By / Oct 21

Over ​​the past few weeks there have been a number of international incidents that are worthy of our attention and prayer. Here are three you should know about from Iran, Ethiopia, and China.

What’s going on in Iran?

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has had a law requiring all women—regardless of nationality or religious belief—to wear hijabs that cover the head and neck while concealing the hair. The Gashte Ershad (guidance patrols) are the “morality police” tasked with enforcing this and other dress codes, as well as modest behavior. The patrols are usually composed of men and stationed in vans in public areas. The patrols generally target women, who are taken to a ​​police station, correctional facility, or re-education center, where they are taught to dress “appropriately.” 

Earlier this month, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by a patrol in the capital city of Tehran and allegedly beaten while inside a morality police van. She was taken to the hospital where she remained in a coma before dying three days later. 

Amini’s death sparked outrage and protest throughout the country. Women in the country have posted videos of themselves setting fire to their headscarves and cutting their hair in public to chants of “Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator”—a reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

School children are protesting their leaders on an unprecedented scale that may prove difficult to contain, notes CNN. In attempting to put down the protest, an estimated 201 people—including 23 children—have been killed by Iranian authorities. The United Nation’s children agency UNICEF has also called for the protection of children and adolescents amid Iran’s protests. 

How to pray for this situation: Pray that God will protect the children and women of Iran, that the people will obtain freedom and protection for basic human rights, and that the church in Iran will be free from persecution. 

What’s going on in Ethiopia 

For the past year, the Ethiopian government and a regional military group have been engaged in a struggle for power and control over Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia. Global leaders have so far hesitated to call it a genocide, referring to it as a civil war, or the Tigray War. But the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian and Eritrian governments make it clear the conflict is turning into a genocide. 

United Nations-backed investigators say all sides, including the Tigray forces, have committed abuses, but that the Ethiopian government is using “starvation of civilians” as a weapon of war. Tigray has been under a blockade for 17 months, and an estimated one million people are at risk of starvation. Because they are cut off from medical care, women are also dying during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth at five times the rate before the war. Children under 5 are dying at twice the pre-war rate, often because of easily preventable reasons. 

Altogether, an estimated half a million people have already died in the conflict. Tigray is “one of the worst manmade humanitarian crises in the world,” says the European Union foreign policy chief.

How to pray for this situation: Pray that the upcoming peace talks will bring an end to the conflict, that the genocide will end, and that the people of Ethiopia will find healing and restoration.

What’s going on in China? 

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party began this week in Beijing. The 2,296 delegates will represent the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 96.7 million members in reelecting the current leader, Xi Jinping.  

The 69-year-old Xi was due to step down in 2023, but in 2018 he further consolidated power by having his party change the constitution to remove the limitation that no Chinese president shall serve more than two consecutive terms.

Xi Jinping was elected as the president of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. In addition to this role as president, Xi also serves as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (putting him in control of the country’s political party) and chairman of the Central Military Commission (which makes him the commander-in-chief of China’s military forces). He also is head of so many other smaller decision-making bodies that he’s been called the “Chairman of Everything.”

After his first four years in office, the Communist Party voted unanimously to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” into the Chinese constitution, an honor previously reserved for Mao Zedong and his successor, Deng Xiaoping. This change enshrined Xi’s political philosophy into the country’s supreme law and made any challenge to him a direct threat to Communist Party rule. As the BBC has noted, schoolchildren, college students, and staff at state factories are required to study this political ideology.

The reelection of Xi means the continuation of human rights abuse that have been the hallmark of his presidency. Under his rule, more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps. The atrocities against them include forced abortions, rape, sexual abuse, sterilization, internment in concentration camps, organ harvesting, human trafficking, scientific experimentation, the sale of human hair forcibly taken from those in concentration camps, family separation, forced reeducation of children, forced labor, and torture.

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the “Resolution 8: On The Uyghur Genocide,” becoming the first major denomination or convention of churches to speak up on behalf of Uyghurs and use the label “genocide” for Xi’s crimes against humanity. 

How to pray for this situation: ​​Pray for the Uyghurs, that they will find earthly protection and an end to the persecution, and that they will obtain ultimate salvation by putting their faith in Christ. 

