Kim Jong-Un

Trump and Kim discussed religious persecution? Scant media accounts leave us guessing

Trump and Kim discussed religious persecution? Scant media accounts leave us guessing

It sure has been interesting seeing President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un operating within a few feet of each other this week.

It was tough for media to glean much from the meeting of the two men, although the prevalent press opinion seems to be that Trump got the lesser part of the deal. In describing the North Korean leader, most reporters linked this phrase -- “systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to countless deaths” -- to him, quoting the International Bar Association.

"Persecution" of Christians and other religious minorities?

Did any news reports go any further than that with the religion angle? The New York Times’ headline says: Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions. Which meant, specifically:

North Korea considers the spread of most religions dangerous, but Christianity is considered a “particularly serious threat” because it “provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the State,” according to the United Nations report.

Christians are barred from practicing their religion, and those caught doing so are “subject to severe punishments,” the report found. North Korean leaders also conflate Christians with those detained in prison camps, those who try to flee and “others considered to introduce subversive influences,” the report stated.

In interviews with The New York Times in 2012, four North Koreans said that they had been warned that the gulag awaited those who spoke to journalists or Christian missionaries. “If the government finds out I am reading the Bible, I’m dead,” one woman said.

In its 2018 World Watch List, the Christian group Open Doors ranked North Korea the worst nation in the world for Christians, and in a statement last week, the group called on Christians to take part in 24 hours of prayer and fasting on Monday ahead of the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

That was the most description I could find about an estimated 50,000 Christians imprisoned in North Korea’s gulags.

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Juche: The religion reporter's way into the North Korea-U.S. nuclear summit story

Juche: The religion reporter's way into the North Korea-U.S. nuclear summit story

OK, so I’m booking political fantasy bets on whether President Donald Trump will actually have a monumental sit down with North Korea’s equally uniquely coiffed supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Not because I’m a gambling man, mind you, but because I’m a journalist in need of a lede graph to get rolling here, and that’s what came to mind. Forgive me, but that’s how I work this craft.

Now let’s get serious.

Despite the lower-level North Korea-United States talks in Helsinki this week, a Kim-Trump nuclear summit still feels like a long shot to me.

But if they do actually meet what might religion scribes contribute to the story beyond the standard pieces noting how Korean-American Christian missionaries and other idealistic Westerners occasionally get arrested in North Korea.

Well, you could write about how the officially atheist state actually has what some scholars identify as, speaking from a sociological point of view, a homegrown quasi-religion.

I’m speaking about Juche, North Korea’s official governing philosophy.

It's not that Juche hasn't been writing about before. It has, but only rarely. For some reason, editors (and I must cede, the public, too) seem to care more about those potentially deadly nuclear threats that both sides toss about every so often.

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'Relig-Un' puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea's Kim is a big story and UK media notice

'Relig-Un' puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea's Kim is a big story and UK media notice

It's the kind of news story tailor-made for the puns and pokes of Britain's tabloid press, and The Sun, the daily redoubt of topless 'Page 3' girls, doesn't fail to deliver.

The headline says it all: "LOSING MY RELIG-UN Paranoid Kim Jong-un executing record numbers of North Koreans who no longer see him as a living GOD" [sic].

This is one of those cases in which the headline is pretty much the same as the lede, so here that is again in case you missed it:

DELUDED despot Kim Jong-un is executing growing numbers of North Koreans who no longer worship him as a living GOD.
His ruthless regime is persecuting thousands who dare to practise “other religions” within its borders, according to a shock new US government study.

It's not the poetry of a Hearstian scribe in the good old days, but it'll suffice. The "shock new US government study" is a nice touch, although someone should tell the paper that America is the U.S., and not a celebrity-gossip magazine. "Deluded despot" certainly fits the bill, however.

This is not our usual media-bash since even The Sun does "get it" here: there appears to be evidence that the literal cult-of-personality surrounding the Kim family, where the current ruler's father and grandfather were quite literally worshipped by the population or else, is showing some cracks.

A more serious London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, published a story from which The Sun and rival tabloid the Daily Mail, both appear to have cribbed. As the Telegraph reported, citing the U.S. State Department report:

"An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions", it adds.
Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea.

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Covering Robert Jeffress and Kim Jong Un: Some media shone, while others flailed

Covering Robert Jeffress and Kim Jong Un: Some media shone, while others flailed

It certainly made for a lot of waves on the internet: The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, describing how America's chief executive has authority from God to kill off North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

I’m still waiting for Pope Francis to come up with a statement to refute that one. But first things first: On Tuesday, Jeffress’ remarks were released to the Christian Broadcasting Network, an odd alliance if there ever was one. CBN is very oriented toward the Pentecostal-charismatic side of things and Jeffress most definitely is not, as an old-guard leader on the Southern Baptist right.

But politics always makes for strange bedfellows and with its superior contacts within the Trump administration, CBN has found itself in the unusual role of breaking national stories lately. David Brody’s three-paragraph story was part news, part editorial:

Sometimes you've got to stop evil. It's biblical. In North Korea, it's pretty clear that their dictator is downright evil. So tonight, Pastor Robert Jeffress, a longtime evangelical backer of Donald Trump, just released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to take out Kim Jong Un. This comes after Trump said today that if North Korea continues to threaten the U.S. then they will “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."
“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary -- including war -- to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president -- contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors -- will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”
Folks, get ready. I've warned for a long time that North Korea was the biggest problem all along. Memo to North Korea: with Trump as president, you really don't want to mess with America. This could get real ugly real soon. Trump won't tolerate this for too much longer.

Later, CBN did follow up with something more nuanced from other evangelicals. 

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Hey, New York Times: Maybe there's more to that Christian-backed school in North Korea

Hey, New York Times: Maybe there's more to that Christian-backed school in North Korea

If there's a nation on this planet harder to understand than the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, I don't know it -- and you probably don't, either.

More commonly known as North Korea, it's been a family-led Communist dynasty for longer than any other. It's secretive, wracked by poverty and the government keeps trying to launch a missile that is capable of hitting Japan, or Guam or even Hawaii.

There have been (and are) all sorts of religion-angle "ghosts" in news surrounding the DPRK. Our our own Ira Rifkin last year noted the missing elements when The New York Times examined the country's "Juche" philosophy.

Now, the Times's correspondent who skipped the spiritual "ghosts" in the Juche piece has, er, passed over some key faith-related questions in another story. Choe Sang-Hun tells us about a Christian-led university in the officially atheist DPRK, with only a passing glance at the religion angle. Read this multi-paragraph introduction to see what I mean:

Set on 250 sprawling acres in North Korea’s capital, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology abides by the cult of the Kim family.
Atop its main building, large red characters praise “General Kim Jong-un,” the country’s provocative young leader. At the front of lecture halls hang smiling portraits of his father and grandfather, who led the nation before him.
Yet the school is different in one striking way. In a country that bans religion, it is run by evangelical Christians.

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