By / Aug 19

The award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie remains in critical condition after he was attacked while waiting to speak at a cultural center event in upstate New York. 

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, allegedly stabbed Rushdie 10 times, striking the writer in the neck, stomach, right eye, chest, and thigh. A preliminary law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts shows he is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In an interview from jail, Matar said, “I don’t like [Rushdie] very much. He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.” 

The threat to Rushdie

Rushdie has been threatened with assasination since the publication of his 1989 novel, The Satanic Verses. The book sparked controversy because it portrays a fictional retelling of the birth of Islam’s key events that imply Mohammad, rather than Allah, was the source of the revelations in the Quran. Muslims believe that, in the original Arabic, the Quran is a divine book (and not merely divinely inspired). 

At the time of its publication, the novel was banned in 13 countries with large Muslim populations including India, Pakistan, and South Africa. A year later the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme leader, issued a fatwa (a legal ruling in Islamic law) saying the book was blasphemous and calling on “all brave Muslims” to kill Rushdie and his publishers. A bounty of over $3 million was offered for anyone who killed Rushdie. 

A number of Muslims responded to the call for violence. The novel’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991. The Italian translator was beaten and stabbed, but lived, and the Norwegian publisher was shot three times, but survived. A Nobel-prize winning Egyptian author who had defended Rushdie also survived being stabbed in the neck by a Muslim extremist. 

Rushdie tried to have the fatwa lifted in 1989 by apologizing and saying, in part, “I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.” The next year he signed a declaration affirming his Islamic faith and asking his publisher to neither issue the book in paperback nor to allow it to be translated. The actions failed to appease his critics.

Rushdie, an Indian-born British citizen who is now a citizen of the U.S., was put under police protection by the British government for nine years and spent many years in hiding. In early 2005, Khomeini’s fatwa was reaffirmed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. But Rushdie had been living openly in New York for the past few years and had believed he was no longer under immediate danger.

When threats to religious freedom cross international borders

The attack on Rushdie emphasizes the need to continue promoting ​​religious freedom around the globe, and shows why religious freedom and freedom of speech are inextricably connected. But it also shows that threats to religious freedom easily cross international borders.

Rushdie was born into a Muslim family but later became an atheist. According to Muslim tradition and law, the penalty for apostasy from Islam is execution. This poses a threat to former Muslims wherever they live, even outside of Islamic countries. 

Because of advances in transportation and communication technologies, the global world has become increasingly less segmented and isolated. The result is that refugees fleeing religious persecution can find themselves targeted wherever they live. Over the past few decades there has been a rise in what has been called transnational repression, specifically harassment, surveillance, and intimidation of people who have fled countries where individual freedoms are denied. As the human rights organization Freedom House notes

Far from being a foreign problem, transnational repression impacts the lives and freedoms of people living in the United States. It violates their right to privacy, free expression, and free movement. The violence and harassment directed by authoritarian governments is not just a problem for the targeted individuals. Hindering their rights and freedoms has direct consequences for the quality of America’s democracy and institutions.

Baptists have a long history of promoting freedom of religion and expression. As the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, the Christian ideal includes “the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” In the past, though, Southern Baptists have tended to assume this applied primarily to the civil power within a nation. But as the Rushdie incident reveals, we also must push back against the interference in the sphere of religion by civil powers outside our own borders. In an increasingly open world, transnational repression could become one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in this century. 

By / Sep 28

When news from the Middle East and Near East regions of the world begin to fill my screen, there’s one reporter that I want to read: Mindy Belz. 

I’ve known about her work as an editor and war correspondent with WORLD magazine for over 15 years, but her 2016 book, They Say We Are Infidels, was instrumental in shaping the way I understand this part of the world, revealing its rich Christian history. Her relationships with international churches and believers have provided her decades of insight into these predominantly Muslim parts of the world. 

As Christians in the West consider today’s international crises, as well as reflect on the impact of 9/11 20 years ago, Belz shines a light on both the histories and cultures of these far-off nations, shares her reasons for going into hard places, and points us to the eternal things that should guide our lives.

Jill Waggoner: Can you help us zoom out and understand the cultural landscape of the Middle East and the significance of Afghanistan?

Mindy Belz: Afghanistan commonly gets lumped into the Middle East because of the wars after 9/11, but it’s technically considered part of the wider Near East or Central Asia. That’s important, because Afghanistan is somewhat of a bridge. It has a lot of the Islamic elements that have bedeviled the United States and the Middle East (in Lebanon with Hamas and Iraq with al-Qaida and ISIS). But it also has this history of being under the thumb of the Soviet Union. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent occupation set the stage for the American engagement there. It began as a Cold War engagement, and then it moved into what we know today, an engagement over terrorism that had its base in Afghanistan. That history is significant to how it came onto the American radar, but of course, 9/11 propelled it there to stay. 

