defectors from North Korea into South Korean culture and society. She has been a visiting scholar at Stanford and the Brookings Institute and was surprisingly candid about the challenges of being a woman in a Confucian and patriarchal society. She also reminded us of the enormous challenges of integrating North Korean refugees (or defectors) into a cautious, suspicious society. Many defectors struggle with feelings of isolation, stigma, despair and resentment that South Korea does not provide the full menu of social welfare services they knew in North Korea.
- Perhaps the most remarkable figure with whom we met was Dr. David Suh, retired professor and dean of theology at the all women's Ewha University. Suh is a former student and friend to former Emory University President James T. Laney. Dr. Suh was born in northern Korea where Christianity was stronger than in the South before the Korean War. He saw his father killed by the North Korean army during the war, found his way to the United States to pursue a PhD, studied under Dr. Laney and helped pioneer Korea's brand of liberation theology known as "Minjung Theology" (minjung means 'the people' and is expressed largely through stories of the folk). Suh joined the faculty at Ewha University which has to be seen to be believed. At a time when small single gender colleges in the U.S. are struggling, Ewha has 20,000 female students and is as vibrant and modern as any school I've seen. Suh was monitored and harassed by the government, arrested and tortured, but he refused to relinquish his role as a social conscience for the society.
- After days of intensive meetings with wise and smart people, we took to the streets to join a protest in support of the World War II era "comfort women". There were over 200,000 women from many nations who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. Of the Korean Comfort Women who have revealed their identity, only 53 survive and they are in their 80s and 90s. Some of them gather every Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy. Two survivors (and now, moral leaders) were there the day we joined a great crowd. Interestingly, the window blinds in the Japanese Embassy were drawn during the hour-long protest. One of my ministry students, Marguerite Doctor, boldly expressed solidarity with these women and declared that the time has now come for Japan to acknowledge this wrongdoing, apologize, pay reparations and accept full responsibility for correcting this past wrong. Fortunately, my co-leader and an Emory doctoral student, Won Chul Shin, is writing a dissertation about this subject and he is knowledgeable and passionate about making it the urgent global ethical issue that it is.
During the protest, we heard from a theologically educated female leader, Mee-Hyang Yoon, with whom we met later at a War and Women's Human Rights Museum. She spoke specifically about ways that Americans could help to hold Japan accountable by pressuring our government not to allow changes in Japan's post war status without requiring that Japan accept responsibility which would mean revising textbooks to include this tragedy, establishing an archive, and releasing documents from the period.
- We concluded the evening by joining an outdoor, downtown Catholic mass for the victims and survivors of the Sewol Ferry Disaster of 2014. As I write this, I am wearing a yellow arm band that declares "Remember 2014-04/16". Perhaps the most haunting and heart-rending images we've seen are enlarged photographs of the bedrooms and personal belongings of the 300 high school students who did not return due to the catastrophic accident. Another ministry student, Karen Sawyer, offered a deeply empathic statement in support of the survivor families and a determined pledge to support transparency in handling this public crisis that, in the words of Methodist pastor Gu-Hyun Kwon, wounded and depressed the soul of the entire nation.
- The next day, we visited the American Embassy where James T. Laney served as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea from 1993 to 1996. We heard from political and business experts remind us of the amazing resilience of this country and its remarkable economic growth during the past 30 years. One interesting observation about how far this economy has come in sixty years is that Samsung competes with Apple for global market position in mobile technology. As the economic officer noted, no one could have foreseen this. On a humorous note, when we arrived at the embassy, unaware that the U.S. has one embassy in two locations, we were mistaken for Peace Corps leaders and allowed to enter. After a few moments, they realized the error and asked us to retreat back to the street and proceed to another building some distance away. My students joked that we had been 'kicked out' of our own embassy, a place where U.S. citizens usually find refuge, services and support.
- During a free afternoon, my wife, Cheryl, and I visited the War Memorial of Korea. We felt compelled to do so because we both had parents and other relatives who served in the military during the War. My father was stationed in Busan at the very southernmost tip of Korea in 1953 (a year before my birth), one of the last and only places that the North Korean army did not conquer during its vast, sweeping attack on the South. He brought home souvenirs that bore the elegant Korean flag which were among my earliest childhood memories of distant lands I would hope to visit. We saw records, artifacts and materials documenting the sacrifices of South Korean, American and other nationals who fought for freedom. And, surrounding the museum is an abundant collection of heavy bombers, tanks and PT boats that were breathtaking. Every war narrative is complicated and we learned more about mistakes made by all parties. But, we also paid tribute to the young Americans who served heroically and generally unaware of the larger questions of politics and foreign policy. They wanted to make a difference, and many of them were moral leaders worthy of our respect.
- One day after our visit to the DMZ, a large delegation of women peace activists led by feminist icon Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Prize winners departed Pyongyang (North Korea) and walked across the DMZ. We met with Mimi Han, an Emory University alumna who as an adolescent was in exile in the U.S due to her father's social conscience and moral leadership. She now co-owns with her husband a media company, New Entertainment World (that produced the blockbuster, "The Attorney"). She believes that culture may be as important as politics and religion in accomplishing the reunification of the two Koreas. Through film, TV, art, drama, music, visits and dialogue, North and South Koreans can and should begin to dispel the stereotypes, myths and misinformation both have been fed about each other for decades.
- In a final lecture on moral leadership, we paid tribute to the James T. and Berta R. Laney years in Korea. I noted that Dr. Laney served in the U.S. military during the war, learned the language and had many friendships with church leaders here. So, when President Clinton invited him to serve as ambassador, a position often doled out to loyal, major donors, America had a knowledgeable, experienced and ethical leader representing it. This was especially important in 1994 when the U.S. discovered that North Korea was handling nuclear materials that we believed could be weaponized. Clinton's cabinet was war gaming options and strongly considering bombing the nuclear facility which would probably initiate war. But, they learned that Jimmy Carter was in Pyongyang (thanks to James Laney) as a private citizen having discussions with the leadership there. Soon, he was on CNN outlining points of agreement that would help avoid a war.
- We distinguished between moral agents who live with integrity and contentment but no intentional public agenda, and moral leaders who add imagination and strategic moral reasoning to a commitment to serving the common good. And, moral leaders seek to influence, inspire and invite others to join them in the adventure of human transformation. We met many such people that week in Korea.
- At the conclusion of our seminar, student Stephanie Milton led us in a moving litany of biblical and contemporary readings on peace, women's rights, social justice and moral leadership. She provided benediction to our trip and to Korea's future.
- Our last visit was to the Yoido Full Gospel Church where a former Presbyterian pastor now leads what is regarded as the largest church in the world with over a half million members (periodically spawning new congregations by releasing several hundred thousand former memberships). Despite the vast sanctuary, it felt welcoming and they did welcome our class with the rousing applause of over ten thousand people gathered for a prayer service on a Friday night. This sent us into the night singing gospel songs on our bus ride home.
- Our trip, brief but intense and substantial, came to an end on a rainy Saturday morning in Seoul. James and Berta Laney truly established a legacy of moral leadership in Korea. Almost all of our subject experts and moral leaders referenced positively the Laney years there. The Laneys served their nation with distinction and advanced the common good. Their legacy on two continents continues to inspire the students in my moral leadership class along with the aging Korean moral leaders who helped build a new democracy, and should inspire us all.