“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves” – Abraham Lincoln
About 20 years ago I found myself in Maiden, NC, of all places, listening to a preacher named Lester Sumrall. I had no idea at the time that Sumrall was somewhat of a legend in the charismatic movement, but I had heard of him, so I tripped over to Maiden to give a listen. At one point in the sermon he described a vision from God in which he saw the poor and suffering (I believe in Africa) and the Lord asked him what he saw. The conversation went on and eventually got to the point where Sumrall realized that America, the country of free and opulently wealthy people, was dramatically apathetic in the face of hunger and suffering across the world. And this was a disturbing place to find oneself – as an American coming to this revelation in a conversation with God, who clearly would have some things to say about the situation.
Sumrall died only a few years later.
I was reminded of this earlier as I caught an article about North Korean women sold into slavery in China. The article describes the tale of Kim Eun-sun, who escaped to China from North Korea and came into contact with a woman who would “help” her – only to find out that the woman had sold her to a Chinese farmer who needed a wife. The going rate for a North Korean woman is apparently $300 (… which means my ballpark guesses in “Mr. Kim, Could I Buy a Korean Please?” were about right). She escaped the farmer, was caught by Chinese police, and sent back to North Korea – but she escaped again, this time wandering across China until she made it all the way to Mongolia. The Mongolian soldiers who found her immediately took her to the South Korean embassy, where she was sent to Seoul. (See the difference? Sold into slavery by the comparatively wealthy Chinese – delivered to freedom by impoverished Mongolians. Interesting.)
Apparently now the Underground Railroad has to pass from North Korea through China and all the way to Mongolia to deliver folks to freedom.
Kim now travels and tells her story across South Korea. While she’s happy for every person who does come to hear her talk, she notes that the apathy is rather disappointing. Apathy in the face of tragic human suffering … see the Sumrall discussion above.
I’ve got three kids, a wife, a sister, and many brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t say that in some euphemistic fashion either – these people are my brothers and sisters. I like to think that if my kids, or my wife, or my sister were trapped in a place of unrelenting torment and suffering that I’d be pressing hard every day for their rescue – that I’d be coming for them no matter what. Yet I have brothers and sisters right now in the North Korean camps.
Beyond personal apathy, I’d also like to consider, just for a second (because it’s what I do), policy apathy. Our legal settings have impact in these areas too.
I saw a special about a year ago about women sold into sexual slavery right here in America. They were coming from Mexico and further south, and were sold to illegal brothels as part of their transit fee. “What can we do?” you might ask. Well, from a policy standpoint, I think that the least we can do is offer basic legal defense and standing to such people. Right now they find themselves utterly outside the law, as did Kim when she entered China. They can flee their American captors as she did – only to be shipped home. Yes, “home” is not torture like North Korea would be, but the threat of deportation is still an impediment to seeking justice. In like manner, the whole prospect of dealing in an illegal industry (prostitution) raises the level of violence and avoidance of authorities.
My policy preferences on this front are, I think, well known. I favor open and flowing immigration, but only coupled with the elimination of all mandated federal benevolence programs. I also favor the legalization of prostitution. It may well be immoral, but placing these women outside the confines of normal legal protections hasn’t helped their situation at all.
And what about the North Korean women? Well, we’ll have little success appealing to China for a policy change. We don’t exactly get to vote in Chinese elections … does anybody? Imagine though if China’s policy were to welcome these refugees instead of shipping them back home? People like Kim would hardly be sold into slavery, they’d have legal protections.
For my part it would be useful if, at the very least, people understood that anti-freedom governance (of which North Korea is the most extreme example) is the source of dramatic suffering on the part of women. Any time the government undertakes to inhibit freedom, to limit the behaviors of its citizenry based on something other than defense of human rights, the impact invariably hits “the least of these” the hardest. Is it the wealthy and connected who end up suffering when people are pushed outside of legal protections? No, it is the poor, the defenseless, those who cannot afford special treatment.
Remember this in policy considerations. Removing freedom doesn’t eliminate the “bad behaviors” you want to be rid of, but it does push some outside of normal legal protections. The wealthy and powerful can manage in such a world (they hire “muscle” to keep things straight) but the poor suffer.
On a personal note, this is our 600th post. Woohoo!