November 25, 2005
Christians Afoot

By William F. Buckley

I am mindful that Samuel Johnson enjoined the preachers of his time not to inveigh against those who were absent from church on Sundays by scolding those who were not absent. Notwithstanding Dr. Johnson's stricture, I here berate those who fail to heed the atrocities in China and North Korea, by appealing to those who have heeded these barbarisms, drawing attention to the inattention that the Christian world seems to be paying them. There is no means of putting away from memory the experience of the Jews in the last century, objects of discrimination of various and imaginative kinds, culminating in genocide.

Meghan Clyne of the New York Sun cites a report on North Korea compiled by David Hawk, the author of "Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea's Prison Camps." Hawk and his South Korean researchers obtained dozens of eyewitness accounts of persecutions of Christians.

President Bush, in his speech in Japan last week, didn't say that Christians in North Korea were in large numbers imprisoned, but he spoke of "satellite maps of North Korea (that showed) prison camps the size of whole cities."

Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued Hawk's report, "called on Mr. Bush to include the specific findings of the North Korean report in his diplomatic discussions with Chinese and South Korean officials ... and to urge leaders of both Asian nations to take a firmer stand against their communist neighbor." He is proud of the report, citing the difficulty in bringing together reliable information from within that ideological mudhole.

The report tells, among many other accounts, of a woman in her 20s who was washing clothes in a river. A fellow washerwoman saw a small Bible fall out of her basket and reported her to the authorities. She was executed by firing squad.

That martyr got off lightly. Nine years ago in South Pyongan province, a unit of the North Korean army was assigned the job of widening a highway connecting Pyongyang to the nearest seaport. Demolition of a house standing in the way revealed, hidden between two bricks, a Bible and a list of 25 names: a Christian pastor, two assistant pastors, two elders and 20 parishioners. The 25 were all detained and, later that month, brought to the road construction site, where spectators had been arranged in neat rows. The parishioners were grouped off to one side while the pastor, the assistant pastors and the elders were bound hand and foot and made to lie down in front of a steamroller. As if following a script written in early Roman history, they were told they could escape death by denying their faith and pledging to serve Dear Leader Kim Jong II and Great Leader Kim Il Sung. They chose death.

Ms. Clyne quotes Mr. Hawk's report: "Some of the parishioners ... cried, screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed beneath the steamroller."

Anti-Christian activity is not as rabid in China, but it is everywhere evident, and it has not been noticeably reduced by recent rumors that the Vatican may withdraw the papal nuncio from Taipei and move him to Beijing. The Vatican has so far persisted in recognizing the state of Taiwan, which is something most other diplomatic entities shrink from doing. As everyone knows, the determination by the Chinese to obtain sovereignty over Taiwan is of a pitch comparable to the Vatican's devotion to St. Peter's Basilica.

The Vatican's desire for diplomatic relations with Beijing makes almost difficult any remonstrance over Chinese treatment of Catholics, though such is being attempted, as when the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso published a two-page article based on an interview with two Chinese priests. The article had not identified the priests, out of fear for their safety, but authorities interrogated the reporter's interpreter to learn their names. The priests have since been arrested.

In the interview one of the priests spoke of a previous detention, during which attempts were made by Chinese authorities "to evaluate whether I had become patriotic." China is officially and aggressively atheist, and such Christianity as is vestigially permitted is doctrinally emasculated. (Christ did not rise from the dead; his mother was not a virgin.) Worship is allowed, according to one Associated Press dispatch, "only in government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops. Catholic Chinese who meet outside sanctioned churches are frequently harassed, fined, and sometimes sent to labor camps."

The government's Catholic Church claims 34 million believers. The Cardinal Kung Foundation, a U.S.-based religious monitoring group, says the unofficial church of Chinese loyal to Rome has 12 million followers.

How ought western diplomats to have treated Nazi officials in pre-war Germany? There is enduring speculation on that subject, but none, we'd guess, that argues that simply to ignore religious persecution is one acceptable way to confront it.

Copyright 2005 Universal Press Syndicate

William F. Buckley

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