By / Jan 26

KARNATAKA, India (BP) – A mob of 300 people beat and threatened to kill a Christian couple at a police station in Karnataka State, India, after the wife was falsely accused of forced conversion, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said Jan. 23.

Beaten were Uppaladinni village residents Vijayalakshmi Chavhan and her husband Ashok. Police feigned an inability to stop the attack, sources told CSW.

“This is part of a growing trend of social hostility towards religious minorities across India which the authorities must address as a matter of utmost urgency,” CSW founding president Mervyn Thomas said. “CSW is concerned for the Christians in Uppaladinni who have been singled out, harassed and attacked on account of their beliefs.”

Religious conversions are criminalized in Karnataka and 11 other states in the majority Hindu country, punishable by yearslong prison sentences and monetary fines.

Spiking persecution of Christians in India has led the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other groups to urge the U.S. State Department to designate India a County of Particular Concern (CPC) for systematic, ongoing and egregious religious liberty violations.

The ERLC is deeply grieved to hear about the systematic mistreatment of our brothers and sisters in Christ in India. We continue to urge the Biden Administration to speak out against religious persecution in India and ask that India be named a Country of Particular Concern, along with Nigeria.

Palmer Williams, ERLC general counsel and senior policy advisor

Read the full Baptist Press article here.

By / Nov 17

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), a landmark law that has had a significant impact on promoting and protecting religious freedom around the world. Enacted on Oct. 27, 1998, the IRFA has become a crucial tool in the United States’ efforts to advance religious freedom globally. As we celebrate this milestone, here is what Christians in America should know in order to understand what the act is, why it matters, and how it has benefited mankind.

What is the International Religious Freedom Act?

The IRFA is a U.S. law that mandates the inclusion of religious freedom concerns in the country’s foreign policy. As President Clinton stated at the signing ceremony, “Religious freedom is a matter of national security as well as personal conviction.” Here are several requirements of IRFA: 

  • The act established a framework within which the U.S. could engage with other nations to advocate for the religious rights of individuals, regardless of their faith or belief system. 
  • It also requires the U.S. government to condemn violations of religious freedom abroad and assist foreign governments in protecting this fundamental human right. 
  • It led to the establishment of the Office of International Religious Freedom within the Department of State and the appointment of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. 
  • It requires an annual report from the State Department on the status of religious freedom in each country around the world. 
  • It also established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal body that monitors religious freedom conditions worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress. 

Through various mechanisms, including annual reports, targeted sanctions, and diplomatic engagement, the IRFA endeavors to hold accountable those nations where religious persecution is rampant, while also supporting countries working diligently to improve religious liberty.

Why does the International Religious Freedom Act matter?

Religious freedom is a bedrock American value, and the IRFA reflects the strong and enduring commitment of the U.S. to advancing this right for everyone in the world. The act recognizes that freedom of religion or belief is inextricably linked to other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, conscience, and association. When religious freedom is at risk, these other freedoms are also jeopardized. 

Unfortunately, approximately 80% of the world’s population still faces serious restrictions or risks in living according to their most basic values and beliefs. The IRFA provides essential tools to address these challenges and promote religious freedom globally.

How has the International Religious Freedom Act benefited mankind?

Over the past 25 years, the IRFA has had a significant impact on promoting and protecting religious freedom worldwide. Here are some of the key benefits it has brought to mankind:

  • Empowering the persecuted: The IRFA has provided a range of new tools to give voice to the persecuted and empower advocates for religious freedom. Through its work, the USCIRF has shed light on religious freedom violations, raised awareness, and advocated for the rights of those facing persecution. Additionally, the act has emboldened a multitude of religious freedom advocates, bolstering various initiatives aimed at promoting religious tolerance and understanding among different faith groups.
  • Freeing the persecuted: One of the notable successes of the act can be seen in its role in facilitating the release of numerous religious prisoners. Its provisions have been instrumental in spotlighting the plight of individuals incarcerated due to their faith, and in exerting pressure on governments to uphold religious freedom.
  • Promoting tolerance and respect: Over the past 25 years, the IRFA has shaped America’s response to religious persecution worldwide. The law expresses America’s unique understanding that religious freedom is an essential human right, and violations of it destabilize societies. The annual report has brought international attention to abuses and influenced U.S. policies toward repressive regimes. The U.S. government, led by its ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has been actively engaged in advocating for those who have been unfairly targeted and promoting religious tolerance and respect.
  • Highlighting the importance of religious freedom: The IRFA has played a crucial role in raising awareness about the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Its 25th-anniversary celebration has brought together various stakeholders, including religious leaders, policymakers, and human rights advocates, to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead.
  • Providing a model for other countries: The IRFA has served as a model for other countries seeking to promote and protect religious freedom. Its success has inspired the adoption of similar legislation in various nations, further strengthening the global movement for religious freedom.

