How The Prison Exchange Is Important To Christians
Perhaps the most captivating story this week concerns the fate of three Americans who were imprisoned in North Korea for between a year and three years. Recently, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has tweeted that the Secretary of the State will be returning from North Korea, bringing Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song, and Kim Sang Duk home with him. While the political ramifications of their release has been receiving the majority of the attention in the media, an oft-overlooked aspect of the story is the reason behind their imprisonment. Although the specific circumstances vary between the three men, each was imprisoned for openly supporting Christianity and proselytizing.
The men’s support for Christianity made them easy targets for the government of North Korea, which has openly oppressed the religion for several decades. In fact, the reclusive nation has been ranked as the most oppressive area for Christians and its ideals across the entire world. First-hand accounts of torture, imprisonment, and executions for attempting to spread Christianity abound, and it seems likely that such a fate awaited the three former prisoners.
The reason for the faith’s oppression can be traced to the western influences perceived in the religion. Specifically, Christianity is viewed by North Korea as a faith intertwined with imperialist notions, where the adherents attempt to spread the religion and subvert the government in a bid to create favorable leadership, something that is unacceptable to North Korean leadership.
A Hidden Faith
Christianity has a complicated place in North Korea. On the surface, there are several churches in the country, representing a variety of unique faiths. Yet, those churches are considered little more than show pieces for visitors to the country, maintained for diplomatic reasons. Still, there is an authentic Christian movement that is hidden within the country, boasting upwards of 70,000 members. These adherents must keep their faith hidden out of fear of being found out and harmed by members of the North Korean regime. Individuals found having personal Bibles have been killed after being found out by authorities or worse, having their faith outed by others.
It is a small wonder that the three men in North Korea were arrested and held in prison for years, and the fact that their punishment was less severe might have something to do with the fact that they are American. While their release was undoubtedly a victory for Christians and the U.S. Government, the Christians who must hide their faith in North Korea still face a variety of challenges and threats.