By / Sep 8

For years, the Uyghur people living in the Xinjiang region of western China have endured brutality at the hands of the Chinese government. Many have been “subjected to reeducation camps, forced labor, and even forced sterilization in women.” In January 2021, “[then] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is ‘committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.’” The Biden administration affirmed that determination shortly after.

On Aug. 31, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner followed suit by releasing a long-awaited report detailing the Chinese government’s “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang. In the report, we find more of what we’ve known for years: the Chinese government’s actions include oppression, ethnic and religious persecution, and “may constitute crimes against humanity.” 

Recap

As the ERLC outlined in a previous article

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, 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, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare.

OHCHR report findings

The 48-page report is organized into eight sections, the bulk of which outline the extent by which the CCP’s crimes are being carried out. Under the guise of “countering terrorism and extemism,” as the report states, the Chinese government is actively subjecting those they deem to be “suspects” and “at risk persons” to “imprisonment and other deprivations of liberty” at facilities which the CCP conveniently refers to as “vocational education and training centres.” The conditions and treatment of the persons detained at these centers, as described by former detainees, are horrific. 

The report goes on to outline what it refers to as “other human rights concerns,” which includes the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities; a disregard for people’s right to privacy and freedom of movement through “extensive forms of intensive surveillance and control” by the CCP; violations of reproductive rights, including forced abortions and sterilizations; and forced labor. Further, the report sheds light on what it calls “family separations, enforced disappearances, intimidations, threats, and reprisals,” saying that “the widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities in XUAR, often shrouded in secrecy, has led to many families being separated and unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones.” Victims of the CCP’s persecution and their relatives are routinely subjected to criticisms, intimidations, threats, and reprisals for speaking about their experiences in Xinjiang. 

Detention center conditions and treatment

Based on what we’ve learned about the CCP’s “systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims,” the OHCHR report’s assessment of “adverse conditions and harsh treatment of detainees by the authorities in the VETC (Vocational Education and Training Centres) facilities” is sadly unsurprising. Of the former detainees who were interviewed for the report, two-thirds of them “reported having been subjected to treatment that would amount to torture and/or other forms of ill-treatment.” They describe “being beaten with batons, including electric batons; being subjected to interrogation with water being poured in their faces; prolonged solitary confinement; and being forced to sit motionless on small stools for prolonged periods of time.” They, likewise, describe being beaten, shackled, starved, deprived of sleep, forbidden from praying or otherwise practicing their religion, forbidden from speaking their native language, and being subjected to compulsory political indoctrination.

In addition, detainees report having pills and/or injections “administered regularly, as well as blood samples being regularly collected” during their detainment. Many endured sexual violence, including rape and forced nudity. Due to these harsh conditions and treatment, persistent health issues were prevalent, including psychological distress and “stress and anxiety.” Many people who were interviewed reported “long-term psychological consequences from their periods of confinement at VETC facilities, including feelings of trauma.”

OHCHR assessment and recommendations

The final section of the OHCHR report opens by saying, emphatically, that

Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” strategies. The implementation of these strategies, and associated policies in XUAR has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights. These patterns of restrictions are characterized by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities.

After a lengthy list of items outlining its assessment, the OHCHR report proceeds to outline a list of recommendations, both to the government of China and to the international business community. Its recommendations to the Chinese government include:

  • The immediate release of “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in XUAR, whether in VETCs, prisons or other detention facilities.”
  • A full review of the legal framework governing national security, counter-terrorism and minority rights in XUAR to ensure their compliance with binding international human rights law, and urgently repeal all discriminatory laws, policies and practices against Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities in XUAR.
  • A prompt investigation into allegations of human rights violations in VETCs and other detention facilities, including allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, as well as forced labour and reports of deaths in custody.

To the international business community, the OHCHR’s recommendations encourage a strengthened and concerted effort “to respect human rights across activities and business relationships,” to “strengthen human rights risk assessments,” and to “support efforts to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the XUAR region.”