The challenge ahead

While the IRFA has achieved significant milestones over the past 25 years, challenges remain. In recent years, there has been a rise in restrictions on religious freedom worldwide, with some countries enacting laws that limit religious practice and expression. As we look to the future, it is crucial to continue advocating for religious freedom, supporting the work of the USCIRF, and engaging in dialogue with other nations to address these challenges and promote religious freedom for all. 

The IRFA affirms that religious freedom is not just an American value, but a universal human right. As we mark this anniversary, Americans can be proud of our leadership in promoting liberty of conscience for all people. The ideals enshrined in this act reflect our nation’s founding commitment to unalienable rights for people of all faiths. 

As long as the IRFA remains strong, the U.S. will continue speaking up for the voiceless and oppressed, which includes millions of persecuted Christians around the globe. While the work is far from complete, we celebrate the good that this law has done over the past 25 years to make the world a more free and just place.

By / Nov 4

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. On this Sunday, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. But more importantly, we lift them up to our good God who hears our prayers. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

Let us approach our God, therefore, with confidence that we serve an infinitely big, infinitely powerful God who is ready to save.

If you are a pastor, set aside time this Sunday to join with churches around the world in praying for those that suffer for no reason other than that they follow their Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you are a church leader, dedicate some time this week with your ministry, Bible study, or small group to pray for our persecuted fellow believers.

If you have a family, spend time praying around the dinner table for those that live in places that do not recognize the fundamental human right of religious liberty.

How you can pray for the persecuted church 

Every year Open Doors, a network that serves persecuted Christians around the world, produces the World Watch List, which highlights the countries where persecution of Christians is highest and offers suggestions for how you can pray for them. Here is what you should know about the 10 countries with the highest levels of persecution and how you can pray for our brothers and sisters in those nations. 

Afghanistan

Persecution type: Islamic theocracy imposed by the Taliban

Estimated number of Christians: Possibly thousands

How Christians are suffering: “The Taliban will make sure that Islamic rules and customs are implemented and kept. Christian converts don’t have any option but to obey them. If a Christian’s new faith is discovered, their family, clan or tribe has to save its honor by disowning the believer, or even killing them.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for secret believers in Afghanistan, that they will be protected from the violence of the Taliban.”

North Korea

Persecution type: Communist and post-Communist oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 400,000

How Christians are suffering: “An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea’s notorious system of prisons and labor camps. And, to make matters worse, often a family will share the same fate as the person captured.”

Prayer prompt: “Christians in North Korea are in danger. Pray for Christians who worship secretly, Christians who are in prison, and the families of Christians who have been arrested or killed. Ask God to be with these believers and to strengthen them to find hope and see His hand at work in their lives.”

Somalia

Persecution type: Clan oppression

Estimated number of Christians: A few hundred

How Christians are suffering: “The small number of believers in Somalia are largely Christians who have converted from Islam. Christians are viewed as high-value targets by Islamic radical groups. Even when Christian converts are not targeted by extremists, they are intensely pressured by their family and community.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for Christians who are targeted by Islamic extremists. Ask God to protect them and grant them hope.”

Libya

Persecution type: Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 34,600

How Christians are suffering: “When a person in Libya leaves Islam to follow Christ, they face immense pressure from their families to renounce their faith. Their neighbors and the rest of the community ostracize them, and they can be left homeless, jobless, and alone.”

Prayer prompt:  “Libya’s government has been unstable for a decade. Pray for some stability and rule of law in the country.”

