Aug 10

The Tinderbox of North Korea

1.2 million personnel serve in the North Korea armed forces

1.2 million personnel serve in the North Korea armed forces

North Korea today set out a strike plan for the US island territory and military base of Guam in Micronesia, in the Western Pacific.

According to the Guardian, ‘North Korea has defied threats of “fire and fury” from Donald Trump, deriding his warning as a “load of nonsense” and announcing a detailed plan to launch missiles aimed at the waters off the coast of the US Pacific territory of Guam.’ The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) says it will launch four missiles into waters ‘30-40km’ off the US territory and called President Trump ‘bereft of reason’.

Sanctions against North Korea

On Saturday 5th August, the UN security council voted unanimously to impose new sanctions on the DPRK. But the sanctions and the threats from Mr Trump do not appear to have brought peace.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media have been keen to lay the blame squarely on North Korea. Only this morning, BBC news ran a piece in which a young boy on Guam, prompted by his mother and connected to London by Skype, implored Kim Jong-un not to bomb them.  This was not news.  It was propaganda.

Back in May, the United States was amassing its navy off the North Korean coast in a show of military strength. It was practicing bombing raids into the North.  The North Korean military, for their part, have been busily testing missiles thought to have nuclear capability. The Pope urged diplomacy and called for Norway to mediate. How do we pray into all these aspects of what the papers call this ‘Hermit Country’? What has brought international tension over the DPRK to this point?

Would a more diplomatic, even a relaxed, approach have brought about a peaceful solution to the crisis already? Instead of an US apoplectic fit, what if a test launch of a North Korean missile was met with a shrug of the shoulders? Rather than isolation, what would be the result of a policy of engagement with Kim Jong-un and his crew?

After all, the Bible says:

Psalm 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

The sense of God’s word is that in general peace is good and wrath and anger are bad. Moreover, a bit of wisdom and diplomacy can defuse a dangerous situation. And in this case, it’s one that could adversely affect us all.

Religion in North Korea

Open Doors describes North Korea as the worst place in the world to be a Christian. Its ruling family are, in practice, deified. But this was not always the case. Historically, religion on the Korean peninsular was shamanic with elements of the humanistic Confucian self-improvement doctrine coupled with ancestral worship. In the nineteenth century there was underground Christian missionary activity. The state had focused on neo-Confucianism and repressed the nascent Buddhism and Christianity. But the materialism of Confucius was collapsing.

Romans 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

Accordingly, in the 1880s the government allowed large numbers of Western missionaries to enter the country. Protestant missionaries set up schools, hospitals and publishing agencies. The king of Korea and his family tacitly supported Christianity.

When Japan’s imperialism spread to the peninsular from 1910 the Land of the Rising Sun tried to impose its religion of Shinto. Like Confucianism, Shinto believes humans to be fundamentally good. The difference is, for Shinto, evil comes not from poor thoughts but from evil spirits. Consequently, Shinto rituals try to keep these away by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami (the divine – hence ‘kami kaze’ = ‘divine wind’).

Christianity and Nationalism

Christianity became associated with Korean nationalism as Christians refused to take part in Shinto rituals. But a reformed Confucianism called Cheondogyo also took hold. Cheondogyo translated literally means ‘religion of the Heavenly Way’. The word ‘Cheon’ means ‘Heaven’, ‘do’ means ‘way’ and gyo means ‘religion’. Cheondoism is agnostic about an afterlife. It tries to create paradise on earth through inner peace, moral virtue and Confucian propriety. It shares with Christianity the aim of reforming society but lacks the power of the Holy Spirit. The royal family supported the ‘Heavenly Way’ movement as well. But a movement opposed to the Lord of life cannot end well:

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

With the end of the Second World War in 1945, the Japanese were evicted from the Korean peninsular. Sadly, the country was then divided into a Russian-backed communist North and an American-supported South. Many Christians in the North fled to the South. They included around a sixth of the population of Pyongyang. The Cheondoists stayed put. To the newly-installed communist rulers of North Korea, Christianity was now associated with Americanism. That state of affairs exists to this day. If you are interested, there is only one mosque in Pyongyang, in the Iranian Embassy.

