In North Korea You Are Free To Believe In Any Religion, So Long As It’s Juche: An Excerpt From North Korea’s Own Human Rights Report

SUSA-KoreanHenry Ford is famous for having said that you could order his new Model T automobile in any color you wanted, as long as that color was black.

North Korea takes much the same approach in matters of religion, as it acknowledges in the religious freedom section of its own human rights report, released earlier this month. North Korea writes:

In the DPRK everybody is fully provided with the rights to choose and follow their own religion and thought according to their own free will.

Every citizen has chosen to follow the Juche Idea…

For those of us who have long insisted that Juche is not merely a political ideology but a religion, it is worth noting that North Korea itself draws the parallel. It moves fluidly back and forth in this religious freedom report between mentions of Juche and mentions of various religions as it finds itself on the horns of a uniquely North Korean dilemma:

  • All North Korean citizens freely choose to believe in the Juche ideology, which is “the world outlook centred on human being.”
  • All North Korean citizens can—and do–freely choose to believe in and practice other religions, i.e., they are, according to the human rights report, “officially or personally, privately or jointly with others carrying out religious service, ritual and ceremony. They are free to build religious structures or conduct religious education.”
  • According to the report, these religions include Buddhism, Chondoism, Protestantism, and Catholicism.
  • Problem is, none of these religions is particularly well known for being “[a] world outlook centred on human being.”

Well, says the North Korean human rights report, that is because it is only in their adulterated, anti-DPRK forms that such religions are something other than Juche-flavored at the core. And when the Juche flavor fades, acknowledges the report, that’s when the North Korean government has to step in and stamp it out:

Freedom of religion is allowed and provided by the State law within the limit necessary for securing social order, health, social security, morality and other human rights. Especially, the Government prevents the religion from being used to draw in foreign forces or harm the state and social order.

Sum it up and say: You can have any kind of religion you want, so long as when you scratch the surface, there’s Juche underneath.

Sadly, as we’ve noted in a prior post, the World Council of Churches has not yet discerned this. Or, even more disconcertingly, perhaps they have discerned this and yet regard Juche-Christianity as an authentic expression of the Christian faith. Either way, one claim on which we completely concur with North Korea’s human rights report is that the World Council of Churches’ engagement is very, very useful for the North Korean regime:

At present we have the Korean Christians’ Federation, the Korean Buddhists Federation, the Korean Catholic Association, the Korean Chondoist Society and the Korean Association of Religionists in the DPRK. These religious organizations have well-organized structural system (Central Committee at national level, sub-committees at provincial, city and county level and sub-units under them) and their own church, publication, educational organ and so on. They are also conducting cooperation and exchanges with several religious organizations of the world. (Such as World Religionists Peace Conference, World Council of Churches and Asia Religionists Peace Conference)

Last week we wrote about North Korea’s confirmation that our balloon-launched New Testaments are landing true. It is worth noting that the New Testaments we send are ones originally translated and authorized for printing by the North Korean government. So if what we were sending is authorized by the North Korean government, and if North Koreans are indeed guaranteed the free choice and practice of religion, then it’s puzzling why our launches would concern them as much as they do. After all, we are doing little more than aiding the publication efforts they laud in their human rights report:

Publications of religious organizations in the DPRK include “Chondoist Scriptures”, “Chondoist Epitome”, “The Old Testament”, “Hymns”, “Selection and Practice”, “Let’s Know about Chonjugyo”, “Steps of Religious Life” and “Catholic Prayers”.

Interesting that they list the Old Testament but omit the New Testament.

Well, no worries. Fortunately we have that one covered.

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Make A List – How Is Your Suffering Similar To The Apostle Paul’s?

SUSA-KoreanOne of our Underground University (UU) students recently had a simple, yet profound insight that many Christians, more seasoned than her have not yet fully understood. Let me set the stage of our class last Saturday.

We had been studying the books of 1 & 2 Corinthians as it related to persecution. Interestingly enough, the Corinthian church did not have the problem of persecution and suffering that other churches in the region had, or that even Paul himself had. They were a rather prosperous church that viewed Paul’s propensity for suffering as problematic. But it was their viewpoint that was in fact problematic!

They had very little use for Paul’s brand of Christianity – humble, weak and persecuted! So in the Corinthian letters, Paul tried to convince the church that weak Christianity is the best kind of Christianity, because it’s through our weakness that Christ’s strength is displayed!