Upon the report’s publication, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded by saying, “The United States welcomes this important report, which describes authoritatively the appalling treatment and abuses of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” Furthermore, Blinken said, 

We will continue to work closely with our partners, civil society, and the international community to seek justice and accountability for the many victims.  We will continue to hold the PRC to account and call on the PRC to release those unjustly detained, account for those disappeared, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Tibet, and across the PRC.

How is the ERLC involved?

Over the past several years, the ERLC and Southern Baptist messengers have advocated extensively for Uyghurs and raised awareness for the plight they face. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention “became the first Christian faith group to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide” when, in June 2021, “messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting passed a resolution” condemning “the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people.”

The ERLC remains resolved to “stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them, to call upon the CCP to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse.” We will continue our work of advocating for the Uyghur people, “pray[ing] for [them] as they suffer under such persecution,” and praying for those who work to bring “the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so they can experience the freedom found only in Christ.” 

By / Sep 2

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the United Nations’ report on human rights violations in China, the rejection of the Transgender Mandate at a Federal Appeals Court, life in the digital age, and Yeshiva University’s appeal to SCOTUS regarding a potential religious liberty violation. They also celebrate the beginning of college football season. 

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By / Aug 5

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the failure of the Kansas pro-life amendment, voter priorities and abortion, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. They also talk about the Indiana representative and staff members killed in a car crash. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted terrority. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Aug 4

The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit is one of the many in-person events that was  welcomed back post-pandemic to Washington, D.C., for its annual meeting at the end of June. With close to 70% of the world’s population living in countries with religious restrictions, it is more important than ever to fortify our response to these troubling numbers. The IRF summit aims to gain political and grassroots support for religious freedom worldwide. Each year the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department releases a report on the status of religious freedom in the world. The conversations that happen at the summit often reflect the reports. 

During the meeting, coalitions were strengthened, new relationships were made, and powerful testimonies were shared. While we often read the facts surrounding religious persecution and feel a sense of compassion, to see the faces of those who have survived is uniquely moving. I had the privilege of attending the IRF conference and hearing directly from a few of these survivors. 

The story of Shi Minglei 

I have never faced persecution for my faith or had to choose between renouncing my faith or living. The government does not send agents to my home to stop me from reading the Bible. My bank account has not been seized because of my faith. But there are individuals in this world who experience this reality daily. Shi Minglei is one of those people. Minglei and her husband, Cheng Yuan, are from China. Yuan is a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and was arrested for his decry of human rights violations by the CCP. After his arrest, his wife and daughter were targeted by secret police officers sent by the government. They were tracked, interrogated, and intimidated by agents. The ERLC has joined coalitions in condemning the treatment of Uyghurs and other religious minorities by the CCP. From condemning the Chinese Government at the U.N. Human Rights Council to advocating for the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the ERLC has been active in trying to end religious persecution in China. 

The CCP was relentless in their efforts to keep Minglei quiet. An agent warned her, “anywhere you go, anyone you meet, anyone you call, you have to get my permission for all of them, or else we’ll change enforcement measures on you!” Essentially, if she spoke out on the brutal treatment she had received, then she would be arrested or even killed. The mental toll that Minglei and her daughter went through cannot be overstated. Every day they lived with the lurking fear that someone was watching them. Agents could barge into their door at any moment and drag them away. While the fear ravaged their life for months on end, they were able to find peace in the only One who can provide it when a member of Minglei’s church rallied around them and offered to pray with them (Phil. 4:6-13). It was at that moment that her heart finally found rest. 

“I cried out, and my heart, which had been ruled by the fear created by tyranny, was finally released. That night, I was no longer afraid. Every night, my little girl and I prayed and slept in peace. In the mornings, we took the bus to the subway together, and on the way we sang hymns together and praised God out loud. I began to learn how to live with my fears and how to walk through this trying time.”

Minglei was in a situation where everything seemed to be working against her. The institutions she was surrounded by oppressed her. Her beliefs were ridiculed. Life would have been much easier if she would have remained silent and quietly given up her resistance. Yet, thankfully that is not how the story ends. Minglei and her daughter were able to escape and are now safe within the United States. Hearing her speak in person with her daughter a few feet away in the audience was an experience that I will never forget. Minglei writes in an article about her experience that, “​​even though I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I do know who is in charge of tomorrow.”  May we also live with that same reminder in our own lives. 