I traveled to Sudan in 1998, 1999, and in June of 2001. Sudan was engaged in this war that pitted Christians in the South versus Muslims in the North. It was a precursor to what we would see after 9/11. Christians have been like a footnote in these conflicts, and yet, to me, they were an important piece because what Christians experience is often a precursor to what the entire population is going to face. When we look at the war that was happening in Sudan in the 1990s, we see this dramatic and atrocious conflict between a jihadist government in the North and the Christian population in the South. That set a pattern for what we saw repeated in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where this concept of “conquering infidels” came into play with really deadly force. 

JW: How did 9/11 change U.S. engagement in this region of the world?

MB: It had been a Cold War engagement up until that point, very much based on our national interests in keeping dominance over the Soviet Union, Russia, and its breakaway republics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11 changed it dramatically because then it became about U.S. survival. It was an attack on the U.S. homeland. Nothing like that had happened in modern memory. It was no longer war at a remove; it was war up close. 

Significantly, that moment built on the Cold War alliances. NATO, within days after 9/11, invoked Article 5. This was the first time in its history, putting NATO on a war footing in support of the United States. Among the victims of 9/11, there were more than 90 nations represented. We had tremendous international support for our response to it.  

JW: How would you help a younger audience think about 9/11?

MB: 9/11 is possibly the largest event of the century and certainly one of the landmark moments in U.S. history. 

It is important to go beyond the headlines and the 10-minute recap you see on the news. You can visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum site or go to the museum and see the names. It’s such a powerful reminder of the ordinariness of the people who died. They had no intention of stepping into a war zone when they were going to work that day. I would encourage anyone to read some of the original sources on the 9/11 Museum site. Find the 911 calls on YouTube. Not everyone wants to go down that road, but I think it’s valuable to get a real sense of what people went through.

It is also important to generally appreciate what the terrorists’ goals were. I’ve had the 9/11 Commission Report on my shelf at the ready for years. It is a thick book, but mine is so well thumbed now. Parts of it read like a novel. It helps you understand all the players and what was happening from the FBI, CIA, and military standpoint. You understand what was happening in Washington and New York. It describes what ​​al-Qaida was planning and the hijackers’ stories leading up to that day. Original sources are what we have to rely on, especially as we see misinformation surface. 

I’ve [also] really enjoyed reading about the millennials whose whole generation has been shaped by how our country changed after 9/11. I have much encouragement and hope as I see how many of my children’s peers committed themselves to military service or aide or nongovernmental organizations. When I covered the refugee crisis, I saw many 20- and 30-somethings that dropped everything to help these refugees coming across the Mediterranean. That defines the generation to me. I have great hope because of how this generation has been shaped by really sobering, hard events. 

JW: How would you encourage the Western church to think about and understand the Christian church in the Middle and Near Eastern parts of the world?

MB: I went to Iraq to cover the war early on and discovered the Christians along the way. There was this rich history there outside of what many think of as the Holy Land. I was going in churches that were built in the 300s. Their liturgy was in Aramaic. They were holding on to traditions because they were precious to them, not because they were following rote tradition. Everywhere I went, I was having my own presuppositions exploded. 

I met people whose resilience drew me to them. They had a patience about the Christian conflict with Islam and a determination about it that seemed to be lacking in the American public. The U.S. eventually wanted to turn away from the conflict and commitments in Iraq, as we are seeing now in Afghanistan. One of the reasons these wars have ended in such disarray and with such tragic consequences is that we never engaged them on the terms in which we said we were. We failed to understand that this is an age-old conflict. We failed to look at the really good examples of how people from outside of Islam have engaged with Islam.

On my journeys, I [saw] great examples of people coexisting and also being great witnesses, and in some cases being martyrs. The Old English definition of a martyr is a witness. They were being martyrs on a daily basis, and sometimes with their own lives, in order to stand and to give testimony to the Muslims that they lived alongside. 

JW: Recently, my 10 year-old son got in my car as I was listening to the news. He asked what it was, and I told him. As I turned it off he said, ‘Why are you listening to that? Aren’t bad things happening?’ I wondered how you would answer that question. In a world where ‘bad things’ are happening, why should we pay attention?

MB: Because the love of Christ compels us to. We can all have a sense of discouragement and helplessness in the face of any days’ bad news, but we know Christ came to enter into bad news, bringing life and the good news of the gospel. 

