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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  WHUT  January 8, 2012 8:30am-9:00am EST

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>> coming up, pastors risking their lives to help north koreans risking theirs trying to escape brutal totalitarian oppression. legendary singer songwriter paul simon on the surprising prevalence of spiritual themes in his newest album. plus, a congregation in new orleans, hard hit by hurricane katrina, helping handicapped children in haiti, survivors of the earthquake there two yes o.
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>> major funding for religion and ethics news weekly is provided by the lily endowment, a private family foundation dedicated to founders and christian religion, community development, and education. additional funding also provided by mutual of america, sdipg customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we are your retirement company. the estate of william j carter. the jane henson foundation and the corporation for public broadcasting. welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. evangelical christians played a key role in the republican caucuses in iowa. in a late surge, rick santorum received the largest share of evangelical support and lost to mitt romney by only eight votes. nearly 60% of this year's republican caucusgoers identified themselves as evangelicals. roughly 30% of them voted for santorum.
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14% went for romney. in the new hampshire primary tuesday, religion is not expected to be as large a factor. pope benedict xvi named 22 new cardinals this week, including two americans -- archbishop of new york, timothy dolan and edwin o'brien, the former archbishop of baltimore, now at the vatican. dolan also serves as the head of the u.s. conference of catholic bishops. here at home, the archbishop of philadelphia has decided to sell the 10,000-square-foot mansion that has been the home of the city's archbishops since 1935. the building has 16 rooms and 5 bathrooms. at one time there was also a pool and a putting green on the grounds. archbishop charles chaput reportedly said he didn't want to live in a mansion while budget shortfalls are forcing him to close local churches and schools.
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meanwhile, bishop gabino zavala, the auxiliary roman catholic bishop of los angeles, resigned this week after disclosing that he is the father of two teenage children. the archdiocese of los angeles says it will offer spiritual care to the mother and children and provide them with help paying for college. the bipartisan u.s. commission on international religious freedom has urged the obama administration to put religious liberty and all human rights at the center of its relations with north korea. as north koreans buried and dramatically mourned their long-time tyrant, kim jong-il, the new government promised no change in its policies. that would mean no end to its repression. just before christmas lucky severson visited south korea. he reports today on two heroic pastors who are risking their
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lives helping north koreans trying to escape, through china to south korea. >> reporter: this is pyongyang, the capitol of the democratic people's republic of korea, and this is the way the regime wants you to see life in north korea, as a utopian paradise. it's not the way melanie kirkpatrick, a senior fellow at the hudson institute sees north korea. she's about to publish a book about the people who've escaped the north and those who have helped them. >> i'd argue, not only is it the most totalitarian regime in existence today, it's probably the most totalitarian regime in existence in history. it is hard to describe to americans the extent of the repression there. >> reporter: kwang jin kim was a north korean banker who defected eight years ago. he now lives in south korea. >> the life in north korea is like hell, you know, and the
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life outside is like heaven. >> reporter: this is the so-called "demilitarized zone," the heavily militarized buffer zone between the two koreas, which are still technically at war. south korea has one of the world's most prosperous economies. by all accounts, north korea is one of the most oppressive, closed regimes of modern times. as many as two million north koreans have died of starvation. hundreds of thousands have been committed to political prisons. tens of thousands have risked their lives to escape, with the help of some dedicated christian pastors and missionaries. 15 years ago, when he was a nondenominational pastor and missionary in seoul, tim peters asked himself a question that changed the course of his life. >> what's wrong with this picture? 50 miles north of here is possibly the worst human rights situation, including christian persecution, in the entire world, and here we are in south korea living a lifestyle that's
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probably on par with the united states and europe, and even the south korean churches were sending armies of missionaries all over the world and yet, there seemed to be nobody in china to kind of catch, the play catcher to all these refugees that were coming across. >> reporter: peters just returned from china where he operates an underground railroad helping north korean refugees, most of them not christian, escape to other countries. they are not welcome in china and forcefully sent home if they're caught. pastor phillip buck has a long history of helping north koreans. his daughter grace interprets. >> so i once asked a chinese -- chinese person, why do you do this? i mean, these are so desperate people. even if you can't feed them, at least don't arrest them and send them back to north korea. what is the reason for you doing this? and the person said that because china and north korea has such a strong tie.