Freedom of religion is not a worldwide standard. In fact, it is almost an exception. The United States has a unique platform in the world that can be used to promote freedom of religion.

The IRF conference is one of the many ways governments and civil society can come together to promote religious freedom so that everyone can worship without fear. And while conferences like these are necessary to build worldwide support, the fight for religious freedom does not stop with those in Washington. We all have a role to play. 

One of the most important ways to get involved is through prayer. Pray for God to open the heart of government leaders who are oppressing their own people. Pray for the individuals who are living in the reality of religious persecution and that God would grant them strength. Lastly, pray that God will give us a spirit of hospitality to welcome those escaping persecution. 

Another practical way to get involved is to further read on religious freedom. The ERLC has an entire section dedicated to resources on this issue. A few of my personal recommendations listed below. 

The work toward religious freedom for all remains a cornerstone of Baptist tradition. The door to sharing the gospel can often be opened when others are free to practice their own faith. Stories like Shi Minglei should remind us of how blessed we are to have the freedoms we do in the United States. While we know that earthly governments cannot stop the gospel, it is in the interest of human flourishing to protect that right so that individuals are free to live according to their deeply held beliefs.  The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is a God-given, fundamental human right on which other basic rights often rise and fall. It is an essential ingredient in a functioning society. Because of that, the ERLC will continue to advocate for religious freedom for all people of all faiths around the world.

By / Jun 8

On June 2, the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom released its 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. Each year, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) tasks the office with issuing a report to Congress exploring the global state of religious freedom. The recommendations in the State Department’s report “describe the status of religious freedom, government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies promoting religious freedom in nearly every country and territory throughout the world.”

Embassies, civil society organizations, and local clergy identify incidents that infringe on religious freedoms. Then, they partner with the State Department to track the efficacy of American efforts to restore religious freedom and human dignity. Through this process, the Office of International Religious Freedom collates all data into a massive report that gauges the status of religious freedom in each nation.

Major themes of the report

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reinforced America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring religious freedom for people of all faiths. Protecting America’s “first freedom” must remain a “vital foreign policy priority,” Blinken said. The secretary called upon “all societies” to “do more to address rising forms of hate.”

Rashad Hussain, the ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom, noted three recurring themes throughout the report. First, far too many governments use discriminatory laws to oppress their own people. For example, China continues to commit genocide against the Uyghur people, while Burma ruthlessly persecutes the Rohingya people, and the Taliban oppresses Afghan women as second-class citizens. 

Additionally, rising cultural intolerance and acts of hatred are fueling conflict around the world. Mobs in nations like India burned down churches and mosques, often with social media serving as an incubator for these incidents of hate speech and threats of violence. 

Finally, Hussain celebrated the collaboration between civil society and government, a partnership that brings “essential” progress to the fight to secure international religious freedom. Hussain noted that “religion can be such a powerful force for good,” and the United States will seek to encourage positive religious action around the globe.

Countries of concern

The report details the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to heavily restrict religious expression. In addition to its aggressive persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in western China, the government “imprisoned about 3,000 people for exercising their right to freedom of religion” last year. The party “continued its multiyear campaign of ‘Sinicization’ to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine” by compelling clergy attendance at political indoctrination sessions and closely monitoring sermon content for anti-CCP rhetoric. Christians, Muslims, and Falun Gong practitioners reported housing and employment discrimination, citing increased anti-religious cultural sentiments reflected in strict government laws.

The report also notes that following the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan last summer, they have resumed enforcing strict Sharia law and persecuting religious minorities, forcing many Afghan Shia Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus to worship privately to avoid persecution. Christian converts and other religious minorities regularly faced death threats and increased cultural hostilities. ISIS-K and other nongovernmental terror groups claimed responsibility for dozens of mosque bombings and suicide attacks last year, killing hundreds of Shia Hazara Muslims.

