A group of Duke Divinity students, faculty, and staff attended the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia from May 28 to June 2 as part of the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative, a Center for Reconciliation (CFR) and Mennonite Central Committee project. Participants spent almost a week in Japan, where they worshipped together, attended seminars, and built relationships in order to enrich their understanding of reconciliation in northeast Asia and the U.S. 

Representatives from the Divinity School included: Whitney Wilkinson Arreche, a Th.D. student, Miriam Cho, M.Div. ’20; Angel Clark, M.Div. ‘19; Edgardo Colón-Emeric, director of the CFR and assistant professor of Christian theology; Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law; Sujin Pak, associate professor of the history of Christianity and vice dean of academic affairs; Xi Lian, professor of world Christianity; and Dan Struble, associate dean for external relations and former CFR interim director. They were joined by 70 scholars, practitioners, and church leaders from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S.

The forum is modelled after two other CFR projects, the African Great Lakes Initiative and the Summer Institute for Reconciliation. The forum in Northeast Asia was developed in 2012 at Duke Divinity School, where the Center for Reconciliation brought together Christian church leaders, practitioners, and educators to reflect on the challenge of nourishing a Christian vision of justice, peace, and reconciliation in the region. 

This year’s forum took place in Kyoto, the former capital city and religious center of medieval Japan. The site was chosen in part because in the 16th century, the Japanese government forced a group of Japanese Christians to walk from Kyoto to Nagasaki on foot, where they would eventually be martyred.

Every year, the forum incorporates a spiritual pilgrimage that allows participants to reflect on each site’s history and imagine a future for reconciliation. The first stop of the Kyoto pilgrimage was Nijo-jo, the former residence of the Tokugawa Shogun and the emperor.

Clark said she that she learned ways that women were and still are excluded from aspects of life in Japan, she encountered glimpses of reconciliation during the forum as well. “In the closing service, we used our fingers to place crosses in the hands of those who were different than us. This moved me because there were many Christian Asian men bowing to me,” she said. “This was a lived-out experience and demonstration of God’s work within reconciliation.”

The forum also held a public panel at Doshisha University with Hauerwas, Lian, Atsuyoshi Fujiawara of Doshisha University, and Seon-wook Kim of Soongsil University. Wilkinson Arreche said she was struck by Professor Kim’s presentation on the problematic language of the kingdom of God. “If we as Christians are to speak to the ‘peaceable kingdom’ of God in a world in which kingdom has so often meant conquest, colonization, and extreme wealth through ties with church institutions, are we already undermining such peaceability?” Wilkinson Arreche said. “What [Kim] invites us to consider is profound: power is not confronted with like power, be it physical, financial, theological, or intellectual. Rather, power is confronted with creativity. This creativity is rooted in a Spirit who danced over watery chaos bringing life, a Logos who spoke unsought forgiveness while confronting Roman power with his very body, and a Mother who described peace as a garden in a foreign war-torn land.”

Wilkinson Arreche also said a presentation by Professor Lian on Chinese martyr Lin Zhao helped her grapple with her own white power in the U.S. Executed in the Cultural Revolution, Lin wrote in her own blood the final words, “I cried for you blood-smeared souls.” Reflecting on those words, Wilkinson Arreche said, “When lament meets power, reconciliation is not mere harmony or a taken-for-granted theological idea achieved once-upon-a-time on the cross by Christ. Reconciliation is weeping for the very power that destroys you; reconciliation is weeping for my own American white power and then working to deconstruct it; reconciliation is the blood of the victim bleeding into the very soul of the perpetrator, not unlike Abel’s blood crying out to God from the weary earth.”

Clark said hearing Lin’s story also made her realize the importance of telling stories erased by white supremacy in the U.S.

“If we don’t tell our stories, who will?" she said. “God needs more blacks, more Asian American and Pacific Islanderfolks, more Latinx folks, more Native Americans, to tell our stories. To tell of how whites have tried and continue to try and erase our stories and make our stories theirs. God made us all to be different. When our differences are spoken and told in truth, then reconciliation can begin.”

The Divinity School students who attended the form will share their experiences over a lunch presentation on Sept 27.

Students interested in attending the 2019 forum in Jeju Island, South Korea, can request a copy of the application form from the CFR. Applications are due by Oct. 16, 2017 at 9 a.m.