Has Christianity Hijacked the North Korean Human Rights Crisis?

February 27th, 2012
34

In recent weeks the international community and human rights groups have worked hard to prevent China from sending North Korean refugees back to North Korea. When repatriated, the refugees are subjected to imprisonment, torture and possibly, execution. But why should we criticize China for disregarding human lives for their own political agenda, when Christian missionaries

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About the Author

Marie-Laure Verdier

Marie Verdier is a Doctoral Student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.


Join the discussion

  • newageman

    A good article, very balanced!

    However, what is missing is the historical fact that
    Christians constituted a pro-US political force in NK
    when Korea was divided in 1945. Many of them also
    served as interpreters and assistants for the US military
    during the Korean War. This was probably the main reason
    why North Korean authorty took a hardline against Christianity.

    A major problem with Christian groups’ advocacy for freedom and
    human rights in NK is that they ignore the ongoing Korean War,
    which has never been officially ended with a peace treaty.

    As long as military tensions exist on the Korean Peninsula, Korean
    authorities will try to limit people’s freedom in the name of “national security.”
    This is why they should first work for a permanet peace in Korea if they really
    want to promote freedom and human rights in NK.

  • Anonymous

    A good article, very balanced!

    However, what is missing is the historical fact that
    Christians constituted a pro-US political force in NK
    when Korea was divided in 1945. Many of them also
    served as interpreters and assistants for the US military
    during the Korean War. This was probably the main reason
    why North Korean authorty took a hardline against Christianity.

    A major problem with Christian groups’ advocacy for freedom and
    human rights in NK is that they ignore the ongoing Korean War,
    which has never been officially ended with a peace treaty.

    As long as military tensions exist on the Korean Peninsula, Korean
    authorities will try to limit people’s freedom in the name of “national security.”
    This is why they should first work for a permanet peace in Korea if they really
    want to promote freedom and human rights in NK.

  • Ykim48

    I would like the author to prove a few points.

    1. You – the author – argue that Christianity in South Korea is a religion heavily influenced by prosperity gospel; thus, South Korean Christians believe that North Korea, as a God-less nation, is paying for its sins. 

    What is your evidence? I am not entirely certain that someone with your academic credentials (your profile does indicate that you are a PhD candidate) can make such claims without providing empirical evidence. 

    2. I believe that – as you claim – Christians in DPRK are viewed as security threats; however, I am not entirely certain if DPRK regime actually believes that Christianity, as an ideology, poses an existential threat to the government. Rather, it is the formation of organizations engendered by religion that Pyongyang is ultimately fearful of. 

    It is necessary to correctly argue why Christianity is a threat to the DPRK regime, and instead of just examining the ideological-aspect of religion, perhaps it is wiser to analyze the possibility of organization that religion provides. 

    3. “As far as I know, it was not the Evangelicals who brought democracy to South Korea, but the so-called liberal Protestants, minjung theologians and Catholics.” 

    The statement above is a gross overgeneralization of the evolution of democracy in South Korea. 

    • Turnipface

      1. Ad hominem attack, nice.

    • James_C

      Do you disagree with what she is saying though? seems your points are not really that relevant.  Basically, christian human rights NGOs (some of them at least) appear to be risking lives of many koreans in dprk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Davis/19904733 Eric Davis

      North Korea fears both. Christianity states that God is to be placed above all other things. The KWP states that Kim Il Sung is to be placed above all others. There is a conflict there.

      You should really read about Suryeong’s past to find that his family was deeply religious, a possible insight as to how he crafted the cult of personality that surrounds him, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Porky Pig.

  • Ykim48

    I would like the author to prove a few points.

    1. You – the author – argue that Christianity in South Korea is a religion heavily influenced by prosperity gospel; thus, South Korean Christians believe that North Korea, as a God-less nation, is paying for its sins. 

    What is your evidence? I am not entirely certain that someone with your academic credentials (your profile does indicate that you are a PhD candidate) can make such claims without providing empirical evidence. 

    2. I believe that – as you claim – Christians in DPRK are viewed as security threats; however, I am not entirely certain if DPRK regime actually believes that Christianity, as an ideology, poses an existential threat to the government. Rather, it is the formation of organizations engendered by religion that Pyongyang is ultimately fearful of. 

