NORTH KOREA OPENS ITS DOORS TO CHRISTIANITY?
On 2 May 2018, J. Lee Grady wrote an opinion piece entitled “North Korea Will Open its Doors to Christianity” featured on the Charisma News website. The following day, YourNewsWire.com ran the same content (just differing by two sentences in the beginning), with the headline of “North Korea Agrees to Open its Doors to Christianity”.
The article starts with the following statement: “How times can change. A few months ago, North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, was firing missiles over Japan and threatening to send nuclear bombs in our direction. Now North Korea has agreed to open its doors to food, medicine and the message of Christ.”
The article then describes how the young North Korean leader, Kim Jung-un, met with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, on 27 April and announced that the 67-year-old Korean conflict was over. “I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation,” Kim Jung-un reportedly told Mr Moon in a meeting on the border town of Panmunjom.
It also mentions a report by the US State Department that between 10 to 45 percent of all people imprisoned in North Korea are Christians who are in jail because of their faith, and that the Christian population in North Korea multiplied five times from 2012 to 2017. It also states that there may be more than 400,000 Christians in North Korean prisons today.
It is important to note that while Charisma News does feature articles of Christian interest, the site has a heavy charismatic leaning and includes some content that non-charismatic Christians would question.
YourNewsWire.com, meanwhile, is easy to categorise, as it often publishes fake news stories and satires (such as claims that the Queen had threatened to abdicate if the UK had voted against Brexit). The website sometimes uses fictional quotes to up the hits, attributing outrageous quotes to celebrities, and also uses actual events for the basis of invented stories that generate web revenue.
When it comes to verifying stories, it is always important to check what else is featured on the same site as the story. Here are a few of the other stories featured on YourNewsWire.com:
- Queen Elizabeth claims she is a direct descendant of prophet Mohammad
- Child sacrifice monument temple of Baal to be erected in Times Square
- Biblical virus sweeps Australia, leaving death and despair in its path
- Buzz Aldrin passes lie detector test: “I met aliens in space”
If we would hesitate to send any of these articles to friends, then why do we automatically believe the one about North Korea?
It is also important to note that trusted ‘mainstream’ news media did not report such news coming out of North Korea. If it were true that North Korea was opening up – to the point of welcoming Christianity – it would be widely reported on reputable international news sites. When stories do not feature on mainstream media, it should always raise a red flag.
THE ARTICLE AND THE CLAIM
Equally important to note is that the original article on Charisma News was filed as an OPINION piece – not as a news story. The writer, J. Lee Grady, focuses most of the article on an overview of the current situation in North Korea, and then ends with the following:
“He [the Lord] will engineer a lasting peace in this part of the world, and open the doors wide for the gospel to flourish in a thirsty land. Before long, the churches of South Korea will freely send teams into the North with food, medicine and the message of Christ. Like a patient who has been in a coma, North Korea will awaken. The world will watch a national transformation. We are witnessing the greatest display of God’s sovereign power over nations since the Berlin Wall fell.”
These words can be taken as a ‘prayer of faith’, or positive thinking (with a ‘prophetic’ sound to it), but not as fact or a news item. Nowhere in any reports was there an actual agreement that North Korea would allow Christianity into the country.
THE GENERAL STATISTICS
The general consensus of most statisticians (including those researching and writing for Operation World, the World Atlas and the CIA World Factbook) is that between 1.48 and 1.7 percent of the 25 million North Koreans are Christian. These figures equate to fewer than 400,000 Christians in the nation.
To report that between 10% and 45% percent of all prisoners are Christians sheds little light on the true situation and provides no value when speaking on their behalf to leaders of influence.
Considering actual numbers should not lessen our concern for those who are imprisoned – it should strengthen our desire to seek justice in the light of truth and not sensation. If there was only one Christian imprisoned in North Korea, it would still be a great concern for every believer and a point of great anguish for all who share the pain. If ONE member of the body suffers, we all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:26).
But the danger within Christianity, and where we lose integrity in the eyes of the world, is seeking sensation to promote a legitimate cause. The Church in North Korea deserves every prayer offered but without weakening their cause through misrepresented facts.
SO, WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
It is impossible to determine the exact number of Christians in North Korea, because there are no official statistics available. But enough research has been done to know that numbers used in many Christian magazines are inflated.
Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern Asia, estimates that there are up to 70,000 Christians locked away in prison camps.
Numbers found in the latest International Religious Freedom Report authored by the US State Department estimates that the Christian population in North Korea has increased dramatically—at least five-fold—from about 37,000 known practicing Christians in 2012 to between 200,000 and 400,000 now.
CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) estimated that 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in total are believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions.
The claim that North Korea agreed to open its doors to Christianity obviously resonates in the heart of every believer who has ever prayed for Christians in North Korea and who desires to pass such good news on to everybody. But this desire should never deter us from first doing our ‘homework’ and determining the legitimacy of reports.
At INcontext International, we are currently unable to find any verifiable reports about North Korea opening to Christianity, so while there does appear to be positive developments happening on the Korean Peninsula, we view this report as a misrepresentation and misinterpretation of facts.