Among the Intellectualoids

Potemkins in Pyongyang

The international religious left flacks for North Korea.

By 10.27.09

Send to Kindle

In a rare moment of curiosity, a recent World Council of Churches (WCC) visitor at a North Korean Potemkin-style government-run church in Pyongyang apparently asked why no children were present. Perhaps this WCC official felt like the Dick Van Dyke character in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang who, upon arriving in sinister Vulgaria, wonders where all the children were, not yet realizing that Baron Bomburst, at the behest of the child-despising Baroness, imprisons all of them, with help from the royal Childcatcher.

In the spirit of Vulgaria, the WCC delegation was assured that the children "are involved in a broad range of other activities and some will at a later age come to church." Evidently the WCC forgot that communist North Korea prohibits any religious education for children, though the Potemkin churches would have been a little more persuasive with some child props.

By most accounts, North Korea's Stalinist paradise is the worst place to be a Christian or any kind of religious believer. So naturally the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) recently visited North Korea and has joined with the Christian Conference of Asia to demand the lifting of international sanctions against the dictatorship's nuclear weapons program.

Seemingly, groups like the WCC only worry about nukes if they belong to the U.S.

"An effective way of working towards peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula needs a multifaceted approach," WCC chief Samuel Kobia told an ecumenical gathering afterwards in Hong Kong. Kobia and the head of the Christian Conference of Asia had just visited North Korea for the first time and evidently had a smashing time, courtesy of Kim Jong Il's nasty regime. "The WCC in its established polices has always rejected any sort of confrontational approach to settle conflicts and disputes. We called on member churches to use every effort to overcome divisions and conflicts."

Of course, the WCC was not always so non-confrontational. In the 1970s and 1980s it actively funded violent Marxist liberation movements fighting colonial regimes in southern Africa.

If Kobia had any thoughts on how North Korea's monstrous regime likes to incarcerate, torture, and kill its Christians, the WCC did not report it. Evidently, Kobia was received warmly by the North Korean tyranny, which predictably showed him the handful of government-run puppet church congregations in Pyongyang. From North Korea, Kobia went to Hong Kong, where he and other Asian church leaders strategized on how to remove international pressure against North Korea and advocate Korean unification. Naturally, the Korea Christian Federation of North Korea, which is the communist regime's puppet front group for international diplomacy, was a high profile participant.

"After my visit to North Korea, from my engagement with the church leadership and my observations, I am now very convinced that time has now come to end the economic sanctions," Kobia told Ecumenical News International (ENI), fretting that sanctions are a "collective penalty." Kobia enthused that WCC churches will persuade their governments to end sanctions, which should take priority over Six Party Talks (involving the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea) on North Korea's nukes.

Insipidly, the head of the Asian Christian Conference rejoiced that in North Korea the "Church still has the freedom to carry out its mission, but of course, still has some limitations." He suggested the "challenge" was for Christians to operate in a "different societal system." This was perhaps his polite way of saying that in North Korea, Christians who talk about their faith get thrown in a prison camp.

During their North Korean junket, the WCC-led delegation was honored to meet for over an hour with North Korean President Kim Yong-Nam. He told the fawning church delegation, no doubt to vigorously nodding heads, that the Six Party talks are unfair since they involve "all nuclear powers or enjoy nuclear protection by the United States," except for poor little North Korea. Evidently, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il did not have time for the visiting churchmen. But Kim Yong-Nam was able to boast to Kobia et al., again undoubtedly to nodding heads, that North Korea has generously rebuilt churches that the U.S. had bombed during the Korean War. Of course, he was referring to the several show churches that North Korea has flamboyantly erected primarily for the benefit of naive global visitors.

Movingly, the North Korean President also told the churchmen that creating a nuclear free Korean peninsula was "one of the last instructions from the Great Leader," the late North Korean "eternal leader" Kim Il-Sung, whose "eternal" leadership of the national prison camp he created apparently continues from his new, post-death location. In response, Kobia told President Kim that the WCC thinks "those who have nuclear weapons should get rid of them and those wanting them should no longer seek them." And he assured his hosts that the WCC will continue to "work for peace."

Kobia's delegation naturally was charmed by the three churches they visited in Pyongyang A WCC photo shows every pew filled with happily singing women clad in beautiful silks. According to a WCC report, one church was "thoroughly modern with a full sound system, balcony and music text on a large screen in front of the church, a video camera system, a high-lofted ceiling and an area for a large choir. Bibles and songbooks line the seating areas for the congregations. Within the church compound is a recently constructed theological seminary where 12 students are now enrolled to earn degrees in evangelism." How wonderful! It sounds just like a suburban megachurch in the U.S.

Fortunately for the North Koreans, groups like the WCC are easy to impress. At the Hong Kong meeting, Kobia sang the praises of Korean reunification. During the Cold War, he regretted, there were "deliberate and systematic efforts to create enemy images which demonized the other." He also noted that previously in South Korea, national security restrictions had prevented WCC-supported activism for "aspirations for justice, peace and reunification." Kobia did not comment on freedom of movement in North Korea. Maybe that would have been impolite.

During the Hong Kong gala, the head of the South Korean Council of Churches, itself left-leaning, expressed misgivings about Kobia's insistence that international sanctions over North Korea's nukes should be lifted. He cautiously suggested the need for "more advice." But Kobia and the WCC probably have all the "advice" they need, after visiting the show churches and communist palaces of Pyongyang.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.