Yemen

Persecution type: Clan oppression

Estimated number of Christians: A few thousand

How Christians are suffering: “The persecution against Christians in Yemen has been extreme for years, leading to a jump of two spots on the 2022 World Watch List. Pressure on converts from Islam is at the highest levels in every part of life.”

Prayer prompt:  “The civil war has lasted for nearly a decade. Pray for peace, pray for stability and pray for an openness to religious freedom.”

Eritrea

Persecution type: Christian denominational protectionism

Estimated number of Christians:  2,611,000

How Christians are suffering: “Despite almost half the population identifying as Christian, believers in Eritrea continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus. Christians not part of recognized denominations are at risk of severe persecution. Gatherings are raided and believers arrested. The conditions facing Christians in prison can be inhumane.”

Prayer prompt:  “Ask God to protect Christians who convert from Islam, or who join a church outside of the Orthodox tradition.”

Nigeria

Persecution type: Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians:  98,006,000

How Christians are suffering: “Persecution in Nigeria is, simply put, brutally violent. In much of northern Nigeria, Christians live their lives under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani militants and criminals who kidnap and murder with few consequences. The violence is so bad it has begun to travel south, as well.”

Prayer prompt:  “Pray for the many militant groups who attack Christians in Nigeria. Ask God to change their hearts as only He can.”

Pakistan

Persecution type:  Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 4,080,000

How Christians are suffering: “In Pakistan, Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of life. Church leaders can be arrested if they don’t abide by the authorities’ wishes.”

Prayer prompt:  “Pray for the women and girls who are kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.”

Iran

Persecution type:  Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 800,000

How Christians are suffering: “The severity of persecution facing Christians in Iran remains largely unchanged. Converts from Islam are most at risk of persecution, especially by the government, and to a lesser extent, by society and their own families.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for the religious leaders of Iran, that they would have their hearts changed to recognize Jesus as Lord.”

India

Persecution type: Religious nationalism

Estimated number of Christians: 68,863,000

How Christians are suffering: “The persecution of Christians in India has intensified, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The extremists disregard Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, and think the country should be purified of non-Hindus. This has led to a systemic—and often violent—targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for the healing of the many victims of religious violence in India. Ask that God would heal both hearts and bodies.”

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 / May 29

One of the blessings of the digital age is that we can connect with and find information regarding places all around the world, almost instantaneously. We can learn about cultures, customs, and the beauty of God’s created order with a few short swipes on our phones or devices. Alongside these wonders, we can also learn about natural disasters, wars, crimes, and a host of other things as they happen. While there are many dangerous and deleterious effects to this level of information overload, Christians can also embrace certain aspects of our information age and leverage it for good, especially on the international stage. 

One danger of this digital age is social media’s ability to redirect our attention in unhelpful ways. Because of the endless amount of knowledge and the overall tone online, we sometimes become desensitized to world events, with one tragedy supplanting the previous one at breakneck speed, or enraged by what’s going on nationally, all while forgetting the circumstances in our own backyard. Working for the good of our local communities is imperative—it is likely where we are able to make the most difference. 

However, the necessity of working for our local good does not dismiss our responsibility to our international neighbors. Like the rich young ruler of the gospels, we must not seek to minimize who our neighbors are and congratulate ourselves for the attention paid only to what is most immediate to us. Rather, in a global and interconnected world, we must ask what is required of us as we seek to fulfill the two great commands of Scripture: love God and love neighbor.

God’s Word and Global Responsibility

Frequently, discussions of the breadth of the Christian’s ethical responsibility devolve into unhelpful dichotomies. We either assume one must forsake our local communities in support of global issues or embrace a hyper-focus on local issues to the neglect or near abandonment of international affairs. These contrasts assume that Christians are unable to advocate for ethical behavior and a morally upright society on both fronts at the same time.

Some may criticize the simplicity of this point by saying that the debate is over which has priority for the believer. While this can be a helpful distinction at times, this does not mean that the Church should neglect one or the other, but prioritize when we have limited time, resources, and energies. For Christians, this must not be seen through a partisan lens or as competing concerns. The scriptures make clear that the priority of the Christian life is to first honor God as the Creator of all and to also love our neighbors—no matter their situation, perceived usefulness to society, or distance between us (Lev. 19:18b; Deut. 6:5; Luke 12:29-31). 

