A progressive evangelical leader who counseled President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal says it isn’t surprising that North Korea would release an Australian accused of illegal missionary activity while sentencing an American caught doing the same thing to 15 years of hard labor, because in parts of the world U.S. missionaries are perceived as too cozy with the CIA.
“Missionaries here in the United States have been too close to the CIA,” Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, said in a recent podcast.
“For instance, very often when missionaries come home from the field, if they’ve been serving in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan, the CIA calls them to Washington,” Campolo said in audio posted at RedLetterChristians.org. “And too often the missionaries go to Washington and are debriefed: Who are the leaders in the villages where you were working? What was the attitude of people in the churches toward the United States?”
Earlier this month North Korea freed John Short, a 75-year-old Australian detained allegedly for illegally distributing Bible tracts around a Buddhist temple after entering the country as a tourist.
Meanwhile another missionary, Korean-American Kenneth Bae, remains in prison since his arrest on Nov. 12, 2012, for planning a missionary project called “Operation Jericho,” which North Korea called a religious plot to depose leader Kim Jong-Un.
Campolo, whose ministry sponsors Christian service programs in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in various African countries and across Canada and the United States, said he is surprised that it took the United Nations so long to recognize atrocities in North Korea detailed in a scathing report released in February, but not surprised by the apparent double standard.
“These kinds of cooperative relationships the missionaries from the United States have had with the CIA have made missionaries very suspect in these countries such as North Korea,” Campolo said. “So I understand fully why the Australian was let go and the American missionary was held behind.”
Suspicion about CIA involvement with U.S. foreign missionaries has a long history. Fausto Vasconcelos, evangelism director for the Baptist World Alliance and a former pastor in Brazil, said in an interview last December that he remembers hearing speculation about whether a particular Southern Baptist missionary worked for the CIA in the 1960s.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford admitted that the CIA had used missionaries as agents in the past and might do so again.
“In many countries of the world representatives of the clergy, foreign and local, play a significant role and can be of assistance to the U.S. through the CIA with no reflection upon the integrity of their mission,” CIA Director William Colby said in a letter to Sen. Mark Hatfield.
The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board responded with a letter in February 1976 asking President Ford “to take whatever steps are necessary, as soon as possible, to make clear, in our country and abroad, that missionaries and clergy throughout the world are not to be used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or any other intelligence agency of our government.”
The FMB, today known as the International Mission Board, made a similar request to President Jimmy Carter, after members of his administration indicated they were not opposed to the use of religious workers as intelligence agents.
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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press