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>> reporter: and if they are sent back, they know they'll face severe punishment. leaving north korea without permission is a serious crime. >> some of the north korean refugees, particularly women for some reason are known to carry either a razor blade or arsenic in their handbags in the event that they are identified and detained by chinese police. some of these ladies will attempt to commit suicide in preference to meet the consequences that they will face on the north korean side when they get sent back. >> and people who are found with a bible or found practicing christianity are arrested and the united states commission on international religious freedom has documented cases of people who have been killed for their religious beliefs. >> reporter: and if the refugee sent home is identified as a christian, pastor buck says the crime is considered very serious and sometimes ends with execution.
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>> they are imprisoned in political concentration camps. and with the reason that they believe in jesus christ they are publicly executed. >> reporter: altogether pastor buck has helped 200 north koreans find refuge in other countries and was awarded the international civil courage prize -- $50,000 for his efforts. he uses that money and other contributions to help support 2,000 refugees. >> pastor buck is a real hero. >> reporter: in 2005, pastor buck was arrested and spent 15 months in a chinese prison, an experience, he says, that made him stronger and more determined. >> after i was released from prison i had no fear at all. i could speak with power, and i could speak to north korea, to china, telling them that you should not do this. you should save north korean refugees. you should be merciful to these people.
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>> reporter: how is it that the death of the so-called "dear leader" of such an oppressive regime can cause such a display of grief and adoration from those who have been oppressed? >> people are brainwashed. it's true. >> reporter: she says they're taught from an early age to revere their leaders, almost worship them -- first kim il-sung, the country's founder, then kim jong-il, the son, and now it's already begun with kim jong un, the grandson. >> this is a typical propaganda film -- the teacher tells the kids to sit up straight and little comrades, when you have heard my story, you will know that our general is the most praiseworthy man on earth. >> the doctrine and the propaganda is still very much in place. and it's still pumped in from kindergarten and preschool all the way up to the grave. >> reporter: and its apparently not just propaganda that motivates north koreans.
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it's also fear that not heeding the propaganda will result in punishment. >> i have heard several such examples. somebody who has folded a newspaper to sit on a wet park bench and that newspaper had a picture of kim il-sung or kim jong-il, and off he went. >> keep in mind that the whole structure of north korean ideology is the exaltation of the leadership really to a deified level, so becoming a christian is basically being a political traitor because you've said i've accepted another authority in my life other than kim jong-il. >> reporter: tim peters says for a missionary, north korea is untouched territory, but first the people need help. >> i consider the north korean people, to use christian parlance, as an unreached people now and, of course, our aid to them cannot be hinged to their response. our giving is unconditional, but
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we can't, we have to be unapologetic about the fact that we are telling them in whose name are we giving this help. we're giving it to them in the name of the one who rescued us and that's, of course, jesus christ. >> reporter: tim peters founded helping hands korea, and is now waiting for a visa to go back into china. kwang jin kim is now a scholar at the institute for national security strategy in seoul and a christian convert. >> i'm happy to believe in god because i'm able to believe in another thing other than, you know kimism. >> reporter: and pastor buck's daughter says he has no intention of slowing down. >> we, my brother and sisters, kind of asked him and suggest that he retire, what about he retiring now. it would be a good time for him to retire. he was almost 70, but then he said no. he said somebody have to do it and he's that somebody. and he says he's not going to quit until the day that god
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calls for him. >> reporter: now people in and outside of north korea wait to see if the new kim will be any less repressive, and anymore open to change than the two kims before him. for "religion & ethics newsweekly," i'm lucky severson in seoul, south korea. we have a profile now of singer/songwriter paul simon, first famous long ago for his musical collaboration with his boyhood friend art garfunkel. since the 1970s, simon has been writing, performing and winning awards by himself, and last year to his surprise and the surprise of many of his fans he produced an album called "so beautiful or so what" that is rich with spiritual and religious themes. simon sat down with our managing editor kim lawton for a rare interview about spirituality.