Constitutional Freedom

In the DPRK 1992 constitution, Article 68 grants freedom of religious belief and guarantees the right to construct buildings for religious use and religious ceremonies. The article also states, however: ‘No one may use religion as a means by which to drag in foreign powers or to destroy the state or social order’.

This may give us a clue to the problem. Christian Solidarity Worldwide supports economic sanctions against North Korea. But it says: ‘Christianity is repressed most harshly because it is viewed as a foreign religion, and Christians are suspected of being spies.

‘In Pyongyang, there are four churches – two Protestant, one Catholic and one Russian Orthodox – but these are widely regarded as … show churches for the benefit of foreign visitors.’

The imposition of economic sanctions hardly mollifies the view of Christianity as a foreign, aggressive religion.

Threats from North Korea

In 1950, the North Korean Communist army crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded non-Communist South Korea. As Kim Il-sung’s North Korean army, armed with Soviet tanks, quickly overran South Korea, the United States came to South Korea’s aid. In the ensuing Korean War, all the cities of the North and many of the South were flattened. The economies of both were shattered. South Korea rebuilt faster with the help of its US and European allies. Mired in Communism, the USSR-supported North started well but collapsed in the 1990s (see below) and is only slowly rebuilding, hampered by continuing sanctions.

It is only sensible to view things from another’s perspective. Although the North started the Korean War, today its supporters argue self-preservation is more on its leadership’s mind. It has the historic enemy of Japan allied to the US across the Sea of Japan to the east, a US fleet parked off its coast, the US-backed South Korea to the South, and China to the north and west. A small border with Russia in the far north-east completes the set.

Threats to North Korea

Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago reminds us (in thenation.com) that President Bill Clinton persuaded North Korea ‘to freeze its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) … Clinton also signed an agreement with Gen. Jo Myong-rok stating that henceforth, neither country would bear “hostile intent” toward the other.’  He claims the Bush administration ignored both agreements and embarked on a policy of aggravation:

‘Bush’s invasion of Iraq is rightly seen as a world-historical catastrophe, but next in line would be placing North Korea in his “axis of evil” and, in September 2002, announcing his “preemptive” doctrine directed at Iraq and North Korea, among others.’ The sense of what he is saying is that the invasion of Iraq, the ruin of Libya and destabilisation of Syria have made the North Koreans wonder if they are next in line for ‘regime change’. If so, they would be foolish not to take steps to defend themselves.

With (let us say) unpredictable and bellicose leaders in charge of both North Korea and the United States, we are driven to our knees in prayer. Mr Tillerson’s earlier threat of ‘preemptive action’ can only result in death and destruction. It would bring unintended consequences across the region and beyond.

Faint Ray of Hope

As well as the cause of peace for its own sake, this ministry is most concerned about our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea.

The US library of Congress reported a faint note of hope in 1993: ‘In the late 1980s, it became apparent that North Korea was beginning to use the small number of Christians remaining in the country to establish contacts with Christians in South Korea and the West. Such contacts are considered useful for promoting the regime’s political aims, including reunifying the peninsula. In 1988 two new churches, the Protestant Pongsu Church and the Catholic Changchung Cathedral, were opened in P’yongyang.

‘Other signs of the regime’s changing attitude toward Christianity include holding the International Seminar of Christians of the North and South for the Peace and Reunification of Korea in Switzerland in November 1988, allowing papal representatives to attend the opening of the Changchung Cathedral in October/November of the same year, and sending two North Korean novice priests to study in Rome. Moreover, a new association of Roman Catholics was established in June 1988. A North Korean Protestant pastor reported at a 1989 meeting of the National Council of Churches in Washington, D.C., that his country has 10,000 Protestants and 1,000 Catholics who worship in 500 home churches. In March-April 1992, American evangelist Billy Graham visited North Korea to preach and to speak at Kim Il Sung University.’