Our life in the United States gives us so much material comfort and grace that we lose sight of the consummation of all things. We might be tempted to think that the consummation is like our day to day: the sun shining, peace with our neighbors, a grocery store nearby. Our current reality dulls our sense that there is a future — where Christ is reigning and has reconciled all things under his feet — that is beyond what we can imagine right now. We can be tempted to lose sight of that chapter of the gospel narrative. I have a sense that the Christians who went before me had a much clearer view of what is to come that compelled them through the hard things of any day. 

JW: Many people have had trauma in the last two years. I imagine that your journeys have allowed you to see things that I’ve never seen, creating difficulties for you on a personal level that might extend beyond the experience. Do you have a personal word for those who are dealing with trauma? 

MB: It is definitely a real thing and something that I’ve struggled with from time to time. I have faced life and death moments. Because I’m still here after those moments, I can say they propel us to the feet of Christ and into the arms of God. 

Sometimes I dread going into a place where there’s a lot that’s unknown. There also have been times where I felt like I knew the situation, but when I was walking down the street, I could feel the tension and feel how much things had changed. This happened to me in 2019 in Syria, and I knew I was not in a safe place. Within 30 minutes, a bomb went off right across the street from me. I’ve been in moments where all I know to do is pray and trust that God has me where he wants me. That might be a place of death or a place of witness — seeing something that’s really, really hard. 

I come back to this fraternity that we have with Jesus. In those moments, we see in a new way what he endured, and what he was willing to endure, for us. We also see our own weaknesses and shortcomings. We’re brought face to face with the fact that we’re not Jesus. We quake and have fear and sometimes we run away, and that’s okay to do. 

The only way I know to process those things is in community. The community that I have with my husband, first of all, is the only reason that I have been able to continue this work — his support, patience, and willingness to hear the things [I’ve experienced]. Also, I process with my church community, pastors, and friends who are good counselors. We have to process these things in community, but we also have to process them as a way of recognizing our weakness and the profound sacrifice that Jesus made. 

By / Jun 21

What does the future of Christianity in America look like? Better yet, what will the global religious landscape be like in a couple of decades? As secularism broadens its appeal and more and more people are religiously unaffiliated, we may find ourselves struggling to answer these questions. Or, we may simply be fearful of the answers.

A recent report titled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” published by the Pew Research Center, outlines more than six years’ worth of data collection, coalescing their research into a document projecting the world’s religious makeup in 2050 and the trends that lead there. While the authors of this report are quick to admit how fickle some of these projections may be (due to potential factors like war, famine, disease, and others that cannot be accounted for), nevertheless, there is much in “The Future of World Religions” that should grab our attention. 

Here are three takeaways from the Pew Research Center’s report.

1. More religious, not less

If you are paying attention to Western religious trends, you may assume that the global religious trajectory is consistent with what we seem to be experiencing in the U.S., a wayward procession toward secularism. But you would be wrong. Even now, if we were to peer out beyond our own geographic context (and some would argue, even within our own), we would find that the world is not becoming irreligious but more religious. Pew researchers project that this will not only continue, but will surge in the coming decades.

“Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion (the report refers to this group as ‘the unaffiliated’) – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France,” the report states, “will make up a declining share of the world’s population.” Of course, because the global population is forecast to increase by 35% from 2010 to 2050, the raw number of religiously unaffiliated people is projected to increase, as we would expect among virtually every religious group. However, “their share of the global population is projected to decrease” from 16% in 2010 to 13% in 2050.

What this means, fundamentally, is that people, despite our technological advancements and “progress,” still possess a deep-level “ache” that goes unrelieved without some sort of transcendent remedy. There are questions that atheism and/or secularism (or any other false worldview, for that matter) simply cannot answer. Religion is not losing global influence. On the contrary, it is growing, and picking up steam. And while religious adherence grows among many faith traditions, Islam is projected to grow most rapidly. 

2. The continued growth of Islam

“By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.” 

There is not a religious group that is projected to experience more rapid growth in the next several decades than the Muslim population, both worldwide and here within the United States. From Middle East-North Africa to the Asia-Pacific to Europe and North America, Islam is forecast to grow both numerically and in its share of each region’s total population. If Pew’s projections hold, Christians (31.4%) and Muslims (29.7%) will make up a nearly identical percentage of the world population, totaling an estimated 60% of all people on earth

While Christians will undoubtedly find this news distressing, we should view these predictions not as something to fear but as an opportunity. After all, these are projections, not certainties. Who’s to say that Christians can’t win to Christ those who are searching, those who are spiritually hungry, and those who are seeking a remedy for their “aches” rather than losing them to another religion like Islam or to the hopelessness of atheism? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, what if the church set out to upend these projections?