Since a military coup in February, the new Burmese government has committed “an alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses.” The State Department reports that regime military forces have bombed Christian churches and killed pastors. The regime has continued their crusade against the Muslim Rohingya people, imprisoning over 144,000 in camps last year. The report notes that “Rohingya continued to be perceived as foreigners, irrespective of their citizenship status, and as members of a religion commonly viewed with fear and disdain.” The State Department is hopeful, though, that pro-democracy and religious freedom efforts continue to gain ground in Burmese culture and government.

In India, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) report that “the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities.” The report expresses concern over a rapid increase in violent attacks against Christians, as state police regularly ignored official complaints of violence. Hindu “cow vigilantes” killed Muslims on charges of smuggling cattle, while extremist leaders faced little government opposition for calling to “wage a war against Muslims.” Most religiously-motivated violence is performed by mobs and nongovernmental terror groups, but American officials continue to pressure the Indian government to protect the rights of religious minorities and discourage religious violence.

How is the ERLC involved?

The ERLC affirms Ambassador Hussain’s assessment that “no community is immune from these abuses,” and we will continue advocating for religious freedom for all people everywhere. Over the past several years, the ERLC has advocated extensively for Uyghurs and raised awareness for the plight of other persecuted minorities. The ERLC has also partnered with diverse coalitions to fight against blasphemy laws, stem the rise of anti-Semitism, and aid the resettelement of persecuted refugees. We are dedicated to advocating for the vulnerable and oppressed around the world and to fighting for the sacred rights of our persecuted brothers and sisters.

By / Apr 15

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss President Biden saying Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine, the Brooklyn subway shooting, and a Christian who escaped from a reeducation camp in Xinjiang. They also talk about several resources to prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter. 

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  1. Biden says Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine
  2. Frank James, suspect in Brooklyn subway shooting, discussed violence in YouTube clips
  3. Christian Detainee Who Escaped Xinjiang Camp | SBC resolution

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  • Dobbs Resource Page Prayer Guide | Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a major Mississippi abortion case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ERLC and other pro-life organizations filed an amicus brief in this case urging the Supreme Court to overturn the disatrous Roe v. Wade decision. Members of our team also joined pro-life advocates on the steps of the Supreme Court when oral arguments were heard last December. As we approach the Supreme Court’s final decision in June of this year, it’s important for Christians to pray for this landmark case and begin preparing our churches to serve vulnerable women and children in a potential post-Roe world. Download our free prayer guide at ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Dobbs Resource Page | Many Christians are aware that an important case about abortion is being decided at the Supreme Court this June. But for many, this case is confusing and wrapped in a lot of legal jargon. The ERLC wants to help with that, so we’ve created a resource page that will help you and your church understand what this case means, what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and how your church can prepare to serve vulnerable women and children in the aftermath. To learn more about the Dobbs case and how you can pray, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
By / Feb 4

On Tuesday, the ERLC hosted a special online event called “Oppression & The Olympics: A Discussion of China’s Human Rights Atrocities Ahead of the Winter Games.” During their time together, three panelists discussed China’s many human rights violations and why the Beijing Olympics is an occasion to spotlight the need for accountability.

In light of the upcoming American coverage of the Olympics by NBC Universal, some have urged the public to not engage in watching the games because of the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing human rights violations, in particular against the Uyghur ethnic minority. This raises the question of boycotts and how Christians should think about them. 

Thinking about boycotts

The term boycott refers to a refusal to buy, use, or participate in something as a means of expressing disapproval. A boycott can be either an act of protest or an act of coercion. In an act of protest, we are intentionally making purchasing decisions for the purpose of registering our disagreement or displeasure — regardless of whether it affects the behavior of anyone else. In contrast, an act of coercion is when we are intentionally making purchasing decisions for the primary purpose of changing someone else’s behavior.

In the case of the Olympics, we are either protesting or attempting to coerce a particular entity: either NBC Universal, the Chinese government, or both. We do not have a moral obligation to either watch the Olympics or buy products from China. The loss of one additional TV viewer or an individual consumer will also not cause much direct harm if we engage in a protest of refusing to watch the games or buy Chinese goods. We can merely make the decision to engage in such a protest based on our individual conscience without a concern about creating an moral conundrum.