    It is necessary to correctly argue why Christianity is a threat to the DPRK regime, and instead of just examining the ideological-aspect of religion, perhaps it is wiser to analyze the possibility of organization that religion provides. 

    3. “As far as I know, it was not the Evangelicals who brought democracy to South Korea, but the so-called liberal Protestants, minjung theologians and Catholics.” 

    The statement above is a gross overgeneralization of the evolution of democracy in South Korea. 

    • Turnipface

      1. Ad hominem attack, nice.

    • James_C

      Do you disagree with what she is saying though? seems your points are not really that relevant.  Basically, christian human rights NGOs (some of them at least) appear to be risking lives of many koreans in dprk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Davis/19904733 Eric Davis

      North Korea fears both. Christianity states that God is to be placed above all other things. The KWP states that Kim Il Sung is to be placed above all others. There is a conflict there.

      You should really read about Suryeong’s past to find that his family was deeply religious, a possible insight as to how he crafted the cult of personality that surrounds him, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Porky Pig.

  • Ykim48

    In conclusion, it seems like you’re expressing your frustration over the overtly political nature of South Korean Christian organizations, and I fundamentally understand the main point of the argument. However, your inability to coherently present evidence to support your unsubstantiated claims is the article’s biggest weakness. 

    Good day to you.

    • Mcr

      Actually, I disagree with you there completely. I think the article was balanced, academic and well supported through article references, interviews, UN reports and the likes. So, yes, this is a well-sourced piece and not an article full of unsubstantiated claims as you argue.

      I find it petty of you to attack the authors “academic credentials” and raise irrelevant questions that miss the mark of the author’s argument. The author is not writing a thesis here and she may choose what information she wishes to include in her argument.

      I’ve worked in the DPRK for years, and I also have a good number of friends in the South who are defectors, so for me a lot of what the author is writing on resonates well with my own experiences.

      To the author: solid analysis and you are hitting a sensitive topic directly which is sure to bring some negative commentary. I commend you on your piece.

  • Ykim48

    In conclusion, it seems like you’re expressing your frustration over the overtly political nature of South Korean Christian organizations, and I fundamentally understand the main point of the argument. However, your inability to coherently present evidence to support your unsubstantiated claims is the article’s biggest weakness. 

    Good day to you.

    • Mcr

      Actually, I disagree with you there completely. I think the article was balanced, academic and well supported through article references, interviews, UN reports and the likes. So, yes, this is a well-sourced piece and not an article full of unsubstantiated claims as you argue.

      I find it petty of you to attack the authors “academic credentials” and raise irrelevant questions that miss the mark of the author’s argument. The author is not writing a thesis here and she may choose what information she wishes to include in her argument.

      I’ve worked in the DPRK for years, and I also have a good number of friends in the South who are defectors, so for me a lot of what the author is writing on resonates well with my own experiences.

      To the author: solid analysis and you are hitting a sensitive topic directly which is sure to bring some negative commentary. I commend you on your piece.

  • http://twitter.com/MarieChosun Marie

    Thank you so much all for your comments, especially for the encouraging ones :) I knew this was a sensitive subject and there are lots of people out there doing so much for the North Koreans, this article was not about them. I am a Christian myself and my aim was not to criticize freely but to challenge and raise the level of the debate because I believe we can use conflict to move forward and be more constructive. Marie-Laure

  • http://twitter.com/MarieChosun Marie

    Thank you so much all for your comments, especially for the encouraging ones :) I knew this was a sensitive subject and there are lots of people out there doing so much for the North Koreans, this article was not about them. I am a Christian myself and my aim was not to criticize freely but to challenge and raise the level of the debate because I believe we can use conflict to move forward and be more constructive. Marie-Laure

  • Kankuro

    Dear North Koreans, dont get caught by the illusion called Christianity.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/WHH3MNMAV55WITWNZ4EXZXOOYU Joke R

      The existance of God doesn’t matter. To believers, it is real, and most importantly it is a source of hope and happiness; that’s what counts, especially in some hopeless country like North Korea.

  • Kankuro

    Dear North Koreans, dont get caught by the illusion called Christianity.