What would this take? Well, for one, we’d have to stop all the in-fighting and get serious about the Great Commission. And, certainly, we’d have to take the Great Commandments, the very words of Jesus, seriously — to love God with all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we can do that, Lord willing, the Pew Research Center might just have to make significant amendments to their report. 

3. Christianity’s net losses

By far, the most distressing projection included in Pew’s report as it relates to Christianity is what they call the “Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050.” According to their projections, no religious group will lose more adherents to “switching,” or leaving one’s faith tradition for another belief system, than Christianity.

“Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated” (emphasis added). If you do the math, that is a projected net loss of more than 66 million people, exponentially more than any other group represented in the report. 

While the report isn’t concerned with answering this question, it would be negligent of us not to ask “why?” Is it because those leaving will have found Jesus’ teaching “hard” (John 6:60) like we read in John’s account of the gospel? Is it because we will have practiced some sort of Pharisaical hypocrisy, driving them away from the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23:13-15)? Or, will they have “gone out from us” because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19)? Regardless, this projected seismic “switch” will be a tragedy if we do not resolve to prevent it. 

The thing about projections is that they don’t come true until they come true. May we work with all the strength God gives us to see to it that these 66 million who are expected to desert Jesus never actually do. 

Perseverance in the face of projections

Regardless of what any report might project, the church of Jesus Christ is assured of its perseverance. 

Will Christianity always maintain its majority in global population numbers? I don’t know, maybe not. Will American culture continue to secularize? According to this report, it looks that way for the next 30 years or more. Does this put Christianity and Christ’s church in jeopardy of ceasing to exist? By no means!

The first-century church, under the threat of its Roman overlords, would not have been on the favorable end of any projections. I am certain that Christianity’s eventual extinction would have been the recurrent prediction in that day. But here we are, continuing to persevere, because we do not live by the words and projections of man, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And the Word that has proceeded from the mouth of God has clearly stated that not even “the gates of hell will prevail” against his church (Matt. 16:18). 

We should take Pew’s projections seriously, but let’s not allow them to drive us to despair. Instead, let’s be driven to carry out our mission. Those hungering for some sort of transcendent answer to their aches, those flocking to Islam, and even those disillusioned by their experience of Christianity — whatever the source of that disillusionment —let’s echo the words of Philip in the gospel of John when he said to Nathaniel, “Come and see” (John 1:46). And let’s bring them to Jesus.

By / May 14

Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians lead Tor Wennesland, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, to say on Tuesday, “We’re escalating towards a full scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of deescalation.”

The recent tensions appear to be due to a pending decision by Israel’s Supreme Court that could evict approximately 75 Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. Violent clashes also resulted when Muslims were reportedly blocked from Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. The terrorist group Hamas, which controls the area of Gaza, escalated the conflict by firing approximately 1,500 rockets at civilian targets in Israel, killing five people and injuring over 200.

The Israeli Defense Force responded by launching airstrikes targeting missile launching sites in Gaza. Because Hamas often uses civilian neighborhoods as “human shields,” the air strikes have reportedly led to the deaths of 65 people in Gaza, including 14 children.

What is the origin of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict?

The ancient nation of Israel ceased to exist when in AD 138 the Roman emperor Hadrian crushed the Bar Kochba revolt and banned all Jews from Palestine (i.e., the biblical regions known as the Land of Israel). Over the next 12 centuries, the land was conquered and reconquered by various nations and empires. In 1517, the land was captured by the Ottoman Empire, which would retain control until 1917. During World War I, the British captured Jerusalem and drove the Turks out of Ottoman Syria. Following that war the British controlled the area known as Palestine, and were given a mandate by the League of Nations to provide security and order within the territory.

Because the land was now in the hands of the British, it became an ideal location for Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Ukraine. This influx of Jews from 1919 and 1923, along with the Balfour Declaration, led the Arab inhabitants of the land to develop their own political movement known as Palestinian nationalism.

As historian Martin Bunton notes, “Before the First World War, there was no ‘Palestine’ as such; rather the territory consisted of the districts of Jerusalem, Nablus, and Acre, all of which were defined according to an evolving framework of Ottoman administration.” Since then, Arabs in the region adopted a national identity as Palestinians, with the primary objective of opposing Zionism (i.e., the reestablishment of the Jewish nation of Israel).

The United Nations voted in 1947 for the areas occupied by Palestinians to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city. While Jewish leaders accepted the proposal, it was rejected by the Arab contingent.

Why are Palestenians being evicted from East Jerusalem?

During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the western part of Jerusalem was captured by Israel, while the area known as East Jerusalem was captured by Jordan. Israel took over East Jerusalem after defeating Jordan in the 1967 Arab–Israeli War. Since then Israel has considered the area to be a part of their nation while the U.N. and most of the international community (with the exception of the U.S.) considers it to be occupied territory. 