However, if our goal is coercion, we are going beyond mere protest by attempting to wield our power in a way that brings about justice. Even though this is a nonviolent use of power, we should apply the similar principles and standards that we would use for violent use of power — which, for many Christians, would be just war principles.

Two principles associated with the just war tradition that would seem to apply to this situation are reasonable chance of success and discrimination. How those principles are applied is open to disagreement, of course, but here’s how we could frame the consideration. We can ask:

  1. Are our actions likely to have the intended effect on NBC Universal and the Chinese government, and
  2. Does the good of engaging in the boycott outweigh the economic destruction on innocent civilians, such as Chinese workers or employees of NBC?

How much economic harm should be allowed by our boycott depends on how likely our boycott is to lead to justice. If the boycott is likely to be effective, then a greater level of harm may be justifiable. However, if the boycott is likely to be ineffective, then the threshold for economic damage to innocents should be considerably less.

We can also be guided in our thinking about boycotts by the principle of proximate justice. As Steven Garber once explained the concept,

“Proximate justice realizes that something is better than nothing. It allows us to make peace with some justice, some mercy, all the while realizing that it will only be in the new heaven and new earth that we find all our longings finally fulfilled, that we will see all of God’s demands finally met. It is only then and there we will see all of the conditions for human flourishing finally in place, socially, economically, and politically.”

Here’s an example of how we might balance these factors in regard to our decision about a boycott:

  1. We can refuse to watch the Olympics on NBC since ​​viewership increases their advertising revenues. We can also refuse to buy any products made by slaves — which might include Olympic souvenirs — since this is the best way for me to apply proximate justice.
  2. However, we may decide we will not refuse to buy products merely because they are made in China since an individual boycott is almost assuredly going to be ineffective, and the most likely outcome would be that the only people hurt would not be the Chinese government but the poorest of Chinese workers (some of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ).
  3. We can use what power we have to take other steps that are most likely to affect the Chinese government and minimize the harm to innocent Chinese people. For example, we can use social media to raise awareness about Chinese atrocities and the treatment of the Uyghurs while the Olympics is ongoing. 

Whatever choice we make about the boycott, there are certain actions we can all take to promote justice. As the panelists noted during the ERLC event, we can contact our U.S. representatives and senators and encourage them to enact legislation that limits Chinese government power. We can also pray for world leaders to have courage to put an end to the Uyghur genocide and to rethink economic exchange with a communist government that disregards human rights. 

By / Feb 2

Where is Peng Shuai? Perhaps you have seen the social media posts asking this question. But, first, unless you are a hardcore tennis fan, you might need some clarity on about Peng Shuai. She is a Chinese professional tennis player with outstanding accomplishments in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). She rose to world number 14 in singles (2011) and became world number 1 in doubles in 2014. Shuai became the first Chinese tennis player ever ranked world number 1 in doubles or singles and has won 25 titles on the WTA tour in singles and doubles.

What happened to Peng Shuai?

In a lengthy November post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, 35-year-old Shuai alleged she was raped by one of China’s senior political leaders, former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Her post almost immediately disappeared from Weibo, and then she suddenly disappeared from public view as well. Since that time, the Chinese government has censored any mention of Shuai or her accusation against Zhang Gaoli.

Concern about her well-being increased as friends and colleagues could not directly contact Shuai. The #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag took off on social media, and leaders in the tennis world began to voice concern. One of the loudest voices expressing concern is WTA chairman Steve Simon. A few weeks after Shuai’s disappearance, Simon received an email, which was also shared on American social media by Chinese-affiliated outlets, purportedly from Shuai, that said: “everything is fine.” She just did not want to be “bothered” right now. 

The email was almost universally mocked as fabricated or orchestrated by the Chinese government. Simon stated that the email “only increased his concerns.” A short time later, leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) participated in a video call with Shuai and stated she appeared safe and well. Many were outraged by the IOC’s willingness to participate in a video call that was little more than propaganda on behalf of the Chinese government by IOC officials wanting to avoid a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. After pressure, the IOC now says it cannot provide any assurances about Shuai’s well-being. 