A main theme throughout the biblical narrative is the centrality of the imago Dei, or image of God, as the very root of what it means to be human. This is the foundation of the Christian ethic—both personal and social. The structure of a God-honoring society will stand for the dignity and worth of all people, regardless of how politically expedient it may be at the time to trample upon or neglect those made in God’s image.

The command to love God and love neighbor by speaking truth in grace is at the very core of the Christian ethic and has ramifications not only in our local communities, but also for those made in God’s image around the world who experience the dehumanizing play for social control or who live under unjust conditions for which we may have the power and opportunity to intervene on their behalf. 

This does not mean that Christians will agree on all the foreign policy particulars or the exact role of the state, but it does mean that we cannot limit our moral responsibility to love our neighbors simply to where and when it is convenient for us. We advocate and care for the most vulnerable among us, not out of a sense of power or duty but solely based on the fact that all people are made in the image of God and have an inherent right to be treated as such. The moral call on Christians in societies around the world must not be seen as an either/or but a both/and in terms of how we live out our calling both locally and globally. 

Natural Law and the Pursuit of Justice

In a globalized world, discussions of human rights—right to life, freedom of speech, religious freedom—can become complicated as various cultures and customs overlap and compete with one another. While the West has often placed human rights at the center of the democratic order, this is not true of other states and rogue actors. However, Christians believe that the natural order of creation, and the intrinsic worth of each person, speak to the pressing issues of our day and inform our approach to advocacy on the international stage. 

Central to Christian advocacy is the awareness that each person, by virtue of their humanity, has an internal sense of justice and dignity. As the apostle Paul relates in Romans 1-2, though we may suppress the truth, that does not negate the fact that we intrinsically know particular actions to be right and wrong. Abuses of human rights are one such area where we can make appeals across divergent cultures. This approach, drawing on natural law principles and scriptural revelation, recognizes that each person’s sense of justice is shaped and informed by their God-given conscience. 

Even though authoritarian governments may desire to erase the moral guidelines and declare that the state’s might makes actions right, Christians can declare that there is a God who sees and will bring justice on all wrong doing. As we advocate on the international stage, we bear witness to this truth, and to the ability of all peoples to recognize that abuses of rights are attacks on the dignity of fellow image-bearers.

A Voice for the Persecuted

As Christians look to international affairs and standing with the vulnerable around the world, we appeal to the Word of God and the God-given conscience that transcends fluctuating moral attitudes in order to call others to action. Just over this recent year, the international community has witnessed an unjust war in Ukraine, revelations of the true extent of the genocide of the Rohingya minority by the Myanmar military, and massive refugee crises around the world. These clear examples of the utter depravity of human nature become undeniable as we see so many of them unfold on our phones via social media and viral videos. 

The ERLC has responded emphatically to the ongoing brutal genocide in Xingjang of the Uyghur people under the Chinese Communist Party. We hosted an online event prior to the 2021 Beijing Olympics that featured Nury Turkel, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and other panelists. We also sent a letter to NBC, urging them to be honest in the coverage of China. In addition, we advocated for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and even sent a letter to Secretary of State Blinken urging its passage. Our advocacy against the Uyghur genocide will continue as we remain a voice for persecuted people.

Standing for human dignity and participating in global affairs need not, and truly must not, take away from our work in our local and national contexts. The Church advocates for justice and dignity throughout our societies, not because this will usher in some type of utopian social order but because this pursuit is in accordance with God himself. Dignity is not ours to assign, debate, or remove based on our political preferences or desires. Instead, in obedience to our Creator, it is ours to uphold, champion, proclaim—near and afar. 

By / Feb 18

The gross human rights violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party and their authoritarian rule has been in the news lately because of the Winter Olympics. China’s citizens, and specifically minorities like the Uyghur people, have lived under oppression and persecution for years. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian leads the weekly Axios China newsletter and covers China’s role in the world. Below, she answers questions about the history of China’s influence, how they seek to gain power, and how we can learn more about this country.

