Why Christians shouldn’t support Dennis Rodman’s North Korea circus

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Rodman's antics in North Korea are consistent with his eccentric past. But they are not diplomacy, and Christians shouldn't support them. - Image courtesy of Blumpi (http://bit.ly/1lNYxHV)

Rodman's antics in North Korea are consistent with his eccentric past. But they are not diplomacy, and Christians shouldn't support them. - Image courtesy of Blumpi (http://bit.ly/1lNYxHV)

Rodman's antics in North Korea are consistent with his eccentric past. But they are not diplomacy, and Christians shouldn't support them. - Image courtesy of Blumpi (http://bit.ly/1lNYxHV)

Rodman’s antics in North Korea are consistent with his eccentric past. But they are not diplomacy, and Christians shouldn’t support them. – Image courtesy of Blumpi (http://bit.ly/1lNYxHV)

Dennis Rodman has often bragged (in third person, no less) about “doing whatever the f— he wants.” And his public life shows he’s not joking.

From kicking a camera man in the crotch during a basketball game to his infamous hair-dying practices that often distracted both teammates and fans to the time he promoted his autobiography by showing up in a wedding dress and announcing that he was marrying himself, Dennis Rodman has always been an powder keg of peculiarity.

Now, the 52-year-old Rodman has created a media circus with a trip to North Korea to train the country’s basketball players.

And at least one person, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, thinks he’s the perfect bridge builder and mediator in the United States’ contentious relationship with the communist country.

Rev. Jackson tweeted, “Ping pong diplomacy worked in China, and Basketball seems to work in North Korea.” He also congratulated Rodman on his efforts, calling him “a light” in a dark place.

I beg to differ.

Let’s be clear: Rodman’s visit to North Korea is not diplomacy. By definition, diplomacy is the act of two governments working together through the respective country’s representatives. “Ping-pong diplomacy” worked in China in the 1970’s because U.S. President Richard Nixon was doing it.

Rodman is not authorized to negotiate for or speak on behalf of the United States or any other nation. When Rev. Jackson and others refer to Rodman’s trips to North Korea as “diplomacy,” they empty the word of its meaning.

Instead, Rodman’s bizarre foray into North Korea is low comedy and ultimately inconsequential to international relations. The only beneficiary? The North Korean government, which is leveraging his visit in its propaganda “to brainwash their people into believing they have legitimacy on the world stage.”

But it isn’t the ineffectiveness of Rodman’s trips that ultimately earn my disapproval; it’s the way my faith speaks to such situations.

Jesus tells those who follow him to love their enemies, a command that is not for the faint of heart. How do you love the man who stole your wife away or the teacher who molested your child? How do you love Al Qaeda or the Taliban or anyone who wishes to kill you just for being, well, you?

North Korea has both asserted and proven that it is America’s enemy and the government has no desire to be otherwise. It’s easy to love those who love us back, but Jesus followers must also look for ways to connect with, understand, and seek the good of those who hate us.

And yet sometimes the love of enemy finds itself in tension with an even more central exhortation of Jesus: the love of neighbor and the care for “the least of these.” Such is the case with the North Korean government.

North Korea's lack of food storage facilities means that many crops lies out in the open and are lost. - Photo courtesy of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (http://bit.ly/1exJ6y1)

North Korea’s lack of food storage facilities means that many crops lie out in the open and are lost. – Photo courtesy of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (http://bit.ly/1exJ6y1)

– About 1/3rd of North Korea’s citizens are malnourished and the International Food Policy Research Institute classifies the country as “alarming” on the Global Hunger Index.

– Most workers in North Korea earn between $2 and $3 per month from the government.

– About 1/3rd of North Korea’s children are stunted due to malnutrition, according to the World Food Program. Parents who send their children to school “are expected to provide desks, chairs, building materials and cash to pay for heating fuel.”

– North Korea restricts religious expression among its citizens. According to Open Doors USA, North Korea is the top persecutor of Christians in the world. The regime is holding about 130,000 citizens as “political prisoners” according to the United Nations.

This bitter salad of poverty, hunger, and oppression are largely the result of the morally bankrupt government. In fact, North Korea is officially the most corrupt country in the world, ranking at the very top on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Kim Jong Un may be worth as much as $5 billion, according to the best estimates. Through his corruptive coercion, Kim Jong Un’s North Korea has effectively “starved its people for a nuke.”

