During the year marking the 70th anniversary of the dropping of U.S. atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia met in Nagasaki April 20-24 in the spirit of lament and hopeful reconciliation.
"Peacemaking and nonviolent reconciliation are not optional political preferences; they stand at the heart of the gospel and anchor the identity of the church," said Richard Hays, former dean of Duke Divinity School and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament.
Now in its third year, the forum is a partnership between Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The April gathering included 53 participants from China, Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S. The forum brings together Christian leaders from countries in conflict and from different denominations, both Protestant and Catholic, as well as from the academy, church, and nonprofit organizations. Two Duke Divinity students, Janet Xiao M.T.S.'15 and Matthew Ponder M.Div.'16, also attended.
The forum is designed to support Christian leaders in the ministry of reconciliation with a learning environment grounded in theological reflection. Participants worshipped together, discussed a Scriptural framework for reconciliation, and talked about challenging problems—from a rising climate of nationalism and militarization to the complexities of historical wounds, repentance, and forgiveness.
The event also emphasized shared lament through pilgrimage. Participants traveled to places that represented pain and hope in Nagasaki, including a visit to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
Forum organizer Chris Rice, senior fellow for Northeast Asia at Duke Divinity School and director of MCC Northeast Asia, said, “There is a reason the forum is not two or three days, but five days. It takes time to interrupt the ‘us and them’ of historical divides and to receive the gift of God’s ‘new we.’” The key turning point, said Rice, was a pilgrimage on the third day to a small museum that focused on Japanese military atrocities, the Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum. Unexpected tears were shared across divides of Korea, China, and Japan. “These tears are small but powerful seeds of hope,” said Rice.
Duke Divinity School Professor of World Christianity Xi Lian, a leading scholar on the history of Protestant Christianity in China, also participated in the forum and its planning. While Lian acknowledged that it may seem strange, “Duke Divinity School is uniquely endowed with the theological resources and vision to be part of God's work of reconciliation in Northeast Asia. Our Northeast Asian partners have expressed deep admiration for the spirituality and scholarship that the school embodies. The Divinity School has a theological voice that finds resonance in that part of the world.”
While Lian says the central role that Duke has played has been critical, he does not see this as the future of the forum for years to come. “My personal hope is that the mutual trust and commitment established in these early years will generate the needed momentum that will carry the work forward and that the regional leadership that is being nurtured among our partners will take the center stage soon,” he said.