Visit of Franklin Graham

Franklin Graham Meets North Korean Christians in 2008

Franklin Graham Meets North Korean Christians in 2008

In 2008 Franklin Graham also visited the country, taking in a considerable amount of supplies for hospitals on behalf of Samaritan’s purse. He preached in Bongsu, the largest of two Protestant churches in Pyongyang. Preaching. ‘is not allowed outside of churches,’ Graham explained to an accompanying Fox News journalist at the time. ‘We will be preaching Sunday morning in one of their local churches. But as far as taking a stadium like we would in the United States or in other countries, no, that is not possible here. Many of the communist countries, or former communist countries, only allow you to preach on church property’. Essentially, then, this is encouraging the converted, which is good in itself. However, it isn’t preaching to the lost, which Mr Graham has a particular heart for:

Rom 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

Nevertheless, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of good. Mr Graham, and his father before him, have been doing what they can.

Human Rights violations

In 2013, a different picture emerged. The UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea now found that ‘the gravity, scale and nature’ of human rights violations in North Korea ‘reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.’

In 2014, the Commission of Inquiry went further. It said: ‘there is almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion as well as the right to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association’ in North Korea, as well as possible crimes against humanity being perpetrated against the North Korean people. The Commission also noted that the regime in North Korea “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat”. As a result, “Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted”. Severe punishments are inflicted on “people caught practising Christianity”.’ It was ever thus:

2Tim 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

Importance of The Family

Family and family connections are important to Koreans. Franklin Graham shared with journalist Greta Van Susteren a story about his father’s experience in 1992. ‘It is a little bit of a mystery, but President Kim Il Sung for some reason liked my father, and gave my father a big bear hug when he met him, and called him family.’

Which brings us to the importance of The Family of the DPRK. The aforementioned Kim Il-sung (15 April 1912 – 8 July 1994) is the grandfather of the current leader. Evidently, historians accept that, while Kim’s exploits were exaggerated by the personality cult that was built around him after the division, he was a significant guerrilla leader against the Japanese under occupation. He became Prime Minister of the DPRK from its establishment in 1948 and President from 1972 up to his death. His birthday is a significant public holiday, marked by the sort of military parades we saw last month, and styled ‘The Day of the Sun’.

Worryingly, according to an online encyclopedia, ‘many North Koreans believe Kim-Il-sung is an “almighty god” who “created the world” in seven days as a divine spirit millions of years ago, and came to Earth as a human in 1912 as a messianic figure’.

The Guardian reported in October 2015 on Kwang Jin.  Apparently, the North Korean defector was smuggled out of China by South Korean Christians, who renamed him Joseph Kim.

The Guardian says: ‘When he was very young he was taught in kindergarten about the magical powers of Kim Il-sung, then supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Kim learned that the dictator was the smartest man in the world and that he was able to fly around the countryside keeping watch over all his children.’

Kim Jong-Un & Juche

Kim Jong-un: 'Crazy fat kid', 'Smart cookie' or 'A great person born of heaven'?

Kim Jong-un: ‘Crazy fat kid’, ‘Smart cookie’ or ‘A great person born of heaven’?

On his death (1994), Il-sung was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il. When Jong-il died in December 2011, his third son, Kim Jong-un, born in 1984, succeeded him. He gave titles to the deceased Jong-il reflecting Historic Korean ancestor-worship. Jong-il became ‘Eternal General Secretary’ of the Workers Party of Korea and‘Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission’.

US Senator John McCain crassly referred to Kim Jong-un as ‘that crazy fat kid’. Being rude is hardly a sign of statemanship. Donald Trump called him a ‘smart cookie’ whom it would be ‘an honour’ to meet.  Of course, to North Koreans he is their Supreme Leader, and, like his father, ‘a great person born of heaven’.