Yes, this is the same Kim Jong Un that Rodman warbled “Happy Birthday” to. This is the same Kim Jong Un that Rodman portrays as just another misunderstood world leader and not the tyrannical dictator at the head of one of the greatest human rights violators anywhere around the globe.

Conservatives shouldn’t support Rodman because of their belief in democracy and their opposition to Communism. Liberals shouldn’t support Rodman because of their opposition to global injustice and inequality. And Christians shouldn’t support Rodman because they must ultimately and always side with the oppressed over the oppressor.

Christians must look for ways to love their enemies without cozying up to the “powers that be.”

The North Korean people need food and freedom and the ability to worship as they choose. But Rodman has chosen to ignore the cries of the hopeless and helpless and instead uncritically embrace one of the world’s most dangerous dictators.

So, no, I cannot support him. And neither should those who bear the name of “Christ.”

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    The political analysis Mr Merritt uses in this column are useless in examining Mr Rodman’s actions: Mr Rodman either isn’t capable of or doesn’t care to understand the implications of such analysis. Perhaps equally annoying is the Rev. Mr Jackson’s persistent habit of defending the indefensible simply because it was done by a Black person. One would think Mr Jackson would have learned that lesson long ago.

  • Kim Wright

    @ Daniel Berry, do you call yourself a Christian? Well I can tell you that Jonatnan Meritt is and would never take racial slurs at another person. He is not a prejudice man. So for you to these things in your comment is so very wrong. Did you just read this article because he was writing about Rodman? I pray for you sir that the discontent you have in your heart is touched by Jesus…. As Jesus can do anything.

  • Kim Wright

    I was apparel by the Rev. Jackson’s involvement in this. And then He also “congratulated Rodman on his efforts, calling him “a light” in a dark place.”

    Rodman is definitely no light in this world. His actions have proven that over and over again.

    What really got to me in your article was how little the children and the average person gets paid and gets to eat. That is so sad. While Kim Jong Un lives a lavish lifestyle. It is really so very, very sad.

    Thank you Jonathan for bringing to light these things about N. Korea, I appreciate. Now I know how I can pray for the people there.

  • Tracy

    This is a multi-level, multiplayer chess game played with a sociopath with missiles and a narcissist with ball skills.

    I don’t presume to know what’s going on here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rev. Jackson is playing a coded game which we may one day thank him for. At the very least, I don’t want to be so naïve as to believe that what I see on the surface is all there is.

    Think: Do we really want Rodman to find his only true friend in the world to be Kim Jong Un? Or is it perhaps a good thing for Mr. Jackson to keep some line of communication open — offering himself as a sort of supportive grandfatherly figure? And Mr. Rodman is all ego– I don’t see any good way to stay on his side then to play to that ego. People who work with psychopaths and sociopaths know it is essential for them to believe you are on their side. We don’t so much need another person telling us that Kim Jong Un is cruel and nuts, and Rodman crazy — I think we all know that, Captain Obvious, my teenager would say. The question is, what to do with them.

    If there is a felt need to keep some line open with Rodman — who might do that, — who might he trust? Mr Jackson may be uniquely positioned.

    For Christians to simply identify bad behavior — well, that’s not much help. We can’t send in the cavalry either. This is a volatile situation, and unless we’re sitting in on State Department meetings, perhaps we should consider the very real possibility that there is more going on than we know. Crazy guy Rodman is the only person from the West who gets to see Jong Il. Since there aren’t many other levers to push, trying to work a little through Rodman might be a longshot– but what else have you got?

    But first, you’ve got to make nice with Rodman.

  • Chas D

    I am iron strong and unwavering in my opposition of D. Rodman here. Eric Sleepy Floyd from the team, got out ASAP. He came from Malaysia in a exhibition game to this unaware He was basically ambushed. He arrived in Beijing airport hiding in a jacket from reporters and ushered away in a black car, He gave a real appologetic interview (no publicist like Rodman) interviewed saying he got close to ten thousand dollars. He has apologized best. Mike Tyson,surprising, has made the biggest stir on the everyman level calling Rodman, a traitor. BET’s Justice B Hill warned against this trip nineteen days before. I waited for this event like a person flying in a damaged airplane. I knew bad was going to come out of it. It did. Morally corrupt Americans will come in tours now because of the publicity. Hitler led a popoulaion, many North Koreans believe the Nationalism in North Korea. A same minority redefect. Until this nation gets Korean speaking analysts and takes this situation seriously this mess will remain.