Jason Thacker: As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your path of researching and reporting on China?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: I first went to China in 2004 as part of a study abroad program and really loved my time there. I was in Xiamen, which is a city on the coast, a tropical part of southern China. It was just beautiful, and I really loved the Chinese friends that I made. I also thought the Chinese language was beautiful and fascinating, and the culture and history were interesting. It really changed the course of my life. I never really looked back. After I graduated from undergrad, I went back. I was in China from 2008 to 2012. I lived in Beijing for one year, and in Nanjing for one year. I went back to Xiamen for two years, and then I got a master’s in East Asian studies and started on the path that I’ve been on for the past eight years, which is as a journalist based in D.C., but focusing on China. 

JT: Can you help us to understand a bit of the recent history in China and how they have become a global superpower under president Xi Jinping?

Bethany: So, that started in the 1980s and then rather more quickly in the 1990s, with China’s reform and opening up economically, culturally, and diplomatically to the rest of the world. After China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, you saw enormously quick economic development, 10-12% GDP growth, for a while it held at 18% GDP growth, and certainly economic growth comes with a lot more power in a lot of ways. But what we’ve really seen Xi Jinping do is skillfully locate all the areas where China wasn’t really taking advantage of the power it could have — in ways that it can use its economic strength and translate that into geopolitical power, diplomatic power, other kinds of strategic power. Jinping has really focused on that with his Belt and Road Initiative. It seems that he is trying to create a China-centric world order for the 21st century through bringing in countries bilaterally in their relationship with China and giving them loans and infrastructure projects and deals. But, there’s a lot of strings attached to that, namely supporting China’s goals in multilateral institutions, voting for what they want and giving them backing whenever desired. That’s one aspect. 

The diplomatic push has been really huge, but also we’ve seen a different kind of economic power, a kind that people are calling “economic coercion,” and that’s how China has weaponized access to its markets. For political reasons, in some ways, you could say it’s somewhat analogous to U.S. sanctions. However, the way that China uses its markets in this way is usually to support its own narrow geopolitical interests. So, hot-button issues like the genocide in Xinjiang or policies in Tibet or the way that it has crushed the democracy movement in Hong Kong or people who get too close to Taiwan, you see the Chinese government denying access, usually in a very opaque kind of way for those kinds of actions and speech. 

The Chinese government has also deployed that kind of power for pretty straightforward defense reasons. So, for example, a number of years ago, the South Korean government deployed a U.S. missile defense system called “THAAD” on South Korean soil, and this is mainly as part of their self-defense strategy against North Korea, but it also is right next to China. The Chinese government really did not like this and did not want South Korea to deploy it. So, they basically implemented a bunch of de facto kinds of economic measures against South Korea, including stopping Chinese tourists from going there, a big source of revenue in South Korea, prevented K-pop bands from performing in China or even streaming on Chinese music websites. There was sort of a boycott of Lotteria, which is a South Korean restaurant chain on whose land the THAAD system was deployed. The idea here is that Lotteria or other South Korean companies in the future would lobby their own governments not to have U.S. missile facilities.

What’s really interesting is the way that China acted during the coronavirus. I have seen these ways that the Chinese Communist Party has politicized a lot of its economic ties for these narrow authoritarian political interests. I’ve watched them for years doing that more and more. With coronavirus, we saw the Chinese government deploy this exact kind of power for the first time on an issue that literally affects every person in the world, and that was the discussion of the origins of the coronavirus. So, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and almost immediately the Chinese government levied a bunch of tariffs on Australian imports into China and very dramatically affected their wine industry and a number of other industries there. That is the same kind of economic coercion.

JT: What are some of those industries that the Chinese are especially influential in? Obviously, technology is one of those, but what are some of the other industries that have global effects? 

Bethany: Well, one of the earliest examples of this is Hollywood. For example, in 1997, two major films were released that were sympathetic to the Tibetan people. One of them was Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt and one of them was Kundun, which was a Disney film about the life of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government, as a response, didn’t allow Disney’s Mulan to be shown in China. That was the punishment for Disney. Then, for the studio that had produced Seven Years in Tibet, all of their movies for years afterward were kept out of the Chinese market, even if they had nothing to do with China. And Hollywood really got that lesson. I don’t know of any other industry that was targeted so early, so dramatically, and so effectively, because 1997 was the last time that there was a major Hollywood production about Tibet, and there have been no big blockbuster films that present China in a negative light or across some kind of obvious red line. 

