Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Rev. Rhee seeks path of healing

Presbyterian leader comes to celebrate anniversary

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Rev. Syngman Rhee knows what happens when hate and hostility triumph over goodwill, when efforts to find common ground fail.

        He fled North Korea in 1950 after his father was imprisoned and killed for his religious convictions.

        A decade later, the Rev. Rhee marched in Louisville beside black and white civil rights activists.

        As the spiritual and administrative leader of the Presbyterian Church (USA) since June, the Rev. Rhee has navigated the 3 million-member denomination through emotional and heated battles over homosexuality.

        Months ago, he planned to come to Cincinnati today to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Montgomery Presbyterian Church, one of the denomination's oldest congregations in the country.

        He said he will take the opportunity to share ways to heal for Cincinnati.

        “We must learn to live together as neighbors,” says the Rev. Rhee, the first Asian-American to lead the denomination. “We must recognize each other's particular contributions to the whole picture . . . so everyone can live in peace and equality. I believe that is a basic teaching of Christianity.”

        The Rev. Rhee preaches reconciliation everywhere he goes.

        He has been active in efforts to reunite North and South Korea and worked to ease tension between Korean shop owners and African-Americans in Los Angeles and other cities.

        When he participated in civil rights marches in Louisville, some people asked: “Why is a yellow person involved in black and white issues?” the Rev. Rhee recalled.

        “To me, it was not simply a justice issue or a black issue or white issue. It is God's peoples' issue. It is the issue of the church.”

        The Rev. Rhee's commitment to reconciliation traces to a cold November day when his father's body was discovered. His father, also a Presbyterian minister, had been imprisoned for Christian teachings that ran counter to Communism.

        After the funeral, the Rev. Phee and a younger brother fled south, walking every day for a month. They slept in farmhouses and on the floors of gracious villagers. They carried a small bag with a Bible, family pictures and a few clothes.

        Six years later, the Rev. Rhee came to the United States. He did not see his mother again. It was 28 years before he saw his sisters.

        “I have seen so much of the ill consequences of hostility, enmity and war,” he said from his home in Richmond, Va.

        “We must find a way to reconciliation to create a new history. We can't be enslaved by the past.”

        The Rev. Rhee challenges local churches to get involved in the healing. Otherwise, he said, nothing will change.

       Tonight's speech begins at 7 p.m. at the church, 9994 Zig Zag Road. Information: 891-8670.


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