Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Hope for the Korean Peninsula

David T. Koyzis


December 3, 2010
by David T. Koyzis

The Cold War ended two decades ago in most of the world, but not in the Korean peninsula, where tensions once again came to the surface last week. Sixty years ago the first conflict pitting communists against noncommunists broke out as North Korea attacked South Korea at the 38th parallel, then the boundary between the Soviet and American occupation zones. Three years later an armistice brought an end to open conflict, but the official state of war has persisted to the present.

What began as separate occupation zones quickly hardened into two rival states, which have taken very different directions in the ensuing years. When the Berlin Wall was opened in 1989 and communism was ending in the former East Germany, many observers wondered how long it would be before other divided states were reunited. The two Yemens came together in 1990 after South Yemen abandoned Marxism. It seemed only a matter of time before this moribund ideology collapsed in North Korea as well and the peninsula was finally reunified.

However, that’s not what happened, or at least not yet. Kim Il-sung, who had led the North since the beginning, died in 1994, and his son Kim Jong-il succeeded him. Under father and son North Korea has become a closed society, hostile to the outside world and bent on becoming a nuclear power. Tragically, the country lost some 3 million people to famine between 1995 and 1997, a consequence of brutal misgovernment.

The contrast to South Korea could hardly be greater. Although that country was governed autocratically until 1987, it has since become a prosperous constitutional democracy. More spectacular has been the growth of Christianity over the decades. The CIA estimates that Christians now number 26.3 percent of the population, while one Christian Science Monitor report estimates them to constitute around one third of the country. Indeed the capital city of Seoul contains church congregations whose numbers dwarf more than a few western denominations.

Reformed Christianity is especially strong in South Korea. According to the Rev. Samuel Moffett of Princeton Seminary, “Presbyterians are to Korea what Baptists are to Texas.” There are several Christian universities and an Institute for Calvinistic Studies. Abraham Kuyper’s writings are read in translation and are having their impact on the larger society. South Korea now sends out more missionaries internationally than any country except the United States.

Because the two Koreas have diverged so dramatically, they could no longer easily be melded into a single society. Nevertheless, once Kim Jong-il passes from the scene, the likelihood of North Korea lasting as a separate state seems rather slim, because a cult of personality is an unstable basis on which to build a durable polity. Therefore South Koreans must prepare themselves for the inevitable strains of assimilating a badly mistreated population into a more just civic framework.

In the meantime, despite the recent rise in tensions, a full-scale reprise of the Korean War seems unlikely. Recently leaked documents indicate that China, which nearly overwhelmed United Nations forces 60 years ago, is increasingly frustrated with North Korea’s antics, which are an obstacle to peaceful trading relations in the region. Moreover, Beijing seems open to a united Korea under the Seoul régime.

When and if this comes about, Christians will amount to only around 18 percent of the total population of the peninsula. Nevertheless, the church has momentum and the Holy Spirit is obviously at work. Prior to the Second World War most of Korea’s small Christian community had lived in the north. May God grant that the gospel again take root there and, with it, the just government that has so long eluded its longsuffering people.

—David T. Koyzis is an American citizen teaching politics at Redeemer University College in Canada. He is the author of Political Visions and Illusions (2003).

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”