There’ve been numerous examples of self-censorship in Hollywood and that’s just gotten more obvious and more extreme, especially under Xi Jinping, and especially now, as the Chinese box office is the largest box office in the world. We’re seeing so many examples of that and even a proactive messaging that is pro-CCP.  For instance, we’re not going to get from Hollywood a movie like Hotel Rwanda for the Uyghurs. If that movie is made, it’s not going to be made by a major Hollywood studio because it wouldn’t pass CCP censors. 

Technology is a more current example. What’s happening now is not that China’s markets themselves are so lucrative, which they are, but the Chinese tech scene is actually very vibrant. Their STEM research and science and technology sector is really cutting edge, with the possibility of leading the world in artificial intelligence and quantum computing and some of these other emerging technologies. This is a whole other level of influence, and it’s an explicit policy by the Chinese government. This means that tech companies in the U.S. not only feel that they need to tap the market for revenue, but also that they need access. Maybe at some point they’re going to want to do partnerships or they’re going to need access to certain forms of technology to do what they’re doing. 

This is looming in our near future, and what we have seen over and over from the Chinese Communist Party is that any time they have that kind of leverage, they use it for political reasons. And it’s far beyond just censorship. I really want to move past that as the type of control and influence that we’re talking about. We’re talking about shaping behaviors, shaping global standards, shaping how these companies push their own government, what they push on their own governments, how to regulate them, and what they allow, and even shaping what’s considered acceptable for an American company to do or to be a part of. 

For example, the Chinese tech sector has become so influential they are trying to change government backing, trying to set standards by a U.N. standard-setting agency. The Chinese government is trying to set the global norms for issues that are in themselves harmless, but could give a big advantage to Chinese companies. So an interesting analogy here would be 3G. U.S. companies are the ones who set the standards for 3G, and that gave them a huge advantage in the 3G market around the world. So U.S. companies were like the largest telecommunications companies in the world, and it gave them an enormous amount of power which greatly contributed to American prosperity. The Chinese government and Chinese companies are trying to do that, for example, with 5G, with them being the ones that set these very technical standards that would set Huawei and ZTE and other companies up for decades of dominance, with lots of wealth flowing into the hands of Chinese elites. A difference is that the Chinese government would absolutely politicize that power and that excess in a way that the U.S. government never did.

JT: Can you give us a little context on China today about the state of surveillance?

Bethany: The Chinese government is building what you can call a modern 21st-century surveillance state. They implement real name registration, so it’s a lot harder to hide behind anonymous accounts. Local public security bureaus generally have a cyber section, so they monitor what people are saying online, in emails, and all kinds of web traffic in real time. They call in people to talk and arrest people based on what they say or do online, which, you know from a crime-fighting perspective is OK. But in China, when there’s a ton of political crimes, any kind of speech can potentially be criminal, or any kind of organizing action can be criminal. 

The assumption is that if you’re in China, anything that you’re saying or doing online is being monitored either by a human being or by some kind of algorithm that will send alerts to a real person. This is going to happen whether you’re chatting on WeChat, which is like WhatsApp, whether you’re talking on the phone, whether you’re sending emails, your bank transactions; basically anything can be monitored, and that’s enabled in part by increasingly sophisticated data analysis. Since there are not enough human beings to monitor all of that, there are also tons of surveillance cameras blanketing cities throughout China with facial recognition technology. And there is a growing ability to use data to analyze what those images are so that it doesn’t have to be monitored by people like security guards staring at TVs. There’s a sense now that it’s very difficult to hide anywhere, whether or not you should be able to hide or not. 

JT: You wrote a piece last fall at Axios about the pressure that China is exerting on corporate sponsors not to drop them and not to disassociate with the Winter Games, employing somewhat of a “loyalty test.” Can you speak a little bit more about this “loyalty test” that you wrote about last fall and how the Chinese Communist Party has influence over corporations around the world? 

