Pastors Association for Peace and Justice

The State Secrets Protection Bill (6.12.2013)
Pastors Against the State Secrecy Law (2013 gegründet)

Why Christian Pastors against the State Secrecy Law was Organized
Pastors Association for Peace and Justice

Masaru Asaoka
Co-president, Pastors Association for Peace and Justice
Pastor, Tokumarucho Christian Church

On December 6th 2013, the very same day the State Secrecy Law was passed and enacted in the Japanese Upper House, we established our group “Christian Pastors against the State Secrecy Bill.” I stood by the front gate of the National Diet past 11pm that night as the bill became law amidst loud screams of opposition in the Upper House chamber. After coming home that night I immediately drafted a statement to protest the passage of the Law and changed our group’s name to reflect that the Bill was now the Law. Since then we have received support and encouragement from many individuals as well as questions. Largely, the questions fall under two categories: one asks why we oppose this law in the first place and the other concerns why Christian pastors organized such group.

1. Why we oppose this law
Why do we oppose the State Secrecy Law? To answer this question we must remember the Peace Preservation Law that was enacted in 1925 to curb Communist inspired revolutionary movement. Initially the Christian churches in Japan were largely indifferent to this development. The Law, however, was largely expanded in 1941, the same year the Pacific War started, to supposedly control groups organized with the objective of “changing the national body.” The maximum penalty under the Law was also elevated to death penalty. The Christian churches came to be deemed “groups that do not recognize the national body.” In June 1942 the massive prosecution of the Holiness church occurred as the teaching of Christ’s second coming was considered to contradict the ideology of the “national body”. Today we find ourselves in an era in which the true mettle of the churches is being tested: when we Christians are pitted against the nation state, are we going to silence ourselves in fear? Or are we, as a church, going to bear witness to the Lord?

Just like the 1925 law, the State Secrecy Law also functions to create an atmosphere of silence toward authorities and to breed suspicion and distrust among citizens out of fear of being sanctioned for being in contact with so called “state secrets.” The challenge for the Christian churches in Japan now is to maintain and foster a true community of fellowship that engages in honest dialogue and prayers in the name of the Lord. We are also challenged to support and help pastors and lay persons in case they encounter troubles with authorities due to this Law. Such task will truly test the quality of fellowship in our churches.

As an individual, we are facing a challenge as well. When our work responsibility conflicts with our conscience dictated by faith, or when our faith gets trampled by workplace demands, are we prepared to follow our conscience in the Lord? Those Christians who are involved in the fight against enforced singing of the national anthem and paying respect to the national flag are facing such choice already. Under such circumstances, the churches must live according to the freedom of conscience we have in the Lord.
There are those who question the Christian churches’ involvement in political matters. They think the churches should refrain from making political statements. If that is the case today, I am concerned that in the future the churches will be even more circumspect and disengaged from society in fear of the public opinion. I believe the role of the churches to be “the salt of the earth” will be even greater precisely because of the times we live in. Will the churches be able to play the role of a prophet and say yes is yes and no is no? The pulpit and each Christian must be able to clearly proclaim where we stand.

2. Why pastors?
The second set of questions we have received concerns the nature of our group. Within this category, there are two separate lines of inquiry. Fist, some asked why we took action despite being pastors (or churches). Why do Christian pastors or the churches express opposition to a secular law? What motivates such question is probably the view that the churches should remain neutral in political affairs and should refrain from taking a particular stand on a political issue. According to this view, as far as the society is concerned, the churches are first and foremost a religious organization and not a political one. And within the churches members may hold diverse opinions on matters not directly related to faith and therefore a pastor taking a particular stand on issues may restrict members’ freedom.

Second, some question why our group is solely made up of pastors. Since the group was established a number of individuals asked why the membership is limited to pastors. Naturally, our objective was not to exclude non-pastors. Simply put, a pastor asked another pastor to start a group and that is why it is called the pastors’ group.

These two sets of questions (1. Should pastors act? 2. Why only pastors?) can be addressed by one common response. That is we act because we are pastors.

In the December 6 statement I wrote, “As pastors of Christian churches, we stand upon the following words of the Bible ‘the truth shall make you free’ and preach the importance of faith, strive for true freedom and peace, and live a lifelong mission to love and serve God and our neighbors. On the other hand, this bill, in the name of national security, restricts the freedom of the people, creates a nation of secrecy that sows distrust among ourselves, pushes people towards a nation that wages war, tramples upon our conscience, and opens up a way to eliminate people that hold specific thoughts and faiths.”

In a sense, it is only natural that the churches should remain politically neutral. The churches’ primary mission is to serve God’s nation by spreading the gospel: we are not allowed to neglect this mission and become more like a political organization. We must also consider, however, that whether the gospel we proclaim can and should exist in a political vacuum and whether it is possible for the churches on a mission to this world to remain neutral regarding all political matters in this world.

