This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

First Anabaptist conference held in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is home to one of the most creative and dynamic expressions of contemporary Anabaptism in the world, with potential for explosive growth.

A participant speaks at the first Korean Anabaptist Conference in Seoul on Jan. 30.
A participant speaks at the first Korean Anabaptist Conference in Seoul on Jan. 30. — Austin Headrick/MWC

On Jan. 30, nearly 100 people gathered in downtown Seoul to participate in the first Korean Anabaptist Conference.

The goal of the gathering, according to Bock Ki Kim, director of the Korea Anabaptist Center and co-sponsor of the event, was “to introduce Anabaptist theology and values in a public, academic setting” and to “challenge ourselves as Korean Anabaptists to see who we are and what we have to do in South Korea.”

Participants listened and responded to presentations by five speakers on “What Is Anabaptism and Why Is It Needed in Korea?” Presenters included John D. Roth, secretary of the MWC Faith and Life Commission and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College; Byung Doo Nahm, Baptist seminary church historian; Sang Kyu Lee of the Presbyterian Kosin Theological Seminary; conference organizer and Baptist professor Ki Hyun Kim; and Won Bum Jung of the Daejeon Theological Seminary.

Nonresistance sparked the most vigorous conversation. For 60 years, South Koreans have lived in the shadow of a nuclear power to the north. Consequently, military service is an important part of Korean cultural identity, especially for young men.

The only recourse for conscientious objectors is imprisonment, a choice recently made by Sang Min Lee of Grace and Peace Mennonite Church in Seoul, but his decision remains controversial among Korean Anabaptists.

Catalyst for the future

The origins of Korean Anabaptism can be traced to multiple sources. In the decades immediately after the Korean War (1950-53), Mennonite Central Committee had a modest presence in the country. In the 1980s, several key Korean leaders, based in part on their contact with MCC personnel, began independent theological study of the Anabaptist tradition. Several pursued training at Mennonite seminaries in North America.

In 2001, a more formal relationship with Mennonite Church Canada Witness, combined with the energetic leadership of members of the Jesus Village Church, led to the formation of the Korea Anabaptist Center, which has become an important resource to the growing movement.

Dae Jang Gan Press has overseen the translation and publication of nearly 100 Anabaptist-Mennonite books into Korean. Church leaders and others celebrated the book launch of the Korean translation of John D. Roth’s Beliefs: Mennonite Faith and Practice before the conference began.

Through this Korean Anabaptist Conference, various Anabaptist groups came together to offer a unified voice within the larger Korean Christian context.

“People want to see a healthy, biblical church, justice in the public square and a tangible community based on the Anabaptist movement,” Bock Ki Kim said. “We hope that the conference can be a small catalyst for the future movement as well as a clear invitation to the participants to follow the way of Jesus Christ in their daily lives.”

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