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Jerusalem of the East turned Red – Or What If there was a “Christian Korean People’s Republic”?

North Korea is once again making headlines due to the unsettling behaviour of its erratic tyrant, Kim Jong-un, whose family dynasty has made it the world's most inhospitable place towards religion. A particular animosity is reserved for Christians.

Ironically, what is now the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang was – a century earlier – such a hotbed of Christian activity that it was known as the 'Jerusalem of the East'. Though Christians remained a small minority of the overall North Korean population, Pyongyang was a different story, and at its high point, three out of 10 people there were practising Christians. More than 2,000 and possibly as many as 3,000 churches were built in the region. 'Crosses dotted the Pyongyang skyline' and downtown street preachers would shout, 'Believe in Jesus and go to heaven'... the opening years of the 1900s saw the fastest growth in Pyongyang's Christianity. In January 1907, a meeting between Western missionaries and North Korean Christians resulted in a prolonged outpouring of religious sentiment and church construction known as the Pyongyang Revival.

The year 1910 saw the beginning of a Japanese occupation of Korea that lasted until 1945. The Japanese occupiers were very hostile towards Christians, many of whom were incarcerated, and some of whom were martyred. But the faith, and most of the churches, endured. Though many North Koreans turned to Communism, there was not so much friction initially between the North Korean Christians and Communists because both were oppressed by the occupying Japanese.

During World War II, there were more than three times as many Christians in North Korea as in South Korea, according to Jin-Heon Jung's article 'Underground Railroads of Christian Conversion: North Korean Migrants and Evangelical Missionary Networks in Northeast Asia' for the journal Cultural Diversity in China. However, the end of WWII saw a mass migration of Christians from North to South Korea.
... in the time before the Korean War when there were so many churches in Pyongyang that the city was known as the “Jerusalem of the East.” Crosses dotted the Pyongyang skyline... Christians represented the largest voluntary social group in Korea before the Korean War. There were more than 2,000 churches in the country in 1942, mostly Presbyterian and mostly in the north. After the 1945 partitioning of the country, the North Korean government attacked the church through its financial base. In 1946 it confiscated Christians’ finances through the Land Reform Act and in 1948 nationalized key industries, further weakening churches.

At the same time, Kim Il Sung nominated one of his (Christian) mother’s relatives, Pastor Kang Yang Wook, as a representative of the Chosun Christianity Federation, a group established to support the Communist Party while absorbing the existing Christian associations.

On September 9, 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was officially established in the north. Government officials trumpeted the end of religion in North Korea. No more steeples. No more long-haired evangelists... In late 1949, as the north was preparing for the Korean War, Communists arrested everyone who attended religious activities. They raided homes of Christians in search of religious books, which were regarded as “seditious [rebellious] circulars.”... By the time the Korean War began in June 1950, the government routinely arrested and persecuted Christian leaders on charges of sedition. During the retreat of North Korean troops, Kim Il Sung ordered the indiscriminate slaughter of Christians. There is no record of the number, but some estimate it in the tens of thousands.

Tens of thousands more escaped to South Korea, founding a number of churches (including Young Nak, one of the 40 largest churches in the world in 2014). Ultimately the refugees contributed to making South Korea the most Christian country in Asia.
One of the North Korean Christians who fled south during the exodus was the controversial cult/church leader Sun Myung Moon:

Sun Myung Moon (Korean 문선명 Mun Seon-myeong; born Mun Yong-myeong; 6 January 1920 – 3 September 2012) was a Korean religious leader, also known for his business ventures and support for political causes.[1][2] A messiah claimant, he was the founder of the Unification movement (members of which considered him and his wife Hak Ja Han to be their "True Parents"),[3] and of its widely noted "Blessing" or mass wedding ceremony, and the author of its unique theology the Divine Principle.[4][5][6] He was an opponent of communismand an advocate for Korean reunification, for which he was recognized by the governments of both North and South Korea.[7] Businesses he promoted included News World Communications, an international news media corporationknown for its American subsidiary The Washington Times,[8][9][10] and Tongil Group, a South Korean business group (chaebol),[11][12][13] as well as various related organizations.[1][14]...
...
Sun Myung Moon was born Moon Yong Myeong on 6 January 1920,[30] in modern-day North P'yŏng'an Province, North Korea, at a time when Korea was under Japanese rule. He was the younger of two sons in a farming family of eight children.[16]Moon's family followed Confucianist beliefs until he was around 10 years old, when they converted to Christianity and joined the Presbyterian Church.[31]