Since that time, Chinese state-affiliated media outlets have shown pictures of Shuai out eating dinner and as a celebrity at a couple of sporting events. She recently told a Chinese state-friendly Singaporean newspaper that she had been misunderstood, she had not been sexually assaulted, and she is free to move around as she wished. 

Of course, none of these videos, pictures, or statements offer any proof that Shuai can move and speak without coercion or censorship. China’s authoritarian government has a long history of disappearing people, and threatening them and their families, until they coerce a retraction of any unfavorable comments toward the Communist Party leadership.

The shame of looking away

Sadly, it seems the financial benefit of looking the other way at China’s human rights atrocities has proven too strong a temptation for many businesses, including sports leagues and entertainment companies. For example, the Australian Open tennis tournament, run by Tennis Australia, at one time decided to turn away all spectators wearing any clothing that asks, “Where is Peng Shuai?” Their actions were an apparent capitulation to the Chinese regime and the Chinese investors in the tournament. Thankfully, on Jan. 25, after public pressure, Tennis Australia reversed its policy.

Recently, Chamath Palihapitiya, a billionaire venture capitalist and part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, said out loud what is a reality for too many in positions of power and influence. He said in an interview, when the genocide of the Uyghurs in China was mentioned, “Let’s be honest, nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs . . . .  I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.”

The danger in the Shuai situation is that the rest of the world just moves on and forgets about her condition over time. However, Simon has been one heroic figure who chosen to defend human rights over financial interests in this situation. He helped move a portion of the WTA season into China to take advantage of a lucrative emerging Chinese market. In 2018, the WTA signed a 10-year deal to move the WTA Finals to Shenzhen, China, with a guaranteed 14 million dollars in prize money. 

Nevertheless, Simon has put the well-being of Shuai over financial interests from the beginning of this saga. Simon said, “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source,” and, “Her allegation must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.” He followed his words with actions by suspending all WTA events in China. The result of the WTA actions could be an estimated 1 billion dollar loss of revenue. 

Simon is unfazed, asserting, “The WTA will do everything possible to protect its players.” However, he also urges, “As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications.” While Simon’s courage and clarity in facing down China’s authoritarian regime has been heartening, the fact that so few have joined him is disheartening. 

A Christian’s responsibility

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our voices should be the loudest on behalf of those persecuted and marginalized. We are to care about the lives of God’s image-bearers from conception until natural death. The writer of Proverbs commands, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). 

Toward the end of the post where she made allegations of ongoing sexual abuse, Shuai asked a question that many persecuted, victimized, and dehumanized people have asked, “I thought, am I still a human?” May followers of Christ answer her question with a resounding, yes, by the way we speak up for her life and liberty. Tennis is a game; human rights are not. 

It has been right to ask, “Where is Peng Shuai?” But we must also ask, “Where are we?” Where are we when the opportunity comes to speak and act on behalf of the persecuted, suffering, and vulnerable? Let us be those who hear and heed the words of the Lord Almighty: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zech. 7:9).

By / Dec 21

When most of us in the West think about technology, our minds often revert to our smartphones, social media, and computer technology. Many of the debates surrounding these technologies tend to focus on how these tools are altering our behaviors, reformulating how we think about the very nature of truth, or even how they are aiding a deep polarization in the throes of secularization. While there is growing consensus across partisan lines about the dangers of Big Tech, there is little agreement on the nature of the problem or what to do about it. But for all of the partisan rancor and tribalization we see today, there is thankfully one issue that is uniting various political factions today — the widespread abuse of these tools by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), specifically in their relentless pursuit of suppressing the basic human rights of millions Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.

For many, these atrocities are just becoming more well known and mainstream news — especially with the recent passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act by the United States Congress, as well as the adoption of the unanimously passed resolution decrying these abuses as genocide by the Southern Baptist Convention this past June. While it may seem new, these abuses have been going on for years — often off the world’s radar — and have been fueled by a sophisticated network of surveillance and repressive technological controls designed to facilitate this ongoing genocide against the Uyghur population. 

As Christians we stand up against the abuses of power based on our foundational understanding of human dignity rooted in the imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-28) and the Christian ethic of neighbor love (Matt. 22:37-39). Right now, the church has the opportunity to speak up and advocate for the vulnerable and abused among us even if they live across the world under the heavy hand of a repressive regime like the CCP.