The Kim family is also regarded as the custodian of ‘Juche’. This is a Confucian-Marxist semi-religious offshoot dreamt up in the 1940s. It is usually described as ‘patriotic self-reliance’ and has become the official state ideology of North Korea. Naturally, it is described as Kim Il-sung’s ‘original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought’. Juche says an individual is ‘the master of his destiny’. The North Korean masses are to act as the ‘masters of the revolution and construction’. Moreover, by becoming a self-reliant and strong nation they will achieve true socialism.

A Positive Effect

It is clear from the material on the Billy Graham Organisation website that Franklin kept to a personal message of the Gospel in his preaching in Pyongyang. He reported about his father:

‘”When we come to know Christ by committing our lives to Him, God comes into our lives and begins to change us from within,” Billy said after offering them a spiritual challenge. “And when we are changed from within, we become concerned about the problems of our world and we want to do something about them.”  That is why I believe true religion has a legitimate place in modern society and why I believe Christ has a message for the people of the DPRK. In my experience in many countries, Christians – although often a minority – make good citizens and have a positive effect on their societies.’

Heb 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

From that, and we cannot disagree, one would think any government would welcome a body of people caring for their fellows because of their love of God. Surely it could only be good if they were praying for their nation and its leaders. Think of the blessing which could flow. What could any national leader possibly find objectionable in sentiments like this:

Jer 29:7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.

Another King and Saviour

Richard Burton as Marcellus the Centurion and Victor Mature as his servant Demetrius over-acting in the perceptive 1953 film 'The Robe'

Richard Burton as Marcellus the Centurion and Victor Mature as his servant Demetrius over-acting in the perceptive 1953 film ‘The Robe’

But there is a problem, and it is one which goes back almost two thousand years. Just like the Roman Caesars, the Kim family have become used to being subject to no higher authority. Those elevated to ‘Supreme Leader’ or ‘Caesar Augustus’ are regarded by the populace as divine. In a sense, they are the saviours of their country. All wisdom and all provision flows from them. But the Bible says it comes from God:

Prov 2:6 For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
Matt 6:31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

We remember Richard Burton’s character of Marcellus in the 1950’s film ‘The Robe’. The Centurion promised to be a faithful servant of Caesar. But central to his Christian faith was the understanding that Caesar is a ruler under the authority of God Almighty. That suggestion was as objectionable to Caesar as it could easily be today to Kim Jong-un.

Christ is a literal King of kings, more than a mere personal Saviour and helper. The idea of Christ demanding to rule in the here and now over the affairs of men has been spotted in the DPRK just as it was in first-century Thessalonica:

Acts 17:7 Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

Failure of Juche

According to the website NorthKoreanChristians .com: ‘The 1995-1998 North Korean famine starved to death an estimated 2 million people – about 10% of the population – and shook North Korea’s faith in Juche. The closed, self-reliant economic model it espoused was supposed to beat capitalism and conquer the world. Yet, there they were, unable to even feed themselves.

‘The fact that North Koreans are beginning to recognize the economic and spiritual bankruptcy of Juche is evidenced by the recent resurgence of shamanism. Having had their faith in Juche rocked, the North Koreans are turning to gods other than Kim Il Sung. The rebellion has already begun, at least spiritually.’

Fortune telling is illegal, but fortune tellers are everywhere, as people search for anything spiritual.  But of course a more powerful answer to Juche lies in Christianity. The website says the Faith ‘is actually expanding’ in the North. Human rights activist David Hawk interviewed North Korean Christians in Seoul. Hawk writes, ‘Interviewee 29, a former Gugkabowibu police official who became disillusioned and fled to China and subsequently to South Korea, reported that North Korean officials are anxious to catch believers because they fear “Christianity will defeat Juche”.’ Hawk was able to use satellite imagery to verify the locations of prison camps the refugees said existed, but the DPRK regime denied.