In 1956, Palestinian refugee families were relocated to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem with the support of the U.N. and Jordanian government. But the Israeli courts contend that these Palestinian families are living in houses built on land owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel in 1948. While many Israelis believe it is merely a legal dispute over land ownership, many Palestinians consider it a strategy to expel them from East Jerusalem

Who controls Palestine?

In 1994, Israel agreed to allow the Palestinian National Authority, an interim self-government, to govern the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, which currently exists within the boundaries of the modern State of Israel. In 2007, these two areas, sometimes referred to as the “occupied territories,” were divided between two political entities, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Hamas has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, Jordan, Egypt, and Japan. 

Where does Hamas get its rockets?

After Israeli security forces pulled out of Gaza in 2005, Hamas was able to smuggle in rockets and mortar shells produced by allies, such as Iran. More recently, Hamas has claimed that they are now able to build rockets themselves in Gaza.

Despite having fired more than 10,000 rockets into Israel since 2005, the Israeli government believes that Hamas still has an arsenal of between 5,000 to 6,000 rockets that can strike anywhere between the Gaza border communities and 25-35 miles into Israel.

How many Palestinians identify as Christian?

Based on the 2017 census by the Palestinian Authority, there are roughly 47,000 Palestinians, about 1% of the population, who identify as Christian. 

A survey taken in 2020 found that about half of Palestinian Christians (48%) are Greek Orthodox while slightly more than a third (38%) are Latin Catholic. About 4% identify as Evangelicals and Lutherans. Out of those, only about 1 in 3 label themselves as “religious” (36%). 

By / Feb 16

Today, the French parliament will vote on a controversial religious law called, “the Law to Uphold Republican Principles.” This 459-page bill has received dramatic public interest, and over 1,700 proposed amendments have been filed to the bill. The intent of this bill is to “combat the threat of Islamist radicals,” whom French President Emmanuel Macron has called “the enemy of the Republic.” 

In October 2020, French middle-school teacher, Samuel Paty was beheaded by the father of one of his students after discussing the freedom of expression in his classroom. Mr. Paty gave his students a chance to leave the classroom before showing them the cartoon at the heart of the 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo newsroom, which satirically depicted the Prophet Mohammed. 

Mr. Paty’s murderer posted a photo and message on Twitter addressed to French President Macron. Within minutes, police identified and killed the perpetrator of Mr. Paty’s murder. This attack comes after multiple terrorist attacks over the past six years, including the Charlie Hebdo attack, an attack during Bastille Day, an attack at a Christmas market, and a stabbing at the Nice cathedral. Since 2015, more than 250 people have been killed in these attacks. 

Mr. Paty’s murder has inspired the introduction of this new bill by French lawmakers that takes aim at the spread of radical Islam within the country. 

Some Muslim leaders support the legislation, including the French Council of the Muslim Faith, a large French Muslim organization, which called the bill “useful, [and] necessary to fight those who want to instrumentalize associations” in ways that undermine French society. The secular, progressive Foundation for Islam said that the bill is “unjust, but necessary.” These statements from Muslim organizations illustrate the real challenge radical Islam presents for France, even for the Muslim community. 

What are French evangelicals saying about this bill?

French evangelicals have been critical of the bill. The National Council of Evangelicals in France (CNEF) has been working to highlight the problems the bill would create. Clément Diedrichs, general director of CNEF, told Christianity Today, “It’s definitely a serious situation. Laïcité [the French concept of separation of church and state] should protect the free organization of religious groups, but this law will allow the prevention of religious expression in society.”

Although the bill is not targeted at French Protestants or Evangelicals, they do have legitimate cause for concern. France’s Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, said earlier this month that “Evangelicals are a very important problem,” qualifying later in the interview that evangelicals are “obviously not [a problem] of the same nature than the Islamism that makes terrorist attacks and deaths.” Darmanin appears to take issue with those who believe the law of God is supreme over any other man-made law. As Darmanin said in a separate interview, “We cannot discuss with people who refuse to write on paper that the law of the Republic is superior to the law of God.”

Ultimately, the bill raises questions central to the French conception of secularism—the idea of laïcité—which is focused on public neutrality on religion and the place of religion in the public square. To simplify and translate this complex idea into American terms, laïcité is similar to the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By strengthening the separation of church and state, this bill would force religion even further from the public square. Diedrichs, the CNEF leader, said, “We have a unanimous position that recognizes the potential risks this law represents for religious liberty. No one is content with this law.”