Bethany: Let me first unpack the term privacy in America. In the West, we talk about privacy in a kind of lazy way. We conflate privacy vis-a-vis corporations and privacy in terms of the government. So, whether it’s Google or the U.S. government mining our data, we don’t really draw a distinction between them. It’s all just privacy issues. But, according to the Chinese government, they think about this differently. They have a dividing line there. The Chinese government has promised to improve consumer privacy, and they just passed the data privacy law. They’re trying to have a stronger legal environment around what Chinese companies can do, how they can get data, when they’re allowed to get data, what kinds of notifications they have to get to consumers to get their data, what they can do with that data, and they’re trying to create a stronger legal environment for that. That’s a real thing that’s happening that’s improving privacy. 

However, at the same time, they’re doing everything they can to completely erase all barriers between any data that exists and the Chinese government. They want as much data in real time as possible. So these are two very dramatically bifurcated paths on privacy regarding pressure that the Chinese government puts on corporate sponsors. For example, it was almost certainly the case that if one of the top-level corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics withdrew and said they were doing it because of human rights concerns, not only would they lose, but it’s very likely you would see the Chinese government take extensive retaliatory measures against them in the Chinese market. 

This happened to H&M last year when H&M said that they were no longer going to be sourcing their cotton from Xinjiang — the cotton industry in Xinjiang is very closely intertwined with Uyghur coerced labor. And when H&M said that, it resulted in a state-banned consumer boycott in China, and their H&M stores were removed from maps so people had a hard time getting there. 

JT: In your opinion, do you think these diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics or the rhetoric turn-around where some are calling these the “Genocide Olympics” is actually going to affect China negatively or exert any type of influence? 

Bethany: I think that every little bit helps, and I think that’s what’s going to happen here. For any history on the Olympics, and specifically Olympics that were boycotted, Beijing will be in there, and the reason that it was boycotted will be there forever. Because there has been this push toward diplomatic boycotts, many governments have had to consider whether or not they will participate. The simple act of considering means learning about what’s happening in Xinjiang. Governments have been forced to learn about what’s happening in Xinjiang and to make a decision that matters. It has greatly increased the prominence and the global discussion around what’s happening in Xinjiang, and that matters. 

Is it going to stop the genocide? No. But in the global efforts to push back against it, every little action builds up over time, and now we have a whole host of sanctions. Even just three years ago, just getting a sanction seemed impossible because the last time there was a human rights-based sanction on China was after Tiananmen, 30 years ago. Now, not only is it possible, but the EU created an entirely new human rights-sanction mechanism and used it on China. So it does matter, and I’m optimistic about the fact that there were diplomatic boycotts. 

JT: What are some resources that you might recommend for listeners if they want to learn more about the history of China or the progress that China has made? Or maybe some of the ways that China is interconnected in the global atmosphere? 

Bethany: Here are some resources I would recommend:

By / Feb 11

“The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public policy office of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) hosted an online event Tuesday, discussing oppression and the Olympics.”

Read the full article here.

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

This week, Chelsea Sobolik sits down with David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA. They discuss the release of Open Door’s 2022 World Watch List, and where it’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. David shares ways that Christians can pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

Guest Biography

Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith. He provides leadership to Open Doors in its mission to strengthen and equip Christians who live under extreme restrictions, while encouraging these believers to remain strong in their faith.

For over 60 years, Open Doors has worked in the world’s most oppressive regions, empowering and equipping persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries by providing Bibles, training, and programs to help strengthen the church.

Since assuming the role of CEO in August 2013, Curry has traveled extensively to encourage those living under persecution and support the work of Open Doors. In addition, Curry is often present in Washington, D.C., advocating for religious freedom at the highest levels of our government. He has testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and met with a wide range of policymakers in Washington from both sides of the aisle, including at the White House, in the Senate and at the U.S. State Department.

Curry appears frequently on Fox News and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. He has also been published or featured in sources such as CBS News, CNN, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, USA Today, The Christian Post, and other news outlets.

Prior to coming to Open Doors, Curry served as CEO and president at Christian organizations that serve homeless and neglected children in several countries, including India and Peru.

