The Uyghur Genocide

The moral imperative of caring for people above all else

Chelsea Sobolik

Michael Sobolik

For the past four years, the world has watched one alarming report of Uyghur genocide after another trickle out from Xinjiang, China’s westernmost territory. On Oct. 5, 2021, however, a former Chinese prison guard shared particularly horrifying accounts of the torture Uyghurs endure in Xinjiang “reeducation” camps: 

“Kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen. Until they kneel on the floor crying . . . Everyone uses different methods. Some even use a wrecking bar, or iron chains with locks . . . Police would step on the suspect’s face and tell him to confess.”

These revelations, reported by CNN, also included accounts of extreme torture, including sexual abuse and even gang rapes.1https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/04/china/xinjiang-detective-torture-intl-hnk-dst/index.html They are, sadly, part of a broader plan.

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, and forced birth control. 

The CCP’s oppression of the Uyghur people does not stop there. Beginning in 2018, reports began to emerge chronicling how China is exploiting this group vocationally. China is the world’s largest producer of cotton and solar panels, and the vast majority of these exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in these industries. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor.

Formal determination of genocide against Uyghurs

In response, the Department of State labeled these atrocities as a genocide on Jan. 19, 2021—the final day of the Trump administration.2https://2017-2021.state.gov/determination-of-the-secretary-of-state-on-atrocities-in-xinjiang/index.html President Joe Biden has upheld this finding.3https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-usa-xinjiang/u-s-says-no-change-in-its-genocide-determination-for-chinas-xinjiang-idUSKBN2B12LG The label carries significant weight, beyond the bipartisan agreement surrounding it. The United States is a signatory of the Genocide Convention of 1948, which obligates member states to “prevent and punish” genocide anywhere it occurs.4https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide-convention.shtml Issuing a formal genocide finding is the first step in this process.

Deeper than America’s legal obligations, though, is the moral imperative. Words matter, especially in politics. Genocide, according to the 1948 Convention, is specific action taken “with intent to destroy” an ethnic or religious people group.5https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide-convention.shtml Confronting evil of this magnitude begins with naming it accurately. The United States has taken this first step.

It is, however, just that: a first step. For America to meet its legal and moral obligations in the face of an ongoing genocide, tough diplomacy is necessary, but wholly insufficient apart from a broader effort. Indeed, subsequent atrocity determinations from parliaments in Canada,6https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56163220 Britain,7https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-56843368 the Netherlands,8https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-china-uighurs/dutch-parliament-chinas-treatment-of-uighurs-is-genocide-idUSKBN2AP2CI and Lithuania9https://www.reuters.com/world/china/lithuanian-parliament-latest-call-chinas-treatment-uyghurs-genocide-2021-05-20/ have raised global awareness, but they have failed to stop the CCP’s oppression of Uyghurs. Chinese government officials blatantly deny all accusations of political persecution in Xinjiang and show no sign of easing up.10https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights/china-rejects-genocide-charge-in-xinjiang-says-door-open-to-u-n-idUSKBN2AM1UX

Over the past four months, subsequent events suggest the president is unwilling to meet these atrocities with more than words. 

The Biden administration’s conflicted response to the Uyghur genocide

At the outset of Biden’s presidency, the president cast his vision for America’s China policy: “We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance. But we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”11https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/04/remarks-by-president-biden-on-americas-place-in-the-world/

The reference to cooperation was code for, among other things, climate change. Biden had indicated early on that climate change was his most important policy priority.12https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/ Given Beijing’s emissions levels, a global climate policy wouldn’t be truly global without China’s involvement and buy-in. Thus, the president announced his intent to bifurcate America’s competitive and cooperative agendas with China to ensure progress on both tracks simultaneously.

The CCP’s response was blunt, and has remained consistent: Beijing will not allow Washington to have its cake and eat it too. The price of progress on climate policy is America respecting China’s “internal issues,” such as its policies in Xinjiang, by remaining silent.

This tension came to a head last summer. Because of China’s significant cotton and solar panel exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase these goods from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. U.S. laws prohibit the importation of any goods tied to compulsory labor.13https://www.cbp.gov/trade/programs-administration/forced-labor In response, the White House debated in June whether to deem all exports from Xinjiang as having been made by slave labor.14https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/24/fact-sheet-new-u-s-government-actions-on-forced-labor-in-xinjiang/ According to reporting from Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, the climate faction fought and won a debate within the administration to only designate one company.15https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/24/china-solar-panels-biden-ban-uyghurs-human-rights/ Washington pulled its punches.

Since then, subsequent reporting from mainstream sources like the Associated Press have revealed that John Kerry, former secretary of state and Biden’s climate czar, has grown increasingly influential within the administration—and has used that influence to sideline officials advocating for a stronger response to China’s genocide.16https://apnews.com/article/business-religion-china-environment-and-nature-united-states-92243b29f1161b4cd4eb30fd8aa84b35

When asked about the trade-off between climate policy and human rights, specifically the Uyghurs, Kerry responded: “Life is always full of tough choices.”17https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/john-kerry-says-we-have-tough-choices-between-climate-change-and-genocide

In December, Congress unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and sent the bill to President Biden for his signature. On Dec. 23, the president signed the bill into law.18https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/12/23/bill-signed-h-r-6256/ This is certainly good news, and we ought to be grateful for this important action.

How should Christians respond to the Uyghur genocide?

For Christians, underneath issues like human rights and the environment are foundational concepts like human dignity and caring for creation. These frameworks come from Scripture’s opening pages and form the basis of much of Christian political thinking. Given the brokenness of our world as a result of the fall, however, these callings will conflict at key moments. The Uyghur genocide is such a moment. 

Right now, millions of Uyghurs are forcibly detained in internment camps, subjected to forced labor and draconian birth control. Countering the CCP must be a top priority of this administration and our allies. President Biden must respond with bold leadership and swift action. One of the roles of governments is to protect its citizens and allow them to live and worship freely. When governments fail to do this, the proper response is to counter them with strong moral leadership. 

Scripture tells us that every human is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). The imago Dei should reorient our priorities and train our hearts to care about people, above all else. As Christians, we ought to care well for the world in which we’ve been entrusted. That means that we should advocate for policies that care for the environment, but we should do so with the understanding that our care for people must always be our top priority.


We might feel helpless to counter the Chinese Communist Party as they are perpetrating a genocide against the Uyghurs, but each one of us can use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the U.S. government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices.19https://erlc.com/resource-library/issue-briefs/erlc-supports-uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act/

And we ought to pray often for persecuted people around the world. Below are a few specific ways to pray.

Christians should be on the frontlines of advocating for the dignity, human rights, and religious freedom of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices. Proverbs 31:8 instructs us to “open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.” When we advocate for the vulnerable and oppressed, we are fulfilling the commands of Scripture and modeling to the watching world the heart of Christ. 

Chelsea Sobolik serves as the Director of Public Policy with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in the Washington, D.C. office. Previously, she worked on Capitol Hill on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea has been published at the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and others. She is the author of Longing for Motherhood – Holding onto Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, and a forthcoming book on women and work. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Liberty University, and lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband Michael.

Michael Sobolik is a policy analyst and former congressional staffer working in Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife Chelsea.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24