The Singapore Summit on June 12 between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is now in the world’s rear-view mirror.
Reactions range from relief, to cautious optimism, to outright skepticism.
North Korean officials canceled anti-U.S. demonstrations in Pyongyang originally scheduled to occur on June 25 — another signal that a political thaw actually may be taking place.
The June 25 date is significant. In 1950 it marked the onset of the Korean War. The North Koreans call it the "Day of Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism" — conveniently overlooking the fact that the war began when North Korean troops, backed by China and Russia, poured across the border into the South.
Cancelling the demonstrations could indicate the Kim regime is sincere about its promise to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. But many questions remain.
The summit concluded with the principals signing an agreement: North Korea would denuclearize and would return the remains of America’s Korean War dead. The U.S. would suspend joint military exercises with South Korea.
"The good news," remarked Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, "is that the Singapore summit initiated a diplomatic process with the potential to make a contribution to stability and peace. War seems much more distant than it did just months ago."
The recent signs of continuing rapprochement are encouraging. But there is another element to the negotiations that must ultimately be addressed: North Korea’s horrific human rights abuses simply cannot be ignored.
The US State Department’s 2017 report sums up the conditions endured by North Korea’s ordinary citizens, as follows" . . . extrajudicial killings; disappearances; arbitrary arrests and detentions; torture; political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor; unfair trials; rigid controls over many aspects of citizen’s lives, including arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; denial of the ability to choose their government; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on worker rights, including denial of the right to organize independent unions and domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. . . . "
Add to that the fact that up to 100,000 North Koreans continue to suffering relentless and unimaginable brutality in Kim’s notorious prisons and concentration camps.
Will those abused captives, many of them being punished for their religious beliefs, be forgotten in the rush to make peace with Kim’s regime?
Countless reports agree that because Christian believers cause the North Korean regime the greatest alarm; they also suffer the most abuse.
In its 2018 report, for example, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) states: "The North Korean regime reviles Christianity and considers it the biggest threat among religions; the regime associates Christianity with the West, particularly the United States. Through robust surveillance, the regime actively tries to identify and seek out Christians practicing their faith in secret, and imprisons those it apprehends, often along with their family members even if they are not similarly religious . . .
"One defector explained that there is only one religion in North Korea: the worship of leader Kim Jong-un. Still, the defector depicted the Gospel as a lifeline for many North Korean Christians, especially in an environment in which they, in his words,'do not have a right to think’ and are 'forced to live in a certain way.'"
The worship of the North Korean leader is a well-organized counterfeit of Christianity, called Juche. The word means "self-reliance." And although the North Korean regime denies that it is a religion, it contains religious tenets, holy places, and holy days.
Under Juche, the dictator Kim Jong Un is the supreme deity and object of worship.
Newsmax spoke to Suzanne Scholte, an expert on the subject, who provided further details.
"Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, saw the power of the Christian faith and decided to use its constructs for his own purposes," she explained in an exclusive interview. "He set himself up as a god, perverting the holy trinity with Kim Jong il (his son) as the Christ, and Juche as the Holy Spirit."
No wonder true Christianity poses a threat to the North Korean regime. Nor is it surprising that, for many years, North Korea has been identified as the world’s No. 1 persecutor of Christians.
North Korea is clearly a place where your faith can cost you your life. USCIRF affirms that "Christians are heavily persecuted and receive especially harsh treatment in prison camps; prisoners are tortured and killed . . . for participating in Christian meetings, reading the Bible, or encountering Christianity outside North Korea; and Christians or those suspected of being Christians are incarcerated in specific zones within the prison camp at which prisoners were subjected to more severe deprivation."
The Singapore Summit was a small beginning — an icebreaker of sorts. Not every complaint about the vile North Korean regime could be raised, or should have been raised, during that highly sensitive first encounter.
Inarguably, the nuclear threat, by its very nature, had to be the initial consideration.
But as the political ice continues to thaw, and future summits are envisioned, North Korea’s human rights abuses can no longer be off the table. If Kim’s regime wants a seat at the table of civilized nations, it must at the very least stop its systematic slaughter and persecution of Christians.
Yes, nuclear attacks are a grave danger. Yet, in North Korea, political and religious persecution are daily matters of life and death.
In fact, breathtakingly painful torture and mass murder are taking place right there, right now.
To Christians locked up in Kim Jong Un’s gulag, the threat of annihilation is not a vague worry somewhere over the horizon. It is, rather, a terrifying reality they must endure every single day.
Mr. president, at the next Summit please consider the admonition in Hebrews 13:3.
"Remember those imprisoned," it states, "as if imprisoned with them."
Lela Gilbert is an internationally recognized expert on religious persecution, an award-winning writer, and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute who lived in Jerusalem for over a decade. Her book "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" received wide critical acclaim. She is also co-author of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians," and "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion." Follow her on Twitter @lelagilbert. For more from her Faith a Freedom blog, Click Here.
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