With North Korea continuing its twelve year run as number one on the World Watch list of most persecuting countries on earth for Christians, it is hard to imagine that life could get any harder for North Korean underground believers. But new guidelines released this month by the North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security order a crackdown on “superstitious behavior,” which likely means increased surveillance and even greater punishment for North Korean Christians.
Four behaviors are singled out for heightened enforcement: Slandering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, drug trafficking and consumption, distributing or viewing illegal recordings, and superstitious behavior.
The directive comes at a time of accelerated veneration of North Korea’s new leader, which is happening at a much faster rate than it did for either of his predecessors. While Kim Jong Un’s birthday has not yet been declared a national holiday, new songs–like “Can’t Live Without Him”–appear regularly in North Korean media, and the word “Great” has already been added to his title.
In fact, three of the four new People’s Security guidelines apply directly to Christians. In North Korea, failing to give Kim Jong Un all glory and honor is the same as “slandering” him. Underground Christians also make use of Christian videos brought in from outside the country for discipleship purposes. And all Christian behavior–from bowing one’s head to possessing a Bible–falls under “superstitious behavior.”
What would it look like for Christian persecution to increase in already Christian-hostile North Korea?
Our best estimates are that one third of North Korea’s 100,000 underground Christians are in concentration camps. But that means two thirds have so far managed to avoid detection by the state. Some of those would be believers who have been protected because of their high position in the government or their family history. The recent execution of Jang Song Taek shows that position or blood will no longer exempt anyone from punishment.
North Korean Christians would not want us to pity them as these new guidelines go into effect. In fact, they regularly tell us not to pray for them but instead to pray with them–that God will empower us both to be faithful in whatever circumstances he places us. Money and “pity prayer” can’t solve these problems. Instead, we need a willingness to share their stories, share their sufferings, emulate them in our own Christian lives, and support them as they reach their fellow North Koreans for Christ.