In Underground University class this past weekend Dr. Foley and I showed our students the video released by the North Korean government this week refuting the U.S. State Department’s allegations this week of egregious violations of religious freedom in North Korea.
The video is in Korean, but you don’t have to understand Korean to catch the gist of it. The video shows the newly renovated Chilgol Church, one of the four state church buildings (two Protestant, one Catholic, one Russian Orthodox) operated by the North Korean government. If you understand Korean, you’ll be able to hear the North Korean reporter explain that North Korean Christians have been afraid to worship openly because of U.S. bombing of North Korean church buildings during the Korean War. There’s also the “truer-than-he-knows” statement from Chilgol Church minister Baek Bong Il that
Our esteemed Premier [Kim Il Sung] taught us what Christians should believe, thus setting new ground for our religious lives.
The video is characteristically outlandish, and, predictably and understandably, raised considerable ire among our Underground University students. “We need to record a video in response, exposing these lies!” shouted one usually timid UU student, rising to her feet and slicing the air with emphatic gestures. “Complain to our pastors!” shouted another. “Denounce Baek Bong Il!” called a third.
But scripture is decidedly obtuse when it comes to dealing with our enemies. Consider a representative sampling:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44, KJV).
“Do what is beautiful to the one who hates you” is how the Aramaic Bible translates it.
Some of my colleagues tell me it is hard enough to get the people in their own country to even be aware of or pay attention to Christian persecution in other countries. True, sadly. But my colleagues and I also know that Hebrews 13:3 doesn’t stop at our raising awareness of atrocities committed against Christians. We know that scripturally it is not enough to simply change our Facebook icons to identify with Christians in Mosul. It may start there, but if it does not end with us returning blessings for cursings and doing what is beautiful to the ones who hate us, then we have prematurely aborted our trip down the rabbit hole.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Cho Man-Sik knew, following Jesus in loving our enemies does not mean avoiding mention of their sins while enjoying a warm communion repast and pleasant Bible study (more on that next week), but it is safe to say that if we loved our friends the way many Christians love their enemies, most of our friends would rather we not love them.
That’s why at Underground University we are asking the students: What would it mean scripturally to bless Baek Bong Il? What would it look like to do what is beautiful to Chilgol Church without our being in league with it? How do we raise awareness of atrocities and identify with our suffering North Korean Christian brothers and sisters not only without demonizing their persecutors but with loving them the way we love ourselves?
For that, there is only one Facebook symbol.