  • Chas D

    Specialist Academics and North Korean analyst say North Korea is a racist society closer to the Emperor of Japan than any Marx of European Communists. The camps are real. Rodman has been doing foreign basketball in Macau, China in 2011. This trip came about by a entertainment company called VICE, as a fluke. Which does exactly whhat its name implies, it looks for vice. There was never any grand design just opportunism. Read what Mao Tse Tung said about counter revolutionararies. Its obvious this system is Taylor made for oppression. The adults in the government better get a handle on this thing. The presidential spokesman Jay Carey saying we don’t monitor private citizens’ travel is not cutting it. History is full of boy king ruleres with strange tastes.

  • Marcus Johnson

    I’m reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. For anyone who wants to add to their perspective on the tyranny and oppression that defines North Korea, you have to buy this book and read it from cover to cover.

    Also, I’m not sure if Rodman’s just an attention-starved idiot, or if he’s an attention-starved idiot with mental issues, but he’s definitely not deserving of our support, regardless of what your faith tradition might be (or if you even have one). And Jesse Jackson is just as shallow as Rodman; his standard fare is to show up to a situation fraught with racial tension, stay for the photo shoots and press coverage, then leave when the press does, with no real change having occurred.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    Ms Wright, I’m puzzled by your response to my posting.

    Can you please point out where I made the suggestion that Mr Merritt used a racial slur? I’ve reread my posting at least three times, and am unable to find any accusation of racial slur directed at anyone.

    What I have critiqued is Mr Rodman’s failure of comprehension of the significance – and ugly underbelly – of his trip to North Korea.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    Mr Rodman’s actions and those of the North Korean leader are those of a mind disorganized by the effects of misuse of alcohol. Small wonder they should find “friendship” with one another: While little is known about North Korea’s social culture, what is well known is that North Korea is the world’s largest per capita importer of Hennessy cognac.

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  • Doc Anthony

    In case Jesse Jackson or any of his minions happen to be reading today’s article, I want to say that it is an honor to denounce Jesse Jackson for this latest bit of liberal tomfoolery.

    And Dennis Rodman? A couple years in the federal supermax, just for starters.

  • Doc Anthony

    Let’s make nice to Rodman after he spends a few years in the federal cooler. Jackson can be his cellmate.

  • Tracy

    Wow, Doc Anthony. Just wow. For what crime does Jackson belong in a federal prison? A tossed off statement like that really deserves some examination. And perhaps some education.

    I never said Jackson is a perfect human being. But examine his biography here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_jackson and find the place where you find him deserving of sentencing for a federal crime. It would be good to provide a list of white men serving time for that crime as well, because throwing black men in jail just because we don’t like them, — that’s got a bad history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_jackson

  • Tracy

    I would hope that you and others will pay special attention to Jackson’s record of international diplomacy (often unconventional, no doubt) as outlined in that Wikipedia article.

    In 1983, Jackson traveled to Syria to secure the release of a captured American pilot, Navy Lt. Robert Goodman who was being held by the Syrian government.

    . In June 1984, Jackson negotiated the release of twenty-two Americans being held in Cuba after an invitation by Cuban president Fidel Castro.

    On the eve of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Jackson made a trip to Iraq, to plead to Saddam Hussein for the release of foreign nationals held there as the “human shield”, securing the release of several British and twenty American individuals.

    He traveled to Kenya in 1997 to meet with Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi as United States President Bill Clinton’s special envoy for democracy to promote free and fair elections.

    In April 1999, during the Kosovo War, Jackson traveled to Belgrade to negotiate the release of three U.S. POWs captured on the Macedonian border while patrolling with a UN peacekeeping unit. He met with the then-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, who later agreed to release the three men.

    In November 2004, Jackson visited senior politicians and community activists in Northern Ireland in an effort to encourage better cross-community relations and rebuild the peace process and restore the governmental institutions of the Belfast Agreement.

    You likely won’t love everything you see there. But you should admit some pretty stellar accomplishments, in what appeared to be nearly hopeless situations.

  • Tracy

    Not sure I follow, but I don’t think Rodman has a plan either.
    But I do believe others are working overtime to figure out whether his presence can be exploited for positive results, or at least prevented from making matters worse. Just because Carey says they aren’t monitoring things doesn’t mean they aren’t.

