The Myth of the Supreme Leader

By Jim Tune

In 2007 a Southern California woman named Jacqueline Gagne claimed she made 16 holes in one—10 of them in less than a four-month period. A statistician determined the odds of that occurring to be 12 septillion to 1.

As far-fetched as that sounds, Gagne holds nothing on Kim Jong-il, the former “Supreme Leader” of North Korea. During his reign as the unchallenged leader of the secretive nation, Kim, according to official North Korean state media reports, routinely shot three or four holes in one per round of golf.

But Kim’s greatest feat occurred the very first day he picked up a club. According to witnesses, the “Dear Leader” played his best round ever—and the best of all time—at the grand opening of the Pongyang Golf Complex, which contains North Korea’s only 18-hole golf course.

Kim shot a 38-under-par round of 34 at Pyongyang. Security guards at the scene verified that the score included an amazing 11 aces. Of course, the event was dutifully reported to the North Korean masses by the state news agency.

In Jacqueline Gagne’s case, Golf Digest writer Dave Kindred interviewed some of her golfing partners. None of them claimed she was faking any of the holes in one, though Kindred couldn’t find a single witness who saw any of Gagne’s tee shots actually disappear into a hole. Kim, at least, had 17 credible bodyguards on hand to testify to his achievement!

In a totalitarian regime, the leader’s image must always be exaggerated. The sacred public image of the “Supreme Leader” is of utmost importance; it must be constantly groomed, managed, and photoshopped. In North Korea, national lore holds that the nation’s leader never needed to go to the bathroom. His perfect 5-foot-2-inch body functioned so efficiently that it wasn’t necessary.

May20_Tune_JNBut we worship someone who truly was perfect. Yet his body functioned like every man’s. This becomes clear, for example, when we read John 4. The Gospel writer tells us Jesus was tired, hungry, and thirsty. Jesus was “the exact representation of his being ” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus was God, but Jesus also was human. Jesus—truly our divine leader—became hungry, lonely, tired, and thirsty. We disregard either his humanity or his divinity to our peril.

Christian leaders can be tempted to look way more like Kim Jong-il than Jesus Christ. We are tempted to modify, manage, and inflate our persona in order to look perfect and lead perfectly. But are we really to be less human than Jesus himself was?

Like Jesus, we are fully human. Unlike Jesus, we are not fully divine. Yet God loves working through us. As leaders, when we give in to image management, it is no longer we who are leading, but a lie about us that is leading.

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