Last week South’s Korea’s National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and North Korea’s Korean Christian Federation (KCF) issued a joint Easter prayer. It says in part:
We yearn that compatriots of the North and South unlock the latch of separation and mightly soar on two wings.
For this hope to be fulfilled, the churches in the North and South will
build a bridge of forgiveness and reconciliation
where there is hate and division,
let rivers of dialogue flow
where there is distrust and confrontation,
plant trees and create forests where there is violence and destruction.
One latch that is not mentioned in the prayer, however, is the one that currently locks an estimated 30,000 Christians into concentration camps in North Korea simply because they are Christian. This joint prayer, like all previous joint prayers, statements, and meetings between the NCCK and the KCF, avoids mention of those 30,000 altogether.
Clearly it is not a reality that the NK state-directed KCF is willing or perhaps able to acknowledge. I imagine the conversations may go something like this:
NCCK: Do you think we can say something in this year’s joint prayer about release for the captives who are imprisoned because of their faith in Christ, both in Korea and around the world?
KCF: No one in North Korea is imprisoned because of their faith in Christ.
NCCK: Great, thanks. Glad we could clear that up. So how about “plant trees where there is violence and destruction”?
KCF: Trees and forests.
NCCK: Trees and forests–right! We’ve got to get down on our knees for those forests.
But the detainment of Christians in North Korea is a well-attested and well-documented reality that cannot be ignored. It is as well-documented as the reality that the KCF is a North Korean government agency designed to draw aid and sympathy from Christians in South Korean and the rest of the world, rather than a functioning, faithful Christian body.
But what is the harm, one may ask, in doing such joint statements? Doesn’t it make sense to at least try to pray together about the things about which we can agree?
Here we address the reality that North Korea’s statements always have both an external and an internal purpose. The external purpose is to draw aid and sympathy from Christians around the world.
But the internal purpose of statements like this is equally important to the North Korean government. That purpose is to portray to North Korean citizens that North Korea is taken seriously by those around the world as a legitimate, stable, and trustworthy government and dialogue partner–even by Christians. That message is not lost on underground Christians in North Korea. It says:
The rest of the world has forgotten you and denies any connection to you–even your own flesh and blood in South Korea.
Voice of the Martyrs founder, the Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, frequently expressed his deepest concern about this phenomenon, lamenting that even top Christian leaders in the West failed to recognize or accept the degree to which their visits to and joint statements with repressive regimes were used to crush the smoldering hope of imprisoned Christians:
Billy Graham was invited to Moscow by the Soviet government through its agents in the Orthodox Patriarchy and the official Baptist church. Solzhenitsyn knows Russia well. He calls the official church leaders of the Soviet Union “ecclesiastical ambassadors of the Prince of darkness.” They would never dare to invite anybody without precise order from their Atheist bosses.
Whosoever invited, Billy Graham’s duty was to go. I would have gone, too. We must go anywhere to preach the Gospel and to denounce sin, the enemy which crucified the Lord.
John the Baptist went when invited by Herod to his palace, but also told Herod his sin to his face. Jesus accepted invitations of Pharisees to share meals with them and, passing over the rules of courtesy for invited guests, spoke out there and then against the sin of Pharisaism.
Billy Graham should have gone to Moscow and should have spoken at the Peace conference of the fact that the Soviets have killed 66 million innocents (the figure is given by Solzhenitsyn). He should have said there how the Soviets disturbed the peace of the world by stealing the Baltic countries, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan. He should have taken the defense of the many imprisoned Christians.
Billy Graham is a Christian. He should have sought Christ in Moscow. Christ gives his Moscovite address in Matthew 25: “I was in jail”. Why did he not visit the imprisoned brethren?
When I went to South Africa I knew that Communists are in jail there. Rumours circulated that they were badly treated. I immediately went to visit them. I asked to be allowed to speak to them without the presence of wardens, I was allowed. I asked them how they are treated. They denied the rumours about mistreatment.
How can an evangelist go to a country known for the number of imprisoned believers and not even try to see the prisoners?
Here is the Easter prayer that could have and should have been released by South’s Korea’s National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK):
Lord, to Saul who persecuted the Christians you did not talk about trees and forests, nor did you seek to find points of commonality with him. Instead you said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Lord, forgive us for not remembering our brothers and sisters who are in prison in North Korea as if we were in prison with them. For this we deserve to be put on your left when in the final judgment you separate the sheep from the goats and you say, “When I was in prison you did not visit me.” Not only did we not try to visit you, we even failed to acknowledge your existence.
Lord, you tell us that on that day many will say to you, “Lord, Lord, we did miracles in your name. We built hospitals in North Korea. We did joint prayers with North Korea’s government-appointed Christians. We preached peace, peace even where there was no peace, in hopes that we could make peace through our words.” And you will say to us, “Depart from me, for you never once mentioned me.” And we will say, “Lord, when did we fail to mention your name?” And you will say to us, “When you failed to mention the 30,000 Christians in the North Korean concentration camps, you failed to mention me.”
Forgive us, Lord. And give us the courage to never fail to mention you any more.