Reacting to North Korea’s claims of a nuclear weapons test must have been difficult for the Religious Left. They do not like nuclear weapons, but they also do not relish criticizing communist governments. So some church officials have emphasized that North Korean nukes will threaten the environment. They also have denounced nuclear weapons by all governments as equally threatening, as though the nuclear arsenal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s government were as disturbing as nukes in the grasping little paws of maniacal dictator Kim Jong Il.
“Nuclear proliferation can not be good news for the planet,” lamented National Council of Churches chief Bob Edgar, who is also a United Methodist minister. “I have seen firsthand the effects of nuclear testing on human beings and God’s planet when I visited the Marshall Islands where the U.S. government tested nuclear weapons after World War II.”
The chief of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries is also worried about “the planet.” According to the Rev. Randy Day, “Nuclear weapons are menaces to all forms of life on the planet and to the Earth itself. This is true of the arsenals of the several nuclear nations. Such weapons must be controlled and rapidly eliminated by international covenant.”
Some church prelates are concerned about demonizing the North Korean communist dictatorship, which has infamously impoverished, starved, imprisoned and tortured its people while lavishing funds on its oversized military.
“We can’t build a peaceful relationship when we label the other as evil,” warned Chicago United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, who is himself Korean. He said his denomination opposes any country testing or developing nuclear weapons “which can be misused and destroy all of God’s creation.”
The head of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Samuel Kobia, a Methodist pastor from Kenya, addressed his letter about North Korea’s nukes to the UN ambassadors of Russia, the U.S., China, France, Great Britain, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan, while helpfully copying the ambassadors of Israel, Pakistan and India. Presumably Rev. Kobia wanted to communicate with the representatives of all nuclear powers.
Kobia reminded the respective ambassadors, who were no doubt anxious to hear from him, that the WCC wants “talks to lead to a formal peace treaty in the Korean Peninsula, [has] urged the [North Korean] government to abandon its nuclear weapons program and make a verified return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, and [has] urged…due consideration to [North Korea’s] concern for its security in order to resolve the crisis.”
It was thoughtful of the WCC’s Kobia to emphasize North Korea’s “security” concerns. But nowhere in his letter did Kobia mention the plight of the North Korean people, who have miserably suffered under their current slave masters for over 60 years.
Likewise, the NCC’s Bob Edgar never mentioned the oppression that North Koreans endure or the sadistic nature of their communist overseers. But like Kobia, Edgar was concerned about offering security guarantees to the North Korean tyranny.
“We urgently reaffirm our 2003 call for the prompt reconvening of talks with North Korea leading to a non-aggression pact between North Korea and the United States, renouncement of pre-emptive attack and negotiation of a peace treaty replacing the present Armistice Treaty of 1953 and the establishment and exchange of liaison offices between the United States and North Korea as a sign of good faith,” Edgar declared.
None of the leftist church prelates were quite able to identify the North Korean regime as singularly threatening because of its innately despotic and quixotic nature. Instead, nuclear weapons themselves are identified as an abstract, impersonal threat, irrespective of the character of their owners.
United Methodist missions official Randy Day explained this by quoting the official stance from his denomination: “We reaffirm the finding that nuclear weapons, whether used or threatened, are grossly evil and morally wrong. As an instrument of mass destruction, nuclear weapons slaughter the innocent and ravage the environment. When used as instruments of deterrence, nuclear weapons hold innocent people hostage for political and military purposes. Therefore, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt.”
Day also expressed hope for a “unified” Korea, a hope that Kim Jong Il no doubt also shares. The question is, what kind of “unified” Korea? Day mentioned nothing about human rights or democracy, but it is the complete absence of both in North Korea that has kept Korea divided. None of the leftist church prelates ever mention this. Obliquely, Rev. Day is “concerned that North Korea, one of the world’s poorest nations, has used limited resources for nuclear military purposes.”
Why is North Korea so poor? And how were its meager resources diverted into nuclear weapons, while millions have starved? Rev. Day does not explain. He also throws in how much “we value our links with the Christian Federation in North Korea,” which is the puppet church organization that the North Korean government exploits for its propaganda relations with international religious groups.
In perhaps the most bizarre church response to the North Korea nuclear test was a liturgy of prayer offered by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, to be read in worship services on Sunday. Again, there is special concern in the prayer not just for people but also the potentially affected environment, specifically “trees, plants, animals, earth, water, and air,” each of which evidently merits special prayer.
Rather unexpectedly, the liturgy uncritically incorporates the words of President Bush’s response to the North Korean test. “Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond,” Bush is quoted as saying. Bush is himself a United Methodist, but he likely never imagined his words would be turned into a worship liturgy.
Admirably, the liturgy stands out from the other church statements, because it actually seems to presume that North Korea’s tyrannical regime is uniquely dangerous. “We pray especially for the leaders of China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan, with all who may be most immediately in harm’s way,” the liturgy intones.
“We pray for terrorists and all who wish us harm,” the liturgy continues. “Protect us and all people.” Again, the acknowledgement of terrorism, its potential connection to North Korean nuclear proliferation, and the threat that link poses to countless innocents is unique among the church statements.
Even more remarkably, the liturgy actually admits to the sad plight of North Korea’s population: “Open our eyes to the oppression and poverty of the North Korean people, and show us ways to declare and embody the liberation and wholeness of life you desire for them and all peoples.”
The liturgy, though odd, at least makes some thoughtful points not typically found from left-leaning mainline church bureaucracies. It also concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, which is a refreshing spiritual alternative to more routine verbiage about “the planet.” But a more robust ecclesiastical response to the North Korean nuclear development might quotes from the Psalms, specifically 46:9: “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.”
Church leaders might receive more attention and respect if they confidently reminded their parishioners of the ancient and transcendent promise of their faith: that tyrants and their evil designs, even if backed by nuclear weapons, are in the end always defeated by a kind and omnipotent Providence.