Ex-Regime Official: South Koreans Must ‘Insist That North Korea Build Churches’

Thae Yong-Ho was testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives at a time of soaring tensions between Pyongyang and the West over the regime's nuclear and missile tests
GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP Drew Angerer

Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho told the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo in an interview published Friday that Kim regime leaders view Christianity as a true challenge to because “they know that Christianity would hamper the Kim family’s dynastic succession to power.”

He added an urgent plea to the South Korean Christian community to advocate for building churches in the North and fighting against religious persecution there, which is generally considered among the worst on the planet.

Thae recently published a memoir, The Secret Code of the Three-Story Secretariat Office, on his experience representing North Korea at its embassy in London before defecting to the South, where he worked as an adviser at a government-linked institute until this week. Thae stated his departure from that job was voluntary, though it follows accusations that the leftist government of Moon Jae-in had created a hostile climate for critics of North Korea to express themselves openly.

Speaking to Chosun, Thae argued that North Korea is “unique” from other communist countries because it did not merely abolish all existing religions, but create its own religion to substitute for Christianity, which at the time was the majority religion of that region of Korea.

“European countries clamped down on religion, but they did not destroy them. They even left places of worship unharmed. But North Korea destroyed all places of worship and blamed it on American bombers. Instead, it made people worship their leader,” he told the newspaper. “The constitution guarantees religious freedom, but the Workers Party’s rules say the ideological teachings of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are the true guiding words.”

Asked what religion the Kim family fears the most, Thae said Christianity because “Kim Il-sung came from a Christian family, so they know how the religion works. They know that Christianity would hamper the Kim family’s dynastic succession to power.” He noted that Kim Il-sung, the founder of communist North Korea, came from a devout Christian family and, as a result, many of the tenets and practices of the Kim cult of worship resemble Christianity.

“Christian worship and North Korean political rallies are very similar. They start off by singing and listening to teachings. Worship involves sermons, and in the North people listen to the teachings of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. This is followed by a repentance session,” Thae explained.

The North Korean regime branded Kim Jong-il’s birthday the “Day of the Shining Star” because, according to Kim cult mythology, a new shining star appeared in the sky on the day of Kim’s birth to welcome him home. This story resembles the story of Christmas and the Star of Bethlehem and is far from the only falsehood North Koreans are taught about the Kim family that resembles Christian stories.

Speaking to Chosun Ilbo, Thae predicted that Kim Jong-un will make an inadvertent opening for Christianity to flourish once again in the country. Unprecedented economic sanctions on the country have forced Kim to consider dialogue with the outside world. To compensate for financial losses, Thae argues, “Kim Jong-un will create economic stimulus zones that are isolated from the outside world.”

“You must insist that North Korea builds churches for both South Koreans and foreigners,” he tells South Korean Christians. “You must convince the North that allowing religious freedom will instill trust. Seeing churches with the crucifix will move North Koreans.”

North Korea currently has a known population of about 300,000 secret Christians, according to the research and advocacy group Open Doors. Being Christian is illegal in the country, as well as possessing a Bible or any religious paraphernalia. Many Christian parents hide their religion from their children, fearing that the children may accidentally discuss it in front of a government official or at school. Christians the government identifies are forced into labor camps, tortured, and publically executed.

Human rights have remained on the margins of discussions between the Kim regime and North Korea, as well as the stunted dialogue between North Korea and the United States. On Thursday, President Donald Trump published a letter he sent Kim Jong-un canceling a summit between them scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, noting that North Korea’s multiple screed against Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton were behavior unbefitting a legitimate state power.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

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