Religious persecution has existed since the dawn of organized religion. Unfortunately, it is experienced by nearly every religion in some shape or form all around the globe. When it comes to the persecution of Christians however, no place in the world is currently worse than the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Being a Christian in North Korea can mean imprisonment, torture, and death.
Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted recently rated the DPRK as the number one worst/most dangerous for the 14th year in a row.
Here’s a brief overview of the history and status of Christianity in North Korea:
- Prior to World War II missionaries were active throughout the Korean peninsula, then a Japanese colony. More than a fifth of the population was believed to be Christian in 1948.
- 300,000 to 500,000 Christians are believed to be in North Korea today.
- Refugees from the North report from 1.2 percent participating in Christian religion to 5.1 percent witnessing secret religious activities.
- In 2014 the group Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) published a report that figured about 50,000 Christians may currently be in DPRK penal camps.
- ACN reported that “Since 1953, at least 200,000 Christians have gone missing. If caught by the regime, unauthorized Christians face arrest torture or in some cases public execution.”
- A special United Nations Commission of Inquiry pointed to the “almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Believers “are prohibited from practicing their religion” and punished severely if disobedient. The ruling regime “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat.”
A recent report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) details the situation: Christians in North Korea are compelled to worship secretly. If discovered, they are taken to political camps where they experience extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labor, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence and other inhuman acts.” CSW reports documented cases of believers being “hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”
Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Shamanism and Buddhism are seen as part of Korean culture and believed to pose less of a challenge to the communist system. As a result, there are numerous Buddhist and Cheondoist temples. However, those who practice Buddhism, noted CSW, still risk “imprisonment, forced labor, poor living and sanitary conditions, abuse, violence and torture.”
The DPRK treats anyone of faith, but especially Christians, as hostile to the state. What’s their problem with Christianity? Just about everything. The government feels that believers place loyalty to God before that of the North Korean state. Churches allow people to act and organize outside of state entities. Christianity also has ties to the outside world which is seen as almost uniformly threatening.
Open Doors explaines: “Christianity is not only seen as ‘opium of the people’… it is also seen as deeply Western and despicable. Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to a labor camp.”
Open Doors warns that the Kim Jong-Un regime appears to be tightening controls over potential dissent, including a vigorous crackdown on Christians.
Despite the overt and escalating persecution, according to CSW, “Since the 2000s unofficial Christian religious activities have been increasing, partly because of the influence of defectors who entered China and were then returned to North Korea, bringing the Christian faith they had been exposed to in China.” Ironically, Communist China, a country which also persecutes religious believers (but not nearly to the degree of the DPRK) has become a source of evangelism for North Korea.
Open Doors invites you to join them this Sunday, November 6 during the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church. You can join them in praying that God will protect believers in persecuted countries. Pray that believers would see Christ in deeper ways. Lastly, pray that Christ would soften the hearts of their persecutors.
To get a better understanding of the extreme cases of persecution Christians in other countries are currently facing go to their website at opendoorsus.org.