How you can pray for those suffering in North Korea

September 18, 2019

My brother was always the jokester when we were growing up in our suburban hometown in upstate New York. One day at school a classmate asked my brother where our family was from; he jokingly replied, “West Korea,” to which his classmate responded, “Oh that’s cool, what’s it like there?” Granted, this was in the late 2000s and conversations my siblings and I have fielded since then show that people know a lot more about Korea than they used to. Still, I occasionally find myself explaining that there are many separated Korean families, you cannot go in and out of North Korea as you please, or not every North Korean fully believes in the Kim regime.

Just as I am God’s child before I am a Korean-American, the people languishing under the Kim regime are human beings made in God’s image before they are North Koreans. In this article, I hope to speak to some of the recent developments in Korea and my concerns as a Christian who happens to be Korean-American.

Historic first steps

This summer, President Trump became the first sitting president of the United States to cross the demilitarized zone from the U.S. allied South Korea into North Korea. On June 30, 2019, the American president was en route home from the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan; during a scheduled visit to South Korea, President Trump added an unscheduled, tweet-prompted visit to North Korea’s leader, Chairman Kim Jong-un.

Lacking from the fanfare of this albeit historic event was substantive discussion on denuclearization negotiations and the manifold human rights violations occurring in North Korea under the Kim regime. 

North Korea is often referred to as the “hermit kingdom” because it is isolated from the world as the Kim-led government enforces totalitarian rule over every area of life for its citizens, and sits in striking darkness next to the illuminated night sky of South Korea. Although it is difficult to enter North Korea and observe beyond what is presented by the state, decades of stories from defectors and investigators make it undeniable that the Kim Dynasty and its government systematically commit egregious human rights violations.

What’s not being talked about?

The persecution of Christians and religious individuals in North Korea

While there is virtually no right to freedom of thought, expression, and religion in the northern Korean country, there are Christians in North Korea. North Korea’s constitution only grants freedom of religion such that it does not “attract foreign intervention or disrupt the state’s social order.” The state interprets this article as reason to suppress any religious belief that threatens the state “juche” religion or worship of the Kim family, particularly Christianity.

The people languishing under the Kim regime are human beings made in God’s image before they are North Koreans.

The religious persecution of North Korean Christians is connected to and perpetuates many other human rights violations common in North Korea. The state designates its citizens a class under its “songbun” system based on loyalty to the regime. Christians and their families are designated in the lowly “hostile” class, and face greater restrictions to food, healthcare, and other living necessities. 

Repatriation and the plight of North Korean refugees

Refugees who try to escape, are caught in China, and found to have come into contact with a Christian organization are sent back to North Korea to political prison camps where conditions are even worse than those of labor camps. China forcibly repatriates around 15,000 North Korean refugees every year. This is in direct violation of China’s obligation to the United Nations 1951 Convention & 1967 Protocol, the international asylum principle that dictates a state shall not forcibly return a refugee to a territory where their lives or freedom would be threatened. 

China’s active repatriation of North Korean refugees is particularly painful given that South Korea grants North Korean refugees automatic citizenship, and nearly all North Korean refugees pass through China to eventually reach South Korea. China is the gateway to other Southeast Asian countries where there are South Korean embassies, and very few defectors successfully cross into South Korea through the demilitarized zone. Majority of the defectors in hiding in China are women who are sold as wives or cheap labor in rural villages and are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Resulting from these marriages are an estimated 30,000 stateless orphans in China as half-North Korean children are not granted citizenship via naturalization. 

What about South Korea?

North Korean refugees’ difficulties do not end once they are in South Korea; North Korean refugees are entering South Korea at a unique time. While the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony presented a hopeful image of the two Koreas marching together, many in South Korea were unimpressed. Attitudes toward North Korean refugees and reunification in South Korea are complicated, particularly for the younger generation consumed by immense societal and cultural pressure. 

South Korea is such a small country whose economy developed rapidly; competition in schooling and high youth unemployment cool what empathy the passage of time has left for a generation born after the partition of Korea. Further, South Korea’s birthrate reached an all-time low in 2018 falling below 1 birth per woman as more are delaying marriage and having kids. This presents a concerning dynamic and opportunity for prayer for the plight of North Korean refugee children in South Korea where adoption is not widely practiced.

Of course, there are exceptions to every generation. There are those in the older generation who view North Korea as an enemy, and there are those in the younger generation who are supportive of escapees living in South Korea. Whatever negative attitudes toward North Koreans that exist in South Korea are not because South Koreans have no compassion or are obsessed with only economic success. Such attitudes most likely arise from any real enduring interactions between North and South Koreans. 

When news clips of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the official name of North Korea) portray its citizens fawning over the Kim family or its soldiers marching in step, it is difficult to see North Koreans as different from their leader. This is why the work of organizations, such as the ERLC’s recent short film, is so important because it portrays the human interest stories of North Koreans, even highlighting those who come to faith in Christ.

A reverent and prayerful advocacy

As ERLC President Russell Moore stated, “our remembering of those persecuted is not only so that we can advocate for our brothers and sisters, but also so that we can learn from them how to live as Christians.” Even in the most dangerous nation to be a Christian, believers seek to live according to their faith and the risk of their lives. Through the testimonies of North Korean escapees, we are able to witness the indefinable human spirit of survivors who repeatedly tried to escape from a state that could not control their faith. Further, God continues to work through families as parents pass their faith on to their children, though few North Koreans risk sharing their faith. 

There are already movements among nonprofit organizations and churches in South Korea and in the U.S. to minister to North Korean escapees, to empower and provide job training, and to educate people on human rights and religious persecution violations in North Korea. These movements are encouraging as they raise awareness where there is a deficit and call Christians to prayer and civic engagement across generations and cultures. Here are a few ways you can pray for those who are suffering in North Korea: 

Dani Park

Dani Park was born and raised near Rochester, New York, with her two siblings. God saved Dani in college through an on-campus ministry that primarily served Korean-American students. She is currently pursuing her J.D. at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24