I write this “All Around Us” article at the beginning of the new year 2021. The end and beginning of the year is a time of sober reflection for the children of God, pondering especially the end of this present age and the beginning of the age to come upon the triumphant return of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As we meditate upon these truths at this time, our thoughts rest upon the many footsteps of Jesus’ return as they are taught in Scripture, signs that we continue to see with increasing clarity over time. One such sign is the persecution of the church of Jesus Christ. We read in Matthew 24:9, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” It is this subject of the persecution of Christians that we examine in this article.
Several news outlets recently wrote about an investigative report entitled “Persecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea,” which came out of the Korea Future Initiative. This London-based, non-profit organization’s purpose “is to equip governments and international organisations with authoritative human rights information that support strategies to effect tangible and positive change in North Korea.”1 The report documents a seven-month effort by the Korea Future Initiative to establish by firsthand accounts the violations of religious freedoms in North Korea. The overwhelming majority of violations were committed against those who adhere to the Christian faith. Undoubtedly, North Korea is one of the least safe places in the world for a Christian to live.
Considering the results of this report, reading firsthand accounts of persecution, and seeing corresponding images of the brutality is jarring to the soul. Here are snippets from a Christian Post article:2
The report documented the various methods of torture victims endured in North Korea’s prison camps, including strangulation, starvation, being forced to ingest polluted food, sleep deprivation, and excessive beating.
In several cases, prisoners found with a Bible or religious pamphlets were executed by a firing squad, while others were locked in electrified cages and fed watery soup. Others were executed for smuggling Bible pages into the country from China for North Koreans to make prayer books. In one instance, a victim found in possession of a Bible was publicly executed in front of over 1,000 people. The victim was tied to a wooden stake and executed by an MPS firing squad.
At North Hamgyong Provincial MSS pre-trial detention center, for example, pregnant women were forced to get an injection to trigger labor. After giving birth to live babies, the newborns would be taken from them, smothered by guards using plastic sheets or cloth sacks, and then discarded in a cleaning cupboard.
The examples of brutality could be easily multiplied. It is difficult even to read these quotes because of their gruesome nature. However, it is of value to consider the present-day reality of persecution for Christians in other places in the world. On the one hand, it is instructive because it leads us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world today. May this article lead to that end for readers of the Standard Bearer. May God keep and strengthen those for whom to own a Bible and worship Jehovah may lead to beating and even death. On the other hand, it is helpful because it leads us to be thankful for, and not take for granted, the freedoms presently that we may enjoy to serve Jesus Christ openly. But those days for readers in Europe and the United States may be numbered.
We move our thoughts closer to home by considering a development out of Europe. How the persecution of those who hold to the Christian faith may be played out is by criminalizing any and all forms of “hate speech.” Europe is on the leading edge of this development in the West. A more recent example comes out of Norway, one of the most liberal in advancing the LBGQT community’s causes among European countries. In late October of 2020, the parliament of Norway passed a law making it illegal to speak hateful words toward those who identify as transgender. What is striking is that the law includes that which may be said in public or in private. As reported by Reuters, “People found guilty of hate speech face a fine or up to a year in jail for private remarks, and a maximum of three years in jail for public comments, according to the penal code.”3 As commented on by conservative legal expert Jonathan Turley, “Such speech controls in Europe have led to a chilling effect on political and religious speech. In their homes, people will often share religious and political views that depart from majoritarian values or beliefs. This law would regulate those conversations and criminalize the expression of prohibited viewpoints.”4 Not just publicly to preach on but now privately to speak in conversation about the Lord’s hatred of all forms of sexual deviation and corruption as sinful may be deemed criminal behavior, worthy of fines and imprisonment.
Now consider the present reality in the United States of America. The Democratic Party is openly following very closely in the footsteps of these liberal agendas in Europe on free speech issues. In the same blog post referenced above, the author writes,
The most chilling fact is that European-style speech controls have become a core value in the Democratic Party. Once a party that fought for free speech, it has become the party demanding Internet censorship and hate-speech laws. President-elect Joe Biden has called for speech controls and recently appointed a transition head for agency media issues that is one of the most pronounced anti-free speech figures in the United States. It is a trend that seems now to find support in the media, which celebrated the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron before Congress where he called on the United States to follow the model of Europe on hate speech.5
I write this article only a couple of days after the Democratic Party gained the majority of the Senate of the United States of America. The presidency, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are now controlled by the Democratic Party. The path is being paved for potentially far-reaching changes in the U.S.
Consideration of the present physical persecution of Christians in North Korea and of the potential future oppression of believers in the West does not lead us to fear or despair. All of these events are under the sovereign control of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Every attempt of Satan through these measures against the church will not only be frustrated but be used by our all-wise Lord for the church and for her gathering. That is our hope. That is our confidence. That is our peace. That is why we press on as pilgrims and strangers at the beginning of a new year looking for the glorious return of Jesus Christ.
But pondering present and future persecution leads each of us to face the question personally: Am I willing to lay down my life for Jesus Christ? By God’s grace and strength, we will be. We would do so knowing that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. And we would do so, believing with confidence the certainty of everlasting life with Jesus in glory because we have a Savior who was willing and did lay down His life for His sheep.
4 https://jonathanturley.org /2020/11/29/norway-criminalizes-hate-people-against-transgender-people-in-private-homes-or-conversations.
5 https://jonathanturley.org /2020/11/29/norway-criminalizes-hate-people-against-transgender-people-in-private-homes-or-conversations.