A greater authority

Matt 8:9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

As the officer knew, a man acting on his own authority has less authority than a man under authority. Jesus Christ acts on the authority of the God-head. Imagine if Kim Jong-un acknowledged Jesus Christ as King of kings, as his Saviour and Protector, and led his people in prayer for peace and prosperity. He would enjoy far more authority than he currently has.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wanted negotiation in May

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wanted negotiation in May

One answer to previous prayer is that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in April and May 2017 that Washington would negotiate with North Korea with a view to removing nuclear weapons from the country, and not changing the government.

He told NPR radio in the US: ‘We do not seek regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We seek a denuclearised Korean peninsula – and that is entirely consistent with the objectives of others in the region as well.’

But sadly, that more peaceful approach seems now to have disappeared from view, as more punitive sanctions are imposed and the DPRK and US leaders shout at each other. Yet all the sanctions in the world, all the big ships parked off the coast, all the threats and all the insults could do much harm but will achieve precisely nothing of any good.

Do good and seek peace

Psalm 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

The United Kingdom is historically a trading nation. Our ambassadors should be arguing strongly against economic sanctions against North Korea, or any other nation for that matter. Trade in goods leads to trade in ideas. The Security Council’s imposition of sanctions is a piece of ‘virtue signalling’ which will not improve the UK economy. Furthermore it will impoverish, not Kim Jong-un, but the North Korean people. The resolution will entrench the feeling in the DPRK leadership that they are under attack. Sanctions will increase tensions and lead to more expenditure on armaments.

It is an uncomfortable thought that although Mr Tillerson’s pragmatic diplomatic approach would in the end improve ordinary trading links, it would not benefit the armaments lobby which appears to run the United States. At some stage we shall post an article showing just how much money the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrup Grumman have ploughed into re-election campaigns on both sides of the US Senate and Congress.

Senator Bernie Sanders also urged a diplomatic solution after President Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ speech.

It would be a tragedy if the world went to war for lack of a ‘soft answer’.

PRAY: for our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korean. Pray the Lord deepens their faith, adds to their number and protects them. Also pray in the current crisis for diplomacy and understanding, for ‘soft answers’ to arise. As always, pray for peace. In particular, pray for President Trump and the UK Government and for all who think sabres are there to be rattled. Lastly, pray for Kim Jong-un to see himself as a man in need of salvation and the Cross.

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  1. Rox

    This is a very comprehensive account of North Korea !

    “Open Doors describes North Korea as the worst place in the world to be a Christian.”
    I rather think it is one of the worst places in the world to be anybody.

    While not wanting any kind of war to break out, I do wonder if the USA is hoping everybody will forget something. I may be totally wrong about this, as I am no kind of military expert, but didn’t there use to be something called “anti-ballistic missile ballistic missiles”, or something like that ?

    In short, surely by now the USA (in its cold war with Russia) must have developed something well capable of shooting down any novice North Korean missile during its long flight across the Pacific, and probably without causing a nuclear catastrophe in doing so. Moreover, they must have accumulated enough of these to keep on doing it until North Korea runs out. And even Trump must know this.

    1. Rox

      Oh yes, they DO exist !. Thank goodness for that !

      The facts are in Wikipedia.

      They are just called “Anti-ballistic missiles” ,and three countries do have one capable of intercepting fast-moving intercontinental ballistic missiles. One of these countries is the USA, folks.
      (I’m afraid the others are Russia and Israel).

      The fact is that the “Alaska site provides more protection against the nuclear threat from North Korean missiles or launches from Russia or China, but is likely less effective against missiles launched from the Middle East. …. The current GMD system has the more limited goal of shielding against a limited attack by a rogue state such as North Korea” (As opposed to, say, Iran, presumably).

      GMD ? ” Instead of using an explosive charge, it launches a kinetic projectile.”
      That must mean that instead of blowing it up and showering Pacific islanders and rainclouds with radioactivity, it just knocks it off course. Ideal (unless it finally blows up in another country instead).

      1. Stephen

        As if Iran has any interest in bombing the US.

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