Did North Korea suddenly experience a come to Jesus moment, opening up their doors to Christianity, early last week? Articles found on several questionable websites in the past week certainly seem to make this claim, but we did some digging, and it appears to be largely untrue. Like most dubious rumors, there’s a grain of truth in it and a whole lot of spin. Here’s the real story.
• North Korea did recently allow several Christian leaders into the country for the purposes of peace negotiations. Leaders included Reverend Christopher Ferguson of the United Church of Canada, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and Peter Prove, also a representative of the WCC.
• What’s missing from the conversation is the fact that North Korea didn’t specifically allow the leaders in to discuss Christianity and tolerance for the religion. In fact, their presence had very little to do with religious tolerance at all; they just happened to be prominent Christian leaders who were chosen to speak to North Korea’s leaders.
• Church leaders traveled to North Korea to meet with officials on the general topic of peace. This includes peace between North Korea and South Korea as well as relations between North Korea and other countries, including future implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration. Main topics mostly focused on non-religious peace content instead of bringing Christianity to North Korea.
• A quote from Reverend Ferguson shows the real content of topics quite clearly. “President Kim also remarked, agreeing (with) us on the issue of denuclearization, that denuclearization that started and stopped with the Korean Peninsula would not work, but it must be a global process for denuclearization,” he explained.
• That said, the the topic of Christianity did come up at least once – and surprisingly, North Korea showed a willingness to at least work with Christians. Prove alleges that Kim Jong-un attested to “the church’s commitment to peace and reunification” while also affirming that he believes the church has an important role to play in the Panmunjom Declaration.
• While North Korea didn’t specifically hold the talks to “open the doors” to Christianity, the mere fact that they held Christian leaders in such esteem gives Christians hope. A willingness to recognize the role Christian leaders will play in peace is even more encouraging. Still, it remains to be seen whether North Korea will continue this warm and friendly trend or return to their exclusive non-Christian mood. It also doesn’t necessarily mean the country will start welcoming Christian laypersons into the country – or even to openly practice if they’re already living there.