As I observed the context within which this Law was enacted and examined its content, I have come to a conclusion that this Law is a serious challenge to my own calling to serve the gospel and the church and to proclaim the Word. To remain silent about this Law, at least to me, means that I am unfaithful to my calling as a pastor. If I did not respond in any specific way to the passage of this Law, that does not immediately mean that I am no longer a pastor. But at the same time I felt that it would be unconscionable to not speak out when a real life event is unfolding and its direction is not consistent with the words I speak at the pulpit.

Further, our December 7 statement states that “We have been entrusted with the responsibility to protect, guide, and nurture each person that has been entrusted to us as pastor, based on the teachings of the Bible. Therefore, when something threatens the freedom of those God-given people, harms their consciences, or violates their dignity, we resist in adherence to nonviolence and adamantly raise our voice of opposition, ‘even though it is against the law’ (Old Testament, Esther 4:16).”

As pastors, we have a responsibility to the flock that has been entrusted to us. Firstly, we are responsible to protect each one’s soul from the wolves, and secondly we must encourage and guide church members to follow the Lord without fear. To fulfil such responsibility, I felt that as pastors we must first demonstrate our commitment to our faith.

In the 20th century, Christian churches in Japan committed the sin of worshipping the Emperor under the name of “people’s rituals”. Pastors back then not only committed such offence themselves but also led church members to do the same. The pastors did this to protect church members. But the question remains whether such “pastoral consideration” truly was beneficial to the members’ souls. This question not only applies to the past events but also to today’s churches and pastors.

3. To be a witness
In today’s Japan, Christian pastors make up an extremely small minority. However small our group might be, we can still speak out. Each one of the more than 551 pastors who joined our group is commissioned by our Lord Jesus Christ to serve our flocks. The flocks may be small, but there are precious souls in each of them. When wolves come to threaten our flocks of sheep, we cannot hide behind the flock in fear. If it comes to that we must risk our own life and protect the sheep. We live in an era in which we are being asked to take such stand.

Needless to say, not all Christian pastors in Japan oppose this Law. We are aware of various views and perspectives. Even among those who joined our group there are differences in opinion. We oppose this Law because we are pastors, but that does not mean we criticize or deny the position of those pastors who do not share our view.

Our objective is to let the world know that there are Christian pastors in Japan who raised their voices in opposition to this Law. My wish is to be Jesus’ witness by doing so.


Never Again: What the Great Persecution of the Holiness Church Teaches Us
Noriaki Sugiura
Pastor, Kawagoe Takashina Christian Church, Japan Holiness Denomination

Amidst many citizens’ opposition and misgivings, the State Secrecy Law was passed and enacted in December 2013. Shortly before this law was approved in the Upper House, we organized a pastors’ group in its opposition. In the evening of the day the Secrecy Law was enacted I was among the 15,000 participants who gathered at the Hibiya Outdoors Music Hall in Tokyo to express our disapproval of the Law. We couldn’t just sit still and watch the Secrecy Law being forcefully pushed through the Committee process and subsequently both houses of the National Diet.

The State Secrecy Law is often likened to the notorious Law and Order Protection Law that was in effect in Japan until the end of WWII. As someone who comes from the pre-war Holiness tradition, I cannot but associate the Law with the massive persecution the Holiness church suffered at the hand of the government during the war.

The Great Holiness Persecution refers to the mass arrest and imprisonment of Holiness pastoral staff that began early morning on June 26, 1942. This was presaged by the imprisonment and death while in custody of Sosuke Koyama; a staff at a church in Hakodate, Hokkaido; in March 1941 right before the Pacific War broke out. In June 1942, according to records, 134 pastors and countless lay Christians were arrested, of which 81 were indicted. Nineteen received severe sentences, some of whom died in police custody. Over 300 churches were closed.

What is intriguing is the reason why the Holiness church was singled out when there were many other denominations. The interrogation records mention their belief in Christ’s second coming and their failure to pay proper respect to the Emperor. The historical fact, however, indicates that the Holiness church did not oppose the war nor the absolute rule by the emperor. They actually openly prayed for the imperial Japanese state to prevail in the war. One observer notes that the true reason the Holiness church received the persecution it did was the church’s popular and populist appeals.

I must admit that until recently I only thought of the Holiness persecution from the 1940s only as a historical event and did not quite realize that it could happen again. For an event like this to take place again in the post-war Japan under the new, peace oriented Constitution; seemed unreal. Intellectually I understood that it is possible for the Constitution to be challenged or a law similar to the Protection Law be enacted, but I reasoned perhaps Christ will come again before that.

More recently, however, as we watch Japan turns itself into a nation that can engage in wars (revision of the Self Defense Force Law etc) and witness the enactment of the modern equivalent of the Protection Law (the 2013 State Secrecy Law), we are reminded that the tragic event that befell the Holiness church during the war is no longer just another episode in the history book.

Today, a keen sense of loss and pain still exists in the Holiness Church more than 70 years after the persecution took place. The damage it brought to the Church is great. The incident reminds us to renew our resolve never to allow the Secrecy Law to produce a similar tragedy and never to allow Japan to engage in armed conflicts. That is why we oppose the State Secrecy Law which was forcefully enacted despite the public’s opposition and reservations. We must raise our voice now before it is too late.