  • Hank Song

    The answer is, ‘NO’…  Without Christianity the issue of NK human rights would be something no one knows, or cares about…

  • Hank Song

    The answer is, ‘NO’…  Without Christianity the issue of NK human rights would be something no one knows, or cares about…

  • David Dark

    Does this article not confuse two things. 
    1. The fact that in North Korea anyone, for almost anything, will be imprisoned (more often than not resulting in death), and or put to death, for almost anything at all. Very often for nothing at all. 
    And 2. That different groups and organisations outside of North Korea have over the years highlighted the above and many more abuses, in a variety of way and from a variety of divergent world views.  
    For me the irony here is that a genuine generic communist, and his or her counterpart from the Christian world, normally have the same primary objective. That in light of the situation as outlined in 1, it would be highly desirable for things to dramatically change. There is no conflict between these two groups in this aspect at all. After all, a Christian can not convert a dead person. So the Christian need the person to be alive and have enough food to be not near death. 
    So a little less fighting between groups of do gooders and a little more focus on the common objectives please.
    btw. I count the author as a personal friend. North Korea is her passion. I admire her dedication to the people of North Korea, just as I do for all others who work toward justice and dignity for people all over the world. Why these people do these selfless things is not my initial concern. They do it. They, pardon the catch cry, ”Just Do It”. Long my they continue doing it.

  • David Dark

    Does this article not confuse two things. 
    1. The fact that in North Korea anyone, for almost anything, will be imprisoned (more often than not resulting in death), and or put to death, for almost anything at all. Very often for nothing at all. 
    And 2. That different groups and organisations outside of North Korea have over the years highlighted the above and many more abuses, in a variety of way and from a variety of divergent world views.  
    For me the irony here is that a genuine generic communist, and his or her counterpart from the Christian world, normally have the same primary objective. That in light of the situation as outlined in 1, it would be highly desirable for things to dramatically change. There is no conflict between these two groups in this aspect at all. After all, a Christian can not convert a dead person. So the Christian need the person to be alive and have enough food to be not near death. 
    So a little less fighting between groups of do gooders and a little more focus on the common objectives please.
    btw. I count the author as a personal friend. North Korea is her passion. I admire her dedication to the people of North Korea, just as I do for all others who work toward justice and dignity for people all over the world. Why these people do these selfless things is not my initial concern. They do it. They, pardon the catch cry, ”Just Do It”. Long my they continue doing it.

  • Unknowndude

    The message of the Cross is the Gospel of salvation.

    Our concern is not with politics and all the complications.

    Christians are to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth.

    Arguing about politics and talking about rights rights rights is ridiculous.

    I believe the question to the writer and also to the Christians in south korea or north korea, in fact to all Christians who have truly encountered God and have a relationship with Him is:

    Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    Is the kingdom of God democratic? Is the Lord American or European? Is the cause of the Kingdom, freedom of speech and human rights among other rights often cited by democracies.

    I’m not against democracy, freedom of speech, human rights etc.

    However, the precepts of men are not the commandments of God.

    The Kingdom of God is not a democracy, it has a King who exercises absolute power and who will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

    I believe that while democracy would be a progression for North Korea, the agenda of the Kingdom of God is to invade North Korea with the Gospel to influence every stratum of society in North Korea with kingdom values and principles. Not to turn it democratic. But to turn it to the Lord!

    Look at the state of America and Europe, the capitols of democracy. If democracy was the agenda of the Kingdom, then they would not be in the spiritual state it is in today.

    But Christians need to see that the government of the Kingdom of God needs to be brought into the earth, to influence as salt against the decay in every stratum of society.
    Not lobby and promote democracy, human rights, political rights and whatsoever. They might be necessary to the procedure, but the end goal is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    • Nagoya

      Yes, I agree! I also think it is a Christian’s concern to care about the “whole” being of the person in the physical, mental, and spiritual. And because politics and ideology bring obvious impacts on North Koreans, especially Christians since they are harshly persecuted in NK, then if the Christians who are interested in assisting them inevitably must care about politics and ideals for the sake of understanding and counseling North Koreans.

       Spreading the gospel means speaking truth and debunking lies. But making cultural and national perspectives, attitudes, and actions as a requirement for conversion is something that often makes missions backfire. Those things are secondary. 

      However, there is one example that politics is necessary: citizens are taught that Kim Jong-Il is like a god. In order to preach the gospel, you would come head-on into the issue of the Juche. That in itself is political. God doesn’t have one set of rules for government and another for way of living-all come from one bible.Christians should not make debating their aim, but they should be able to discern what is biblical truth and what national ideals are contradictory to it. This is also to help Christians themselves understand the impact of Juche on those who were raised with these beliefs in order to speak the truth in love, and to be constantly aware of their own pre-supposed framework so that they won’t unnecessarily force secondary beliefs upon NK refugees.