Indeed, French evangelicals have raised a number of concerns with the bill. The bill would create a requirement that churches re-register with the government every five years, increasing the possibility that a church’s registration may be denied. In addition, churches and ministries would be required to publicly declare financial support from outside of France, including support of missionaries and direct support to churches from overseas. It should be noted that French evangelical churches are overwhelmingly self-supported. For evangelical families, permission to pursue home-based education would be required every year, and parents would not be permitted to choose to homeschool because of religious motivation.

Why is this bill a concern?

There is no question that France faces a difficult situation with the presence and spread of radical Islam and that efforts to curtail extremism are warranted and needed. Still, the “separatism” bill would create new restrictions on the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and would strengthen the French conception of separation of church and state in significant and harmful ways. Article 1 of the Constitution of France states: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.”

France’s leaders should honor its own principles and its international commitments by ensuring that freedom of thought, expression, and religion are maintained for all peaceful religious communities. The Bible teaches that government authority is granted by God (Rom. 13). But government authority is limited and does not include the right to restrict religious beliefs or override a person’s conscience.

It appears that this bill would do just that, reversing the proper order of the law of man and the law of God in the process. Christians should oppose this clear example of government overreach that would trample upon the consciences of millions of French citizens and pray this bill does not pass as introduced. The ERLC will continue to monitor this bill and work with our partners in France and in Europe on these important issues. 

By / Feb 9

“Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it.” 

Tursunay Ziawudun, a Uyghur woman, spent nine months in one of China’s internment camps in Xinjiang. She was recently interviewed for a BBC article detailing the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that Uyghur women face in the camps. 

In the article, Uyghur women who have fled China describe the brutal rape and torture they experienced when imprisoned. (Warning: The article describes vivid physical and sexual violence.) Sexual violence is dehumanizing in every way possible. God created sex to be a unifying and pleasurable act, enjoyed between a husband and a wife. Yet, in a world wrecked by sin, sex is often used as a way for evil people to wield power over the vulnerable. By nature, women are typically more physically vulnerable than men, and nefarious men will use sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of sexual torment to control women and exert power.

U.S. Secretary of State issues official determination of genocide

On January 19, on his last day in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued 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.” According to Axios, the U.S. has become the first country to adopt these terms to describe the Chinese Communist Party’s unconscionable human rights abuses in its far northwest. During his first full day at the Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated a similar view of the atrocities, “my judgment remains that genocide was committed against the Uighurs.”

Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to persecute Uyghur women

Former Secretary Pompeo stated that one of the key facts in his determination was the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to severely oppress Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are even sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. The CCP’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs from China by maliciously manipulating who can and can’t bear children, and how many children a family can legally conceive. 

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in a new report delineates how the CCP has been systematically targeting Uyghur women in a draconian birth-control campaign. The report research reveals that birth-control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in “training” camps, and evidence from the leaked “Karakax List” document states that such violations were the most common reason for internment. According to Zenz’s report, “in 2014, 2.5 percent of newly placed IUDs [intrauterine birth-control devices] in China were fitted in Xinjiang. In 2018, that share rose to 80 percent, far above Xinjiang’s 1.8 percent share of China’s population. Between 2015 and 2018, Xinjiang placed 7.8 times more new IUDs per capita than the national average.”

This, in itself, is nothing new. The CCP has waged a long and dreadful war against women, more specifically against baby girls. Through the coercion of the one- and two-child policies, it created a gender imbalance as stark as 120 boys for every 100 girls. Families in China often had to seek the approval of local family-planning officials just to have a child, even if they hadn’t already reached the one-child cutoff. To meet quotas and restrict population growth, women were subject to forced abortions, and men and women to forced sterilizations.

A genocide determination is a critical step in countering China morally, and the United States was correct in making this assessment. However, countering the CCP’s gross violations of human rights abuses must be a global effort, and other countries should stand up too for the persecuted and the oppressed.

What should Christians do to address this persecution of Uyghur women?

As Christians, we are commanded to care deeply about persecution and violence against the vulnerable. Both are antithetical to how God designed humans to flourish. Christians should educate themselves and then speak clearly and boldly about the abuses that are happening to women and girls around the world. We should advocate for the vulnerable, abused, and voiceless in every nation. Few of us will ever endure what Uyghur women experience, but we ought to use our freedom and our voices to call for protection of persecuted people abroad.

By / Jan 21

Yesterday, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. To begin his presidency he is signing a flurry of executive orders (EOs), memoranda, directives, and letters. The Biden White House prepared and the new president signed 15 executive orders on his first day in office, more than any of his predecessors. This all comes in a week when the United States surpassed 400,000 lives lost to COVID-19. On that note, President Biden made clear with a memorial Tuesday night that combatting the pandemic is his top priority for his administration.

