National Political Climate

The State Secrets Protection Bill (6.12.2013)

National Political Climate and Challenges to Churches in Japan
Masaru Asaoka

Director and Charter Member,
Pastors Association for Peace and Justice

The current political climate in Japan presents some grave concern. Nationalism has been on the rise since the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. With Prime Minister Abe assuming the office in December 2012, nationalistic ideas have been gaining ground even faster. As a result, the foundation for peace and democracy, which has been built up during the 70-year postwar period, is beginning to be shaken. The current political climate in Japan may be summarized as paving the way toward a Japan that is able to engage in war in partnership with the U.S. under the banner of security. The National Security Council was formed in November 2013. The following month saw the enactment of the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (“Secrecy Act”), overriding resistance and deep concern from many people. Then in April 2014, the cabinet revised the long-standing Three Principles on Arms Exports, followed by the cabinet decision in July, authorizing the exercise of the right of collective self-defense by reinterpretation of the Constitution. In the meantime, some politicians have been solidifying their connection with the state Shinto. In general society, historical revisionists revise negative events in the past, while racial discrimination and nationalism are beginning to.

As we, a group of pastors, saw this development not just as a political and social issue, but as an issue which potentially affects our confession of faith and missional work, we formed “Pastors Association for Peace and Justice” (for short, hereinafter “PAPJ”) in December 2013. Nearly 600 pastors have joined the PASA by today, engaging in various initiatives. Looking back, some churches in Japan were persecuted for their belief by the state during the days of imperial militarism. Around the same period, other churches yielded to the pressure of the state, or compromised themselves to or went along with the state policy, to commit a sin to support the war of aggression into Asia, and a sin of idolatry in worshiping at Shinto shrine. After World War II, these churches officially repented their sins. Churches in Japan have since been endeavoring to equip themselves not to commit the same sins. They have also been playing the prophetic and priestly role to speak up to the state. As we view it, the Secrecy Act can be exercised in such a way that the Christian Church is again regarded as a body resistant to the state policy. If and when that happens, is your church going to remain silent for fear of sticking out and becoming a target of the state? Or does it keep witnessing as a church of the Lord? The time is here already when the Church is tested for its true nature.

Firstly, the time will put the Church to test for the authenticity of its fellowship. The Secrecy Act can lead people to fear punishment for accessing “designated secrets,” to cower from opening their mouth to talk, and to become paranoid in suspicion. Worse, it would produce a surveillance society, and an unspoken pressure against speaking up to the state power. When such a time comes, the Church will be tested if they can keep up and build authentic fellowship where people speak truth in the Lord, and pray and support for each other. When pastors and even lay people begin to be accused for their faith, an authentic fellowship will enable the Church to continue to help and support each other.

Secondly, the time will put the freedom of conscience in the Lord to test. The state will extensively investigate the thought background of those who handle “designated secrets” and of their family, including their religion, ideology, and involvement with political activities. Being a Christian will certainly be an item of interest in investigation. As the scope of fellowship of a local church often transcends social strata, a church with non-Japanese members might come under government surveillance. In a time like that, the Church will be asked even more to demonstrate a life according to the freedom of conscience in the Lord. Even now, in the midst of the battle against the imposition of the Hinomaru national flag and the Kimigayo national anthem, some Christians in Japan are already going through the test of freedom of conscience.

Thirdly, the time will put the Church's position as a prophet to test. We often hear that the Church should refrain from making political statements, remain politically neutral, and be really careful in voicing any political opinion. If such is the general agreement today, what will happen when the society becomes more conservative? I am afraid if the Church will increasingly withdraw from the world, and be huddling out of fear. I believe, however, the time has come when the Church should stand up to be the salt of the earth.

Is the Church, as a prophet, bold enough to say “yes” to “yes,” and “no” to “no”? It is a time when preachers are put to test on the pulpit, while each Christian is tested for the integrity of their way of life in the world.