Monday, June 27, 2005

Church activism and foreign policy ... In itself, civic activism based upon a religious principle is neutral. Whether it's a moral good depends on the particular principle in question and how it relates to the context it's being applied to.

When church leaders began pressing for action in Sudan, for instance, I thought it was a good thing. Darfur is a mess because no politician can currently be held accountable for what's going on there; only if there's popular support for change will politicians feel compelled to act. Consequently, if a group of pastors wanted to help increase Darfur's public profile -- even if their desire to do so stemmed from absolutist religious convictions -- then they had my blessing.

But North Korea is a totally different issue, which is why this story concerns me:
Christian supporters from President Bush's Texas hometown, believed to have been instrumental in pressuring the White House to raise concerns over war-ravaged Sudan, are launching another international human rights campaign -- this time against North Korea's hard-line regime.

Members of the Midland Ministerial Alliance, a network of more than 200 churches in the city, are in Seoul this week seeking support for their latest push for improved human rights in the communist North.

''North Korean human rights will be the primary focus that we encourage the community here to actively engage in, to use their influence, and to not rest until the lives of North Koreans have changed for much better," alliance spokeswoman Deborah Fikes told South Korean lawmakers Friday.

As much as I respect the idealism here, applying the same absolutist approach to Pyongyang as to Darfur is a needlessly dangerous gambit.

To say the least, there's a few significant differences between North Korea and Sudan. First is the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons. Second is the fact that North Korea is not a failed state: it may be corrupt, brutal, and tyrannical, but it is not failed; by all accounts Kim Jong Il's regime has access to and control over every region of the country. So right there you're talking about regime change rather than merely keeping the peace.

Then, finally, unlike Sudan two years ago, the world hasn't ignored the plight of most North Koreans because they've overlooked them. Every industrialized nation knows full well what's going on there and how bad it is, but they're clueless as to what to do. As a result, improving the lives of North Koreans isn't a matter of merely airlifting supplies or installing an embargo.

I agree with the Midland Ministers Alliance that North Korea needs to improve -- and further, that God must be appalled by what is happening there. But I also believe, quite fervently, that given the current context it is in God's hands rather than our own.

That doesn't mean we should ignore what's going on, just that we should be treading incredibly carefully. No one should apply undue pressure to Pyongyang unless they're certain of what we'll get -- and right now, only God, if anyone, could have such certainty.


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