Some of the planned actions are praiseworthy, as they accord with the convictions and biblical principles of Southern Baptists. However, some of the administrative actions raise concern for the ERLC as they conflict with our public policy positions, informed by our theological convictions. Below is a discussion of a few of the actions taken by the Biden Administration yesterday, and those actions we expect in the coming days:

Protection for Dreamers and DACA recipients 

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program that defers deportation proceedings for a subgroup of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the United States as children brought by their parents. DACA recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers.” Participants in the program, among other requirements, must demonstrate a commitment to education, employment, or service in our military; have no criminal backgrounds; and report for a biometric appointment with federal officials. The Trump Administration attempted to rescind the policy in 2017, but several lawsuits were filed shortly after the rollback began. In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration did not follow proper procedures in rescinding the program, and as a result, DACA was kept in place.

Yesterday, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, to take all appropriate actions under the law to achieve the original goals of the DACA program. The Presidential Memorandum also calls on Congress to enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

The ERLC has long advocated for our government to provide a permanent solution for this special category of immigrants. We believe the only sustainable way forward, recognizing the range of beliefs about the legality of the DACA program, is for Congress to legislate a path to legal permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship for Dreamers. Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention of 2018 explicitly urged Congress to develop a “just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants already living in our country. Dreamers need a permanent legal solution that is not subject to the cycle of executives or the makeup of judicial benches.

Repeal of the Mexico City Policy

Next week, we anticipate that President Biden will rescind the pro-life Mexico City Policy. This policy was established by President Reagan to prohibit U.S. foreign aid to groups that provide or promote abortion overseas and has been a political football since President Clinton first rescinded it. The Trump Administration broadened the Mexico City Policy, and it is currently known as the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy (PLGHA). The purpose of PLGHA is to “prevent American taxpayers from subsidizing abortion through global health assistance provided for populations in need.” This policy ensured that, in order to recieve any foreign aid, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) agreed to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning overseas. PLGHA expanded the Mexico City Policy to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies” to the extent allowable by law. This policy only applied to voluntary family planning assistance funded by USAID and assistance for certain voluntary population planning furnished by the Department of State. 

The ERLC has advocated for this life-saving policy, and would strongly object to its rescission. Yet this expected change will not deter us from continuing to advocate for life in our international engagement.

Family reunification task force executive order​

In 2018, the Trump administration issued a “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement approach intended to deter illegal immigration. The policy change resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents as they await adjudication. The children were kept in separate facilities and were unable to see their parents. While the refugee resettlement office at the Department of Health and Human Services made great strides at reuniting families, currently 628 parents of separated children are still missing. 

President Biden has signaled that he will create a task force to reunify families separated by the Trump Administration’s Immigration policies. The ERLC strongly supports family reunification and will work with the Biden Administration to see that children are safe again in their parent’s arms. 

Bostock executive order

Also yesterday, President Biden signed an executive order that seeks to implement and expand on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bostock decision. Last summer, in a 6-3 ruling of a consolidated group of cases styled Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court expanded the definition of “sex” to be read to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which relates to employment discrimination. The order will likely direct federal agencies to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes where discirminaton on the basis of sex is prohibited.

Although styled as implementing Supreme Court precedent, this EO in fact dramatically expands the scope of the Bostock decision, which only applies in the employment context. This EO will mean that sexual orientation and gender identity could be treated as protected classes in a range of contexts, such as education, health care, and child welfare. This will, in turn, raise a host of religious liberty problems, many of which will likely have to be litigated. 

The ERLC will be focused on the regulatory actions taken by the Biden Administration and will defend the inalienable rights of religious freedom and freedom of conscience for those who hold biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. Ensuring that these bedrock rights are respected by federal agencies will be crucial to the ability of faith-based organizations and people of faith to live out their faith and serve their communities without violating their consciences.

Repeal of the “Muslim Ban”

One of President Trump’s first actions in 2017 was signing an executive order to ban entry into the United States of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syrian, Sudan, and Yemen) for 90 days, of all refugees for 120 days, and all Syrian refugees indefinitely. In response, Russell Moore sent the president a letter outlining his concerns with the order, noting that the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirmed its decades-long commitment to care for and minister to refugees in a 2016 resolution

On his first day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Action to end the policy that came to be known as the “Muslim Ban.” The ERLC welcomes this action as Southern Baptist’s commitment to welcoming the stranger has long been reflected in the SBC’s resolutions about those fleeing persecution in their home countries.

Government-wide regulatory freeze

Finally, President Biden intends to issue a memorandum that will pause any new regulations from the Trump Administration that have not yet gone into effect. The ERLC strongly opposes this move, as the freeze may hinder lawfully promulgated regulations from becoming final, including several regulations the ERLC supports. 