Curry is the author of four books and holds a bachelor’s degree from Northwest University in Seattle and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Faith Evangelical College and Seminary based in Tacoma, Washington

Resources from the Conversation

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By / Jan 31

For nearly 30 years now, as a way of monitoring severe and ongoing opposition to Christianity, Open Doors has published what it calls the annual World Watch List — a “ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.” For those of us in the West who enjoy an unprecedented level of religious liberty, the World Watch List is a sobering reminder that our brothers and sisters around the world face real and present danger simply for following Jesus.

What is Open Doors?

Open Doors began in 1955 when a man known as Brother Andrew “started smuggling Bibles to the persecuted Christians in Communist Europe.” After a visit to Warsaw, Poland, Brother Andrew’s encounter with an “oppressed, isolated, and apparently forgotten church” compelled him to travel throughout Eastern Europe for the next twelve years, “delivering Bibles, encouraging those he met, and recruiting others to help him.” After the publication of God’s Smuggler in 1967 — an account of Brother Andrew’s work in Eastern Europe — his ministry became known worldwide, and “an entire generation caught the vision of supporting Christians who faced persecution and discrimination for their faith.”

Over time, Open Doors’ work “pushed beyond the Soviet Union,” expanding into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Today, Open Doors “is serving persecuted Christians in more than 70 countries, working with churches and local partners to provide Bibles, Christian materials, training, livelihood skills and advocacy.” The aim of Open Doors “is to encourage and raise up people in every nation to pray, support and speak up for Christians around the world who suffer for their faith.”

What is the World Watch List?

As mentioned, “The World Watch List is Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.” More than that, the World Watch List is an interactive tool that enables users to “explore the country profiles to find information, stories and prayers for each of the countries, along with ways that [Christians] can stand with [their] persecuted church family in prayer and action.”

In addition to the annual ranking, the list apprises readers of information such as the percentage of Christians persecuted worldwide (along with each specific region), the number of churches attacked and Christians detained or murdered annually, and country-specific information like its dominant religion and system of government. 

Truly, the World Watch List is a tool of immense value, aiding Christians like us on how we can pray for and serve those who find themselves in locations hostile to Christianity.

How are countries on the World Watch List analyzed?

“Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution of Christians, calculated by analyzing the level of violent persecution plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life,” which include private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life.

For a more detailed look at Open Doors’ methodology, visit this site

What did the 2022 World Watch List reveal?

According to the report, “In just the last year (during their reporting period), there have been:

• Over 360 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.

5,898 Christians killed for their faith.

5,110 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.

6,175 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned.

3,829 Christians abducted.”

Additionally, the report revealed that “1 in 7 Christians are persecuted worldwide,” “1 in 5 Christians are persecuted in Africa,” and “2 in 5 Christians are persecuted in Latin America.”

By and large, the majority of countries on the list are located within Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, but three countries in North and South America (Mexico, Cuba, and Colombia) are on the list as well. After 20 years atop the list, North Korea was replaced as number one on the World Watch List by Afghanistan, due largely to the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

Alarmingly, Open Doors highlighted in this year’s trends that “persecution of Christians has reached the highest levels since the World Watch List began nearly 30 years ago.” The report states that:

“Every country in the top 50 is ranked as experiencing ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of persecution. Outside of the top 50, an additional 26 countries are categorised as having ‘very high’ or ‘high’ levels of persecution. The severity of persecution in countries on the list, demonstrated by the total points scored, has increased by more than 20% since 2014. This signifies an increased pressure in all areas of life for persecuted Christians.”

Nevertheless, “God is building his church and people are coming to faith even in hostile environments . . . The World Watch List shows once again that against all odds, the church is active and alive . . . God’s faithfulness remains a beacon even in the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian.”

What can Christians do?

As Christians, no matter how many miles separate us from these men, women, and children, they are our brothers and sisters. Regardless of how helpless we may feel, being so far removed from such hostile contexts, or how big the problem is (over 360 million Christians!), we have the opportunity to “stand with them in solidarity, and remind them they are not alone.” 

Open Doors gives several ways we can stand with our brothers and sisters, including:

And because Christians believe that God works providentially through our prayers, we can all commit to using the World Watch List to inform us how we can be praying for believers around the world who endure such unimaginable terror. By doing so, we can be certain that God will use our prayers to encourage and minister to Christians in these countries.