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Christian Persecution in North Korea

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Persecution has occurred frequently during the entire history of mankind. While you may be able to identify historical examples of persecution, how much do you know about persecution of Christians in contemporary North Korea?

Persecution

One of the most common and disturbing themes across human history is persecution, or the harassment and abuse of a person or group of people for being different. These differences generally occur along the lines of political or religious beliefs.

Persecution has happened throughout history against countless groups of people and numerous civilizations. You're likely familiar with Jewish persecution in Europe and the Middle East and have probably read about the persecution of 'heretical' scientists like Galileo in Europe. But how much do you know about contemporary persecution, namely Christian persecution in North Korea?

Origins of Christian Persecution in Korea

Christianity is not a native religion in Asia. Instead, it spread into the region beginning in the 1600s as countries like Japan and China opened their doors to trade with the West. As trade relationships waxed and waned, Christian missionaries found various opportunities to convert and evangelize in Asia. Depending on the time period and the country, early Christians were persecuted for their beliefs.

By the late 1800s, Christianity had gained a fairly strong foothold in the Korean peninsula. Unfortunately, by 1910, Korean Christians faced the influences of Japanese imperialism. As Japan extended into the region, the government persecuted all civilians who refused to recognize the Japanese emperor. At the time, many Christians remained faithful to both their religion and the concept of an independent Korea, making them a target for Japanese repression.

The Spread of Communism in North Korea

As World War II came to a close in 1945, so did Japanese influence in Korea. This, however, did not mark the end of Christian persecution in Korea. The northern half of the Korean peninsula increasingly subscribed to the communist ideologies of the Soviet Union and its close neighbor, China. Meanwhile, the south was defended by the democratic United States. When the country failed to reunify after the Korean War, communism became the official ideology of the newly-formed North Korea.

The Juche Idea

As a rule, communist countries are atheist, meaning they do not recognize the existence of a god or higher being. While North Korea is officially atheist, the government does promote something called the Juche Idea (also referred to simply as Juche, an economic, political, and semi-religious state ideology).

The Juche Idea was introduced by North Korea's first leader, Kim Il-Sung. It reinforced the idea that North Korea should be politically and economically independent from the Soviet Union and China. Over time, the Juche Idea has come to promote the godlike nature of Kim Il-Sung, a man the government officially recognizes as the 'eternal head of state'. Juche reinforces the mysticism of Kim Il-Sung and his descendants, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.

Kim Il-Sung
Kim Il-Sung

So what exactly is the purpose of the Juche Idea? Promoting the Juche Idea is a way for the government to indoctrinate its people. As the official ideology of North Korea, it's an offense to dissent from Juche. Anyone who does not subscribe to Juche is considered a threat to the government.

Christian Persecution in North Korea

As you can imagine, practicing Christianity is considered dissenting from the Juche Idea. As a Western faith, Christianity poses a significant threat, largely because it comes from a part of the world that opposes communism. Likewise, Christianity also promotes the importance of hope and faith in the face of religious oppression.

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