  • Tracy

    You may think there is plenty of bluster in Jackson and not get much of an argument, but you and others here seem to be unfamiliar with Jackson’s entire career. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Jackson.

  • mike

    Besides ignoring Dennis, now I have to ignore you too.

  • Tracy

    That sounds clever, but I have no idea what it means.

    Are you simply planning to ignore information that contradicts what you believe? Not sure what else I can conclude from your remark.

  • Marcus Johnson

    Oh, I’ll be the first to agree that Jackson’s career had some high points, especially his work in the civil rights movement. But, as time progressed, and Jackson became more comfortable with being an icon, he started to compromise his mission for the sake of celebrity. It’s really a sad downward trend from “preacher who marched aside MLK” to “celebrity who shows up at after the Benton Harbor riots, says a few speeches, and leaves with no real change implemented.”

  • Tracy

    I am a broken record here, and I realize that is annoying, but apparently not many people are familiar with his career in the 80’s and 90’s. Please go to the Wikipedia page and look at Cuba, Iraq, Syria, Ireland, Kosovo . . .. Apparently most of those on this page don’t remember anything after the 70’s, and then have some impressionistic understanding after that. And here’s the thing, you don’t get Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro or Mlosovic to deal with you unless they think you are an icon. Unless you have a pretty big ego yourself. Christians should learn something from Schindler’s List — heroes aren’t always conventional saints.

  • Tracy

    I meant to say go to Jackson’s Wikipedia page and look at his work in those pages, detailed briefly in the middle of the page.

  • Marcus Johnson

    I don’t doubt that Jesse Jackson was a very relevant figure in past decades. However, nothing in your argument so far convinces me that Jesse Jackson has any legitimacy as a spiritual, God-centered leader who doesn’t act primarily out of self-interest. You’re pointing to all the major world events in which Jackson played a major role; I’m pointing to everything else. Come up to Benton Harbor sometime, where Jackson came, did a couple meetings, did a couple photo ops with the black folk who were afraid of the police, and then just left, leaving the city to continue its downward spiral into a community steeped in poverty and separated by race and class. Jackson is just not that interested in long-term solutions as he is into preserving his image.

  • Chas H

    ask you to excuse my poor writing
    Concept #1: Intellectuals ( smart people) that study North Korea have came up with some conclusions on what form of government DPRK,the formal of name of North Korea,is. Its racist. Its closer to the left wing faction of the Nazis than it is to the European Communists. European Communism was what most political studies and people who lived out the cold war with the ex-Soviet Union are familiar with. The North Korean people are taught to worship their leader like a god. This was what Japan did with its emperor until it was defeated by the United States. Its propaganda blames everything on the USA which is only possible because of zero freedom. Most of its problems are self created.
    Concept #2: Rodman does these overseas exhibitions as a source of income. He did it in Macao, a special economic zone of China, which has gambling. He did it in 2011.
    Concept #3: Christianity in China is/was very repressed, the Communist Country that saved North Korea from extinction . The Korean war was almost won until China joined the war. Mao Tse Tung, was the main person in Chinese Communism. Anyone who challenges their power are called counter revolutionaries. They ruthlessly destroy them: Christianity included. A person can read their policies and history. Intellectuals often do.
    Concept #4: Combine Western decadence ( Such as the entertainment company who linked Rodman, the delusional opportunist alcoholic ) with the leader of a Totalitarian regime and you get undesirable outcomes. He is not a hero. He is not Oscar Schendler from Schendlers List. He is a collaborator.

  • Chas H

    In anger, I do not think it is wise to overstep

  • Chas H

    My purpose is not to define or lessen Jessie Jackson Senior. Wikipedia will also tell you that North Koreans killed their American Prisoners of war at the highest rate,higher than the Japanese in the 2nd World War. The released archives from China tell that the Chinese squabbled so much with the North Koreans allies because they killed prisoners (B.R.Myers).
    I know the high quality of many black/African Americans. The issue is not to divide Americans. This will play into North Korean designs. Even Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer cussed out the attitude of North Koreans. Ali was no stranger to racism and identified it at the time. Who was giving it to him: North Koreans. There is a free link in Google books,where Rick Flair, tells what was going on with Ali and North Koreans.

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  • Brian

    As usual, you “Christians” spout random, illogical comments that are only consistent in their negativity and lack of charity. “If I ever meet a Christian, I will be one.” Not much chance of that.

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