In 1941, Moon began studying electrical engineering at Waseda University in Japan.[21] During this time he cooperated with Communist Party members in the Korean independence movement against Imperial Japan.[32]
On Easter Sunday, 1936, Moon had a vision of Jesus, he reported, in which he was told that he had been assigned to the mission of completing Jesus' unfinished task of saving the human race. For some years afterwards he formulated his religious and theological ideas, which he began teaching seriously at the end of World War II. In 1946 he went to North Korea, but stories soon spread that Moon was preaching heresy and spying for South Korea, and he landed in prison. He was freed, rearrested, and finally freed during the Korean War in 1950. The beginning of the Unification Church as a distinct organization is usually dated at 1951, by which time Moon was back in South Korea at Pusan. He began to attract followers and to put his ideas into written form. Those writings have since become scripture to the movement; in book form they are called Divine Principle.
As this article points out, many leaders in the anti-Japanese Korean Independence Movement were Christians. As with Moon, some worked alongside Communists to achieve their goal.

Let’s say that in 1936 Sun Myung Moon has a slightly different divine visitation where God not only assigns him the “mission of completing Jesus' unfinished task of saving the human race” but also adds that Moon should build a “classless society where the workers control the means of production”. Thus Moon sets out on a journey to bridge the divide between Communist & Christian factions by promoting his own brand of Christian Socialism. After Korea divided between the Soviets & Americans post WW2 the U.S.S.R. doesn’t purge the Christian Communists (Why? Maybe Stalin dies earlier than OTL and whomever succeeds him doesn’t care about the issue. Or maybe the the Soviets decide that throwing support behind the “Moonies” is a good strategy (Moscow did support the KMT over Mao at one point)). North Korea becomes the “Christian Korean People’s Republic” with Sun Myung Moon as its pragmatic leader who can quote Jesus, Lenin and Marx to promote whatever agenda suits while building the controversial political ideology & “Unification Church” state-religion.

How does the Korean War play out in such a TL?
What would Sun Myung Moon North Korea look like?
What would a North Korea-based “Unification Church” look like & what would be it’s activities outside the Korean Peninsula?
How would South Korea react to such a neighbour? What happens to Christianity in the Republic of Korea?
How would U.S. react, especially the Christian-right and it’s promoters who typically assert Christianity = Good = Anti-Communism?
 
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This is back to our old friend "If Hitler wasn't anti-semitic, he wouldn't be Hitler." If Moon Sun Myung was Communist, he wouldn't be Moon Sun Myung.

And why would the Soviets, even assuming they want to bridge the divide between Communists and Christians, choose a man whose theology is regarded as extremely heterodox, if not outright blasphemous, by the vast majority of Korean Christians? Jesus failed in his mission because he never married and had kids, therefore Moon is the Messiah? I don't know exactly how many people in Korea believe that, but the grand total of Moonies WORLDWIDE is somewhere between 15 000 and 25 000, so the number in Korea must be a miniscule sliver of 1% of the population.

That said, in the unlikely event of any of this happening, there would be little dilemma for the American Right, because the overwhelming majority of conservative Christians in the USA would not regard Moon as a brother in Christ, but as a blasphemous cult leader, with the fundamentalists considering him as an outright devil worshipper.

And yes, I am aware that, OTL, some American conservatives have formed an alliance of convenience with the Moonies. But that's only because he has lots of money to throw at their favorite causes: they want nothing to do with his theology. In the ATL, the fact that such an obvious blasphemer has declared himself a Communist would be just one more reason to hate Communism.
 
Actually, in the event of a Communist leader doing double-duty as the head of a New Religious Movement, that could have the nifty effect of partially merging Cold War anti-Communism with 1970s anti-cult paranoia. In real life, the two tendencies largely stayed on separate tracks.
 
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