To go about proving his weakness, Paul listed out all the ways that he suffered. He said,

Are they serving Christ? I am serving him even more. I’m out of my mind to talk like this! I have worked much harder. I have been in prison more often. I have suffered terrible beatings. Again and again I almost died. Five times the Jews gave me 39 strokes with a whip. Three times I was beaten with sticks. Once they tried to kill me by throwing stones at me. Three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have had to keep on the move. I have been in danger from rivers. I have been in danger from robbers. I have been in danger from people from my own country. I have been in danger from those who aren’t Jews. I have been in danger in the city, in the country, and at sea. I have been in danger from people who pretended they were believers. I have worked very hard. Often I have gone without sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty. Often I have gone without food. I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, every day I am concerned about all the churches. It is a very heavy load. If anyone is weak, I feel weak. If anyone is led into sin, I burn on the inside. If I have to brag, I will brag about the things that show how weak I am. (2 Cor. 11:23-30)

Not even thinking much about it, I had our UU students read this passage and then write out the specific ways in which Paul suffered. After doing the assignment, one UU student said that all of us (NK defectors) have at least suffered in half of the same ways that the apostle Paul did.

When I heard that, I felt a little deflated. I realize that they probably didn’t need to learn or read about Paul’s sufferings, because they had all been through the same thing already. Maybe somehow, reading through Paul’s list brought back some of the pain that they had once experienced. They were certainly much more well-versed in suffering than I was.

But then one other UU student spoke up. She said,

Yes, but when we suffered these things, we were not Christians . . . we did not suffer these things for the cause of Christ.

They had suffered these things as ordinary NK citizens and as ordinary NK defectors, but not because they followed Christ. Most of our current UU students did not become Christians until the after they left NK.

What’s the big deal . . . suffering is suffering right? But in pointing out that they had “not suffered these things for the cause of Christ,” she pointed to a very important Scriptural distinction when it comes to suffering. We tend to group all suffering/difficulties together, but when the Bible speaks of suffering it is primarily talking about suffering for the sake of righteousness. The New Testament was written by suffering believers in God for other believers who were also suffering.

In other words, all human beings suffer in a general sense, but we tend to think that Christianity should provide some protection against suffering. Following Christ should bring some measure of strength, prosperity and immunity from suffering . . . at least that’s what the Corinthian church would say!

Paul tried to help the Corinthians understand that suffering wasn’t just a part of the human life, but it was a unique feature of Christian discipleship. If you were truly following the Lord, you would endure a “special kind” of persecution and suffering that only righteousness could bring. And Paul understood that this type of “weakness” brought about God’s strength in a way that couldn’t be experienced apart from suffering for the sake of righteousness. He said,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

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North Korea Graciously Confirms The Effectiveness Of Our Bible Balloon Launches

SUSA-KoreanThis year, in cooperation with our sister ministries Voice of the Martyrs/US and SDOK/Holland, we launched around 40,000 New Testaments into North Korea. We used GPS technology to confirm the landing point of each launch.

Still, it was nice to receive confirmation from the North Korean government that what the GPS is showing us is indeed true:

Our New Testaments are getting in.

In the television news broadcast the KCNA announcer said:

There is nothing more to say about it. South Korea keeps sending us propaganda leaflets and seditious religious books through balloons. One day, we got 1.2 million propaganda leaflets and 2250 volumes of religious book through balloons.

The religious books would likely be ours, thank you, since we only launch New Testaments these days. The flyers typically belong to the human rights groups. And 2,250 would be a typical day’s launch for us.

It’s a mixed blessing, really, this confirmation. On the one hand, the potential downside is that it does show that on occasion North Korea can, and does, mobilize its army to gather up the New Testaments we send. That is pretty remarkable, given that a single launch day can spread New Testaments across an area of hundreds of miles. We can even guess which launches they intercept, since they sometimes send signals back through the GPS (purposely or inadvertently, we don’t know) simply by their handling of it.

On the other hand, as we and other organizations have learned with mass Bible distribution campaigns over the years, interesting things can happen when soldiers are sent out to gather up or confiscate the Word of God, or when piles of New Testaments sit in local police stations or on military posts waiting to be destroyed. When a soldier is sent with other soldiers to fan out across an area hundreds of miles wide looking for New Testaments, it makes for interesting conversations—and interested glances inside the book when others are not looking. The whole experience can prompt a soldier to wonder, “What is in this book that is so threatening to our leader?” And it is awfully hard to find all 2,250 New Testaments from every single launch.

After all, wasn’t it 2,251 New Testaments that we launched that day?…

Posted in Balloon Launching, Bible, North Korea | 1 Comment