Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Still More on Rick Warren's North Korea Visit

From ChristianPost.com: Rick Warren's North Korea Visit Triggers Mixed Reactions from Freedom Experts.

Christian religious freedom experts expressed a combination of reactions – ranging from shock, suspicion, encouragement, and joy – after hearing news of Purpose Driven Pastor Rick Warren’s scheduled visit to North Korea next year to preach to 15,000 Christians.

“I have mixed feelings about North Korea and about Rick Warren’s agreeing to go there to speak,” wrote Todd Nettleton, director of media development for The Voice of the Martyrs – USA, in an e-mail on Monday. “On the one hand, I’m thrilled to think that the Gospel will be preached to a North Korean audience, even if that audience is carefully controlled and hand-picked by the government. I believe in the life-changing power of the Gospel, and so to have that Good News preached in such a dark land is a wonderful development.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “I know that the casual observer will see this and think there is progress toward religious freedom under the Kim regime, and that is simply not true…. I’m concerned that the publicity surrounding Pastor Warren’s visit will obscure the true situation that my brothers and sisters in North Korea are facing.”

The director for the Christian persecution group pointed out that North Korea is probably the world’s most closed nation and Christians are routinely arrested and killed. “Believing in God is considered to be one of the top three crimes,” he noted.

Earlier this year in May, North Korea was recommended once again by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to be included on the U.S. Department of State’s list of “countries of particular concern” for egregious and systematic human rights violation. North Korea is also ranked by the one of the world’s oldest Christian persecution groups, Open Doors, as the top persecutor of Christians for the fourth straight year.

Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA and former “pastor in membership” at Saddleback Church, said that although he was “amazed that God has opened up this opportunity for Rick Warren,” he was fearful that Warren’s presence in North Korea will bring additional persecution on Christians.

“The Christian community, if it is able to hear at all Rick’s message, will be completely clandestine,” said Moeller. “If they are in any way labeled or identified through this they will suffer.”

Jeremy Sewall, Policy Analyst at International Christian Concern, also expressed concerns for the conditions of Christians during Warren’s visit.

“Frankly, my first reaction is one of suspicion. I mean, what is North Korea trying to do here?” asked Sewall. “I think the reason why I am suspicious is because they have the worst track record of any country in regards to Christian persecution… So part of me is wondering are the North Koreans trying to pull out 15,000 Christians and find out who is Christian when Rick Warren comes?

“I am sure that Rick Warren is going to be wise in what he says. But still I am very suspicious of the motive behind North Korea’s invitation.”

Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), speculated, “They are going to attempt to show Pastor Warren their various couple of churches in Pyongyang and I’m concerned that they are going to try to get Pastor Warren to say that the people of North Korea have the freedom to worship.”

“However,” Duke continued, “I think Pastor Warren is very aware of the situation in North Korea and I don’t believe that they will be able to coerce that kind of an affirmation from him.

Duke and Moeller agreed, however, that despite reasons for concern and worry, the preaching of the Word to 15,000 people in the reclusive country is encouraging news.

“I’m encouraged that the Gospel will be preached in North Korea and many thousands of people will have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Savior,” said Duke.

Moeller, after listing his concerns for North Korean Christians, was quick to point out that Warren’s message will probably not change the way Christians are treated in North Korea single-handedly, but might act as a catalyst for change and increase openness, similar to when Billy Graham went to the Soviet Union in the early 1980’s.

“Billy Graham went to the Soviet Union amid much criticism from American evangelicals, I might add,” said Moeller. “He was able to be the leading edge of an opening that within a decade brought a significant amount of openness within the Soviet Union and ultimately its collapse.”

“I think it is also vital to realize that this is the Gospel we are talking about here,” concluded Moeller, who continues to worship at Saddleback Church and calls Rick Warren “my pastor.”

“This is the Word of God going out in a place where it has not been spoken publicly like this for decades.”