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15 June 2018

Trump meets Kim: present justice and future hope

John Coleby is public policy researcher at the Evangelical Alliance.

This week saw the long-awaited Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. It's fair to say that the reaction has been mixed. Supporters of the President have highlighted the importance of this face-to-face meeting, and the prospect of future progress. Critics, however, have noted the lack of concrete measures in the deal struck between the two nations, the substantial US concessions, and particularly the fact that there has been little movement on North Korean human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief. 

This last point should be particularly troubling for Christians. It is estimated that around 70,000 of our brothers and sisters in Christ are in North Korean prison camps. North Korea remains at the top of the Open Doors World Watch List as the country where it is most difficult to be a Christian. And while much of the focus this week has been on denuclearising the Korean peninsula, the sanctions imposed on North Korea have been as much to do with human rights in the country as they have been down to their nuclear programme.

This week we've also seen football teams and fans gathering in Russia as the World Cup begins. Again, however, concerns persist over the human rights of many different groups in that country. According to the news service Forum18, last week saw many arrests and interrogations of Jehovah's Witnesses. Evangelical Christians have faced their own difficulties with the Russian authorities, as have other groups. When Russia played Saudi Arabia this week, the thoughts of many Christians would no doubt have turned to their fellow Christians in both countries.

We can indeed be thankful for events like the Singapore Summit or the World Cup. They provide opportunities for international dialogue and media scrutiny, which may not otherwise take place. They can be the first step towards more difficult conversations. But, we know too that world leaders will always be tempted to content themselves with what is easy rather than what is lasting, stopping at the photographs, games and agreements, rather than pursuing the things that truly make for unity and peace.

The biblical picture of both peace and unity is much richer than how these terms are used in politics today. Mere unity for example is not a good on its own: unity at the expense of God's people or in neglect of the poor is clearly a bad thing (cf. Psalm 2:1-3 and Luke 23:12). The 'shalom' of the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 29:7) goes well beyond a ceasefire, covering the rights and flourishing of all who benefit from it. As Martin Luther King Jr noted, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice."

Such peace, hand in hand with justice, may seem very far away, particularly as we review reports from the countries mentioned above. But, that is our goal nonetheless. The difficulty of this goal reminds us that our hope is not ultimately in a political leader, a summit or an international organisation. While we must always keep on making our voices heard in these areas, our ultimate hope is in God, for whom nothing is impossible.

So, while we should not reject or play down opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation, Christians should approach such opportunities prayerfully, prophesying biblical peace. We should continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, as our leaders meet theirs. We ought to pray for our leaders and be a voice to them for the voiceless, ensuring that they don't shirk the hard questions when the opportunity arises to face them. Let's pray that the steps that have been taken this week may be the start, and not the end, of the journey.   

Image: Dan Scavino Jr.