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Killing Korean Christians By: Mark Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents have now murdered two of the 23 South Korean Christians whom it kidnapped on July 19.

The first victim, who left behind a wife and nine year old daughter, was a Presbyterian pastor who was shot to death with 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest, and stomach. The second victim was a young IT firm employee who enjoyed doing volunteer work among the poor. Like his pastor, his blood-drenched, bullet-ridden body was found dumped in the Afghan countryside.

Predictably, the Taliban is threatening that the murders will continue until South Korean military medical personnel and engineers withdraw form assisting the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. The Taliban is also demanding the release of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government.

Some media reports about the captive and murdered Korean Christians have emphasized how purportedly irresponsible they were in traveling to strife-torn Afghanistan, where even the democratic government restricts Christian activity. An Afghan Interior Ministry official reported that the South Koreans, most of them from a Seoul suburban congregation, had been “very carelessly” traveling in their chartered bus when the Taliban abducted them about 110 miles south of Kabul.

But perhaps the Taliban’s beastly attacks upon unarmed Christians deserve more attention than any carelessness by the Korean sojourners. Christian missionaries across the centuries, dating to the age of the Apostles, have long been careless about their safety, often to the point of martyrdom. Most especially, church groups in the West might be expected to express more outrage over the abduction and murder of their fellow Christians, 18 of whom are women.

To date, groups such as the National Council of Churches in the U.S. have said nothing publicly about the outrages. Neither have most mainline denominations. The news service of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), without publishing any comments from its own denominational officials, felt obliged to report about the Korean Presbyterian Church’s own prayerful appeal about the hostages.

“We, together with the whole Korean people, are in deep sorrow and pain after we heard today the shocking news that the Taliban have killed a second Korean hostage, Mr. Shim Sung-Min, early this morning,” read the statement from the Korean Presbyterian official. “This terrible news came to us only a few days after Rev. Bae Hyung-Kyu was killed by the Taliban last Wednesday. Moreover, the threat of further executions of the hostages is driving not only the affected families but the whole Korean society into the most painful situation. Therefore, we urgently call on the entire ecumenical community around the world to pray to God that the killings of innocent people may stop and that these hostages may safely return to their families.”

Perhaps many of the world’s churches are praying very quietly for the Korean Christian hostages. But at least in the U.S. and in the West, church officials are saying very little. The Swiss-based World Council of Churches issued a cryptic statement that declined even specifically to finger the Taliban as the killers and kidnappers. Their abduction is described almost in the passive voice.

“On behalf of the fellowship of WCC member churches, please be assured that we are praying in earnest for the 23 Koreans who are held hostage in Afghanistan,” wrote a WCC official to the Korean Presbyterians. “Their abduction on 19 July and the pending threat of their execution have shocked many people around the world.”

In fact, the Taliban’s murders and abductions, given its brutal history, are certainly not that “shocking.”

“As negotiations between the Taliban and the South Korean government continue, we pray for the immediate release of those being held, for their reunion with their families and for true peace in Afghanistan. We pray also for the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that through his help, negotiations may be strengthened.“

The WCC pronouncement is tepid and refers to the “negotiations” between the Taliban killers and the South Korean government almost as though it were a labor contract at issue. When Christians are being brutalized specifically because of their faith in Jesus Christ, might not church officials, even those based in Geneva, be a little more spiritually expressive?

After two millennia of martyrs and persecution, the Christian Church is not inexperienced as a victim of targeted brutality. These latest outrages by Islamist fanatics in Afghanistan might merit at least a Scripture citation and some bold words of divinely-inspired encouragement. Instead, the WCC spoke like a low level U.S. State Department official who is working the night shift.

Islamist murder, especially of Christians, is an uncomfortable topic for many Western church officials, who have invested decades in interfaith dialogue and apologies for Western and Christian misdeeds from centuries past. In truth, the WCC and other left church groups probably agree with the Taliban that South Korea should withdraw from cooperation with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Of course, they do not condone the Taliban’s “violence.” But neither are they willing morally to differentiate between the Taliban’s violence and the actions of U.S. and other Western forces in Afghanistan that are attempting to subdue the Taliban.

The mercurial politics and convoluted theology of Western church officials contrasts with the simple faith that transported the Korean Christians to Afghanistan. Their suffering may not deeply touch politically correct hearts in the West. But their suffering is heard in far more important quarters, on earth, and above.

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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