  • Unknowndude

    The message of the Cross is the Gospel of salvation.

    Our concern is not with politics and all the complications.

    Christians are to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth.

    Arguing about politics and talking about rights rights rights is ridiculous.

    I believe the question to the writer and also to the Christians in south korea or north korea, in fact to all Christians who have truly encountered God and have a relationship with Him is:

    Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    Is the kingdom of God democratic? Is the Lord American or European? Is the cause of the Kingdom, freedom of speech and human rights among other rights often cited by democracies.

    I’m not against democracy, freedom of speech, human rights etc.

    However, the precepts of men are not the commandments of God.

    The Kingdom of God is not a democracy, it has a King who exercises absolute power and who will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

    I believe that while democracy would be a progression for North Korea, the agenda of the Kingdom of God is to invade North Korea with the Gospel to influence every stratum of society in North Korea with kingdom values and principles. Not to turn it democratic. But to turn it to the Lord!

    Look at the state of America and Europe, the capitols of democracy. If democracy was the agenda of the Kingdom, then they would not be in the spiritual state it is in today.

    But Christians need to see that the government of the Kingdom of God needs to be brought into the earth, to influence as salt against the decay in every stratum of society.
    Not lobby and promote democracy, human rights, political rights and whatsoever. They might be necessary to the procedure, but the end goal is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.

  • guest

    Christianity is no illusion

  • guest

    Christianity is no illusion

  • Diego Oliveira

    Meanwhile, the ones who keep a low profile and do show to a sizeable portion of the North Korean people that there are people “out there” who care about their most urgent concrete needs are the non-proselytizing Buddhists of Tzu Chi Compassionate Relief. Its ambitious food aid aimed at reaching 400 000 people (4~5% of the total population, directly handed to the people by disciplined volunteers who, momentarily refraining from explicitly preaching the Dharma, could bestow a little human warmth on people.

    Story at reliefweb.int:

    Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the) Tzu Chi Foundation held Food Relief Aid Distribution in North Korea              http://reliefweb.int/node/458923

    Unfortunately, the operation was interrupted by the death of Kim Jeong-Il.

    http://www.tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=906%3Atzu-chi-relief-team-leaves-north-korea-after-death-of-kim-jong-il&catid=1%3Ataiwan&Itemid=263&lang=en

  • Diego Oliveira

    Meanwhile, the ones who keep a low profile and do show to a sizeable portion of the North Korean people that there are people “out there” who care about their most urgent concrete needs are the non-proselytizing Buddhists of Tzu Chi Compassionate Relief. Its ambitious food aid aimed at reaching 400 000 people (4~5% of the total population, directly handed to the people by disciplined volunteers who, momentarily refraining from explicitly preaching the Dharma, could bestow a little human warmth on people.

    Story at reliefweb.int:

    Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the) Tzu Chi Foundation held Food Relief Aid Distribution in North Korea              http://reliefweb.int/node/458923

    Unfortunately, the operation was interrupted by the death of Kim Jeong-Il.

    http://www.tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=906%3Atzu-chi-relief-team-leaves-north-korea-after-death-of-kim-jong-il&catid=1%3Ataiwan&Itemid=263&lang=en

  • Finelset

    It makes perfect sense that Christians, who believe in their religion over others would advocate for what they believe is true. We’ll leave it up to the Shamans to advocate for Shamanism in NK. That’s why there are different groups with different purposes. This line of thinking advocates for an “loose acceptance of everything,” and once someone is passionate for something they believe, he/she is condemned for being “narrow” and “exclusive.” Groups of certain interests exist around the world, and this article condemns Christianity as sole the culprit of exclusiveness when every organization has its own mission and objectives as well. Should Heifer International, the Red Cross, and other large organizations be condemned for not supporting other humanitarian sectors as well?

  • Fred Bauder

    Excellent comment. No one who has experienced it and its works should be surprised to see determined opposition to fundamentalist Christianity. Not that life at hard labor is an appropriate punishment.

  • hh

    This article is garbage. Shame on you for villainizing human rights efforts.

  • hh

    This article is garbage. Shame on you for villainizing human rights efforts.