Tools of oppression against Uyghur Muslims

The reality of what is taking place among Uyghur Muslims in China is more gruesome and egregious than most have realized. This was made clear from video footage of Uyghur detainment that exposes rampant human rights violations of the worst kind. As my ERLC colleague Chelsea Patterson Sobolik has written:

Since 2017, the CCP has waged a systematic war of persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost territory. Uyghurs are subjected to totalitarian tactics that include pervasive surveillance, forced detainment and placement into internment camps for “political reeducation,” forced labor, forced birth control, sterilization or abortion, rape, physical and psychological torture and forced organ harvesting.

These totalitarian tactics are waged against this people group based on their religious beliefs.They are subjected to propaganda-style reeducation that often includes renouncing deeply held beliefs and swearing ultimate allegiance to the Chinese state. But how exactly has the CCP been able to amass such power and control over these people without widespread knowledge and countermeasures?

The ability of this regime to mobilize its efforts to surveil and oppress Uyghurs has grown in large part due the massive advances of technology, namely widespread use of facial recognition technology, data surveillance, and the centralization of all communication technologies including the internet and social media. As I have previously written on the rise of digital authoritarianism, the CCP maintains almost complete access to personal and institutional data collected by Chinese technology companies or those who seek to access China’s lucrative markets. The Chinese government has also proudly and publicly promoted its use of facial recognition tools and social controls for the watching world. And these same tools are being marketed and used to profile, surveil, and round up Uyghurs all across the nation.

As Elizabeth C. Economy writes, the CCP has also built a robust and nearly impenetrable hold over public access to information. With “Chinanet,” the CCP has essentially created a walled garden, where any information that could challenge the heavy hand of the regime’s control is filtered out completely and inaccessible by Chinese citizens. For example, the ability to search for any type of pro-democracy media, or even information about the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, has been stripped from the internet in China. The goal is to control the information flow and only expose citizens to highly-scripted propaganda that strengthens the CCP’s power and influence over its citizenry.

Economy further describes in her book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, how the Chinese leadership has “directed significant time and energy in investing in technological upgrades to increase the state’s already potent capacity to monitor and prevent undesirable content from entering and circulating through the country.” They are effectively prevented from shifting the power imbalance or seeking to hold their leaders accountable for their denial of basic human rights, such as religious freedom.1A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.

A Christian response to the CCP’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims

In light of these atrocities and blatant violations of basic human rights, what is the church to do? One of the main ways the church can engage on these important issues is by refusing to be silent and letting our elected officials know that the United States and other countries must not allow these violations of dignity and basic human rights to go unchallenged. From the outset of these events, the ERLC has been raising awareness and advocating against these egregious human rights violations and blatant religious freedom abuses. As early as 2019 when reports began to highlight the inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims, our team has relentlessly pushed for the United States and other nations around the world to counter China morally alongside efforts to counter them economically.

As mentioned above, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act last week, which now is due for President Biden to sign into law. This law will prevent goods being produced by forced labor from reaching our shores and highlight these human rights violations. This not only publicly signals our commitment to ending the atrocities, but also will put real economic pressure on China to change its practices. This is the first among many needed steps to condemn the CCP’s tyrannical grip over this people group. The CCP must not profit off the surveillance, detainment, and exploitation of the Uyghurs. 

Another aspect of advocacy is understanding the ways that technology has aided and facilitated much of this abuse. Without these powerful tools, the level of surveillance and control simply would not have been possible. This is another reason that the United States and other countries must not be complicit in aiding or supporting this regime through the devices we purchase, systems we employ, or even the messages that we send. While much of the work to be done to counter the CCP’s hold will be more expansive than simply speaking to the technologies at play, it must not be less than that. Technology is part of the social ecosystem that we all inhabit today and must not be seen as an ancillary issue but a core element of any effective foreign policy strategy. As Christians engage on these pressing issues in the public square, we must do so from a full-orbed vision of life in a digital society — committed to basic freedoms of expression, religious belief, and dignity for all.

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    A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.