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>> reporter: there are songs about god and his son. angels, creation, pilgrimage, prayer, and the afterlife too. paul simon says there's always been a spiritual dimension to his music, but the overt religious references in his most recent album, "so beautiful or so what," surprised even him. >> there seems to be a theme in the album, not intentional, and it's funny because for somebody who is not a religious person, god comes up a lot in my songs. >> reporter: simon may not describe himself as religious, but he admits he's fascinated by the spiritual realm. >> i think it's a part of my thoughts on a fairly regular basis. i think of it more as spiritual feeling.
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it's something that i recognize in myself and that i enjoy and i don't quite understand it. >> reporter: he may not understand it, but he's been writing and singing a lot about it, and that has generated attention. one irish blogger suggested "so beautiful or so what" could be the best christian album of the year. cathleen falsani, an evangelical who writes frequently about religion and pop culture, called it one of the most memorable collections of spiritual musical musings in recent memory. >> it's fascinating. it's a stunningly beautiful new album and he's a great surprise to me and frankly a huge blessing. >> reporter: simon comes from a jewish background. >> i was raised to a degree, enough to be, you know, bar-mitzvahed and have that much jewish education, although i had no interest.
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none. >> reporter: now at 70, he says he's very interested in questions about god. in his song "the afterlife" he speculates about what happens after death. there's a humorous aspect where he imagines waiting in line, like at the department of motor vehicles. but there's a serious aspect too. >> by the time you get up to speak to god and you actually get there, there's no question that you could possibly have that could have any relevance. >> reporter: one of the most unusual songs on the album, "getting ready for christmas day," includes parts of a sermon preached in 1941 by a prominent african-american pastor, j.m. gates. simon heard the sermon on a set of old recordings. what was it about the sermon
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that caught you and influenced you? >> i liked the rhythm of the call and response between the pastor and the congregation. what he was saying was very dark. it was a very pessimistic sermon. you don't know where you'll be, you might be in a lonesome grave. here as a songwriter i'm not only writing words. i'm also writing sounds and music. so to take a modern, digitally recorded record and combine it with something from 1941 had a very interesting effect for me. i liked it a lot. it might be my favorite track on the record. >> reporter: simon says when he's writing a song, he doesn't start out with a theme or a message. he lets the story evolve. >> usually the first sentence is, or the first line is, what i'm interesting in finding,
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because that will launch me on, on a trail that often becomes a story. and then i'll find out whatever it is that's on my mind, my subconscious mind. >> reporter: the song "love in hard times" begins with god and his son visiting earth. >> to begin with a sentence that is the foundation of christianity is, i said, "this is going to be interesting. now what am i going to say about a subject that i certainly didn't study?" >> reporter: the song ends with a love story, which he says is really about his wife. >> when you're looking to be thankful at the highest level,
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you need a specific and that specific is god. and that's what that song is about. >> reporter: he says the beauty of life and of the earth lead him to thoughts about god. >> how was all of this created? if the answer to that question is god created everything, there was a creator, than i say, "great! what a great job." and i like the idea. i find it very -- i don't know. i find it comforting in some way. but if the answer to that is there is no god, i don't feel like, well, what a jerk i've been. i feel, "oh fine, so there's another answer." i don't know the answer. i'm just a speck of dust here for a nanosecond, and i'm very grateful.