As an example of significant interest to the ERLC, on January 12, 2021 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) announced and published its final rule on nondiscrimination requirements in grants. This rule directly impacts grantees, especially faith-based child welfare providers by allowing them to continue serving vulnerable children in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. Due to the delay of the finalization of this rule, this important regulation may be frozen and not implemented. The ERLC will continue to advocate for lawfully promulgated regulations to be finalized. 

Looking ahead

Every election brings new opportunities and new challenges. The ERLC will continue to work with the executive branch to advance issues of concern to Southern Baptists and will bear witness to policies pursued by the government that run contrary to biblical principles.

By / Jan 19

Today, 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.” This announcement comes on Secretary Pompeo’s last day in office and a day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. According to Axios, the U.S. has become the first country to adopt these terms to describe the Chinese Communist Party’s unconscionable human rights abuses in its far northwest.

Some of the reasons cited for the determination include “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labor, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.” 

Secretary Pompeo stated that one of the key facts in his determination was the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to severely oppress Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs by manipulating who can and can’t bear children, and how many children a family can legally conceive. 

Why does this declaration of genocide against Uyghurs matter?

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. Once Chinese police detain a Uyghur for questioning, they are often sent away for “political reeducation.” China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose. Estimates vary, but experts posit that China has detained between 1 million and 3 million Muslims in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, ranging from rape and torture to malnourishment and forced organ harvesting

The CCP also uses these camps to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to rape, and forcibly procreate with, the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated.

Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a bipartisan letter asking that the Administration make an official determination as to whether the Chinese government is responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes, including genocide, against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities. Additionally, Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bipartisan resolution to designate human rights abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as genocide. 

What is genocide?

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The acts enumerated include:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

A genocide determination sends a powerful signal to the international community that the United States will not remain silent in the face of the CCP’s atrocities towards the Uyghur people.

What’s next after this declaration of genocide?

Secretary Pompeo called upon the People’s Republic of China “immediately to release all arbitrarily detained persons and abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor; cease coercive population control measures, including forced sterilizations, forced abortion, forced birth control, and the removal of children from their families; end all torture and abuse in places of detention; end the persecution of Uyghurs and other members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, and afford Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities the freedom to travel and emigrate.”

Additionally, he called on “all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies, to join the United States in our effort to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.”

“The Chinese government’s atrocities against the Uyghur people in Xingjiang is clearly genocide. I welcome the State Department’s recognition of it as such. The world must not turn our eyes away from this genocide against human beings made in the image of God. I pray that President-elect Biden and Secretary-designate Blinken will have great success in rallying our nation and our allies to stand against this injustice. We can never again allow genocide to go unnoticed and unanswered. In addition, I urge the business community to take seriously what is happening to this imperiled religious minority.  Few issues these days seem to transcend our country’s partisan divisions, but this should be one of them,” Russell Moore stated.

How has the ERLC advocated for persecuted people?

In December, Dr. Moore sent Secretary Pompeo a letter urging him to issue a genocide determination. Additionally, the ERLC has been advocating for the Uyghur Forced Labor Act, which prohibits goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang region or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjiang from entering the U.S. market. The ERLC hosted a high-level discussion on the Uyghur situation in China and shared ways pastors and Christians can get involved and help. The ERLC will continue working to counter China morally, and will continue to stand up for persecuted people.

By / Oct 14

In recent years, the Chinese government has escalated its persecution of religious minorities. The communist regime is using totalitarian tactics of forced labor, mass sterilization, and pervasive surveillance targeting Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Since 2017, China has detained more than one million Uyghurs in concentration camps. Countering China morally for these atrocities is a key part of the ERLC’s international engagement. To continue that work, Jeff Pickering and Chelsea Patterson Sobolik welcomed Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of Axios to share her reporting on China.

“China is committing a cultural genocide against an ethnic minority and the world is basically, hardly even blinking. And that matters because this shows the kind of government, and the kind of ideology, that is driving what will be the most powerful country later in the 21st century.”– Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios China

Guest Biography

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is the China reporter at Axios, where she covers China’s influence in the United States and abroad. Before joining Axios, she served as the lead reporter for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ China Cables project, a major leak of classified Chinese government documents revealing the inner workings of mass internment camps in Xinjiang. She also previously worked as a national security reporter for The Daily Beast and as an editor and reporter for Foreign Policy magazine. Allen-Ebrahimian holds a Masters in East Asian studies from Yale University. She is the author of the weekly Axios China newsletter. 

Resources from the Conversation

By / Sep 3

Travis Wussow joins CBN’s Newswatch to discuss China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

Full interview here.