To honor the 104th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, a state newspaper has claimed that American evangelist Billy Graham once referred to the dictator as "God" who "rules the human world."
"The pastor said that he met the greatest among all human beings, who carried out the ultimate art of politics with high morality and being the saint of all saints," says a report published Friday in Rodong Sinmun, a North Korean newspaper that is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, according to the Washington Post.
"Not believing in God but believing in his people, Premier Kim Il Sung who governs the country in his own way made me think that he might be God," said Graham during a 1992 visit to the isolated country, the report went on to claim, according to NK News. "I admit that Premier Kim Il Sung is God who exists in the world of human beings ... he, with his supreme political belief and method has created the greatest heaven on earth that even God might have not been able to do."
The article also claimed that Graham once declared he was impressed by the lack of homelessness and drug addiction in the country.
An article on the website of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reveals that Graham visited North Korea 1992 and 1994, and his mother Ruth returned in 1997 after attending high school in Pyongyang in the 1930s.
"In 1992, Billy Graham became the first foreign religious leader to preach in Pyongyang. During that visit he gave a lecture at Kim Il Sung University, the nation's leading educational institution, and met with President Kim Il Sung," reads the report.
"He visited again in 1994. Billy told reporters at a packed press conference he was welcomed 'very cordially' by the people and government leaders during his visit, which he termed 'unquestionably, one of the most memorable events of my life.'"
The Post notes while Graham may not have called Kim Il Sung a god, he did have some kind words for the dictator after his death in 1994.
"In person, I found President Kim to be a forceful and charismatic leader, and I could understand why he was held in such high esteem by his fellow citizens," the evangelist said. "Although he met few Americans, he always expressed the hope for better relations with the United States."
Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham, has also visited North Korea three times, most recently in 2011. At the time, the 64-year-old evangelist explained that like his father, he hopes to have a good relationship with the people of North Korea because he believes it will have a positive effect on the relationship between the government and the church.
"Millions of people there know nothing about God or what Jesus Christ has done for us on Calvary's cross. The greatest need for this nation is Christ. There is a hopelessness and emptiness that can only be filled by God Himself," the younger Graham said. "My hope and prayer for the is that the government will free its people to worship God and that they will allow churches to be built and people to witness."
For the 14th consecutive year, North Korea topped Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
"Christianity is not only seen as 'opium for the people,' as is normal for all communist states, it is also seen as deeply Western and despicable," reads the report. "Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to labor camps with horrific conditions. Thus, one's Christian faith usually remains a well-protected secret, and most parents refrain from introducing their children to the Christian faith in order to make sure that nothing slips their tongue when they are asked."