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>> reporter: simon says he's fine with not knowing the answers, but he has sought input on his questions. he has spoken with the dalai lama, and he once spent hours talking with british evangelical theologian john stott, who died last year. >> i talked about everything that was on my mind about things that seemed illogical, and he talked about why he had come to his conclusions and i think both of us enjoyed the conversation immensely. and i left there feeling that i had a greater understanding of where belief comes from when it doesn't have an agenda. >> reporter: many of simon's songs raise universal questions
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about things like destiny and the meaning of life. >> quite often people read or hear things in my songs that i think are more true than what i wrote. >> he looks at the world and kind of wonders what the heck is going on, like many of us do. and he asks good questions, and sort of seems to have his finger on the heartbeat spiritually of a culture, then and now. sort of a god-chronicler by accident. >> reporter: simon says he's gratified, and somewhat mystified, that some people have told him they believe god has spoken to them through his music. >> is it a profound truth? i don't know. i don't know, but it sounds nice and the combination with the music and the words and all that produces a certain effect and i
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feel i'm like a vessel and it passed through me and i was the editor and i'm glad that people like it and yeah, that's it. i'm glad. >> reporter: i'm kim lawton reporting. now, a story of two congregations and two disasters. one is st. vincent's episcopal church in haiti, almost destroyed by the earthquake of two years ago. the other is st. paul's episcopal in new orleans, also almost destroyed by hurricane katrina in 2005. the americans felt an immediate kinship with the haitians, especially disabled children with sometimes heartbreaking special needs. the audio here is sometimes
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distorted, but the americans' sense of mission is clear. they speak of paying forward, giving back and of an organization called red thread promise. >> the name of the red thread promise came from an ancient chinese proverb that talks about a silken red thread of destiny that connects everybody. in haiti, disabled children are often not treated well, they are often neglected, sometimes abused, abandoned. so, following the earthquake, the majority of st. vincent's original school and clinic and church was completely destroyed and there was only one building left standing. anything that wasn't destroyed was looted. >> it was clear right away the connection between new orleans and haiti. st. paul's is the most devastated of our churches in katrina. and with its story of rebuilding
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completely on faith and with the spirit too at the same time. not just to rebuild themselves but to pay forward all of the blessings that this church received. >> when the earthquake hit in haiti, i said, "you know what, we need wheelchairs there. we need wheelchairs that are going to handle the terrain." we had over 24 churches in the united states contributing for one full container of wheelchairs, crutches, canes. our diocese reached out. they did it. janie and grant heard about the wheelchair program through church and they saw it in the hallway and they wanted to do a fund-raiser. they came to us. we didn't ask them. but many children at st. paul's and in our school here, in the church and school came to us with different fund-raisers. we have given the children brand-new wheelchairs, their own, that are fit for them. little diana went from an adult
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wheelchair that was falling apart to this teeny-tiny little petite wheelchair. we saw her glow. we've given teenage boys an opportunity to play basketball now by having a wheelchair that they can twirl around in. it's been incredible. so if we do nothing else other than to make sure they have proper food, water and a chance to have a good education, we feel accomplished, we feel like we've paid it forward. we're doing something to help. >> i think people can choose to grasp that red thread of destiny, choose to acknowledge that it's there. that we really are connected. that these are our brothers and sisters regardless of the color of our skin or where we grew up. you know, it's humanity that brings us all together. finally, on our calendar, this past friday many christians celebrated the feast of the epiphany. for orthodox christians, epiphany, or theophany, celebrates jesus's baptism. for most western christians, it marks the visit of the three wise men to the infant jesus.
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in mexico, celebrations included the traditional three king's cake. one massive cake weighed nearly 22,000 pounds. some orthodox christians also celebrated the nativity this weekend, january 7th. armenian christians celebrated the day before, on january 6th. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smartphones. there's also much more on our website. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at as we leave you, more of paul simon singing "the afterlife." ♪
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>> major funding for religion and ethics news weekly is provided by the lily endowment, a private family foundation dedicated to the founter's interest in religion, community development and education. additional funding provided by mutual of america sdipg customize group retirement and that's why we are your retirement company. the estate of william j. carter and the corporation for public broadcasting. #
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