By / Feb 15

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 15, 2024—Hannah Daniel, director of public policy for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation Feb. 15 to “support the human rights of Uyghurs and members of other minority groups residing primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and safeguard their distinct identity, and for other purposes,” as stated in the Uyghur Policy Act. 

The ERLC recently announced its support for increased protections for the Uyghur People in China as a policy priority in its 2024 public policy agenda.

“Since the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act in 2021, there has been little action in Congress to push back on the heinous actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghurs,” said Daniel. “We are pleased to see the House of Representatives take this strong, bipartisan step in passing the Uyghur Policy Act, which will mandate a higher prioritization of ending this genocide in the United States’ dealings with China. Southern Baptists have spoken clearly on this issue, and we now urge the Senate to swiftly pass this vital legislation.” 

In 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention became the first denomination to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide and adopted a resolution at its annual meeting that condemned the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression primarily of Uyghur Muslims in a western region of the world’s most populous country. It also called for the U.S. government to take “concrete actions” to end the genocide.

The ERLC will continue to prioritize efforts to advocate against this ongoing genocide and urges the U.S. Senate to join the House in passing this legislation that would further protect this persecuted people group. 

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] 

By / Aug 4

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

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

The story of Shi Minglei 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By / Dec 21

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

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

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

Tools of oppression against Uyghur Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    A version of this section was previously published as Wired for Tyranny? in the September/October 2021 of Liberty Magazine. Used with permission. https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny.
By / Dec 14

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 14, 2021—Brent Leatherwood, acting president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commented on the announced Congressional agreement on the final legislative text of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

“I was heartened to learn of the compromise reached by the U.S. House and Senate that allows this legislation to move forward,” said Leatherwood. “At a time when Washington is synonymous with gridlock, it is no small thing for members of Congress to work together on a bipartisan basis to get this critical bill to the President’s desk. Its passage ensures America will take steps to counter China for its genocidal treatment of the Uyghurs. President Biden should sign it into law without delay.”

“I’m grateful for the leadership of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) for spearheading this effort. Six months ago, the SBC spoke with one voice to become the first denomination to rightly label the atrocities being perpetrated against the Uyghur people a genocide. I am confident our entire convention of churches is thankful our nation will no longer tolerate the CCP profiting from its ghoulish oppression of the Uyghurs once this Act becomes law.”  

On Dec. 3, Leatherwood sent a letter on behalf of the ERLC to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the government to take swift action in countering China morally. 

“The United States must send a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party that products made through forced labor will not be accepted because these egregious inhumane practices will not be tolerated,” Leatherwood wrote.

The ERLC has consistently advocated on behalf of the Uyghurs and condemned the CCP’s unconscionable human rights abuses against them and other ethnic minorities. Below are ERLC assets calling attention to the plight of the Uyghurs. 

By / Dec 3

December 3, 2021

The Honorable Antony Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Blinken,

I am writing today to express my profound concerns about recent reports that the White House and members of the State Department are actively working to slow down and dilute the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in Congress. 

I am grateful that this Administration has rightly declared what is happening to the Uyghur people as genocide. In June, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) unanimously passed a resolution rightly calling what’s happening to the Uyghurs a genocide. The SBC was the first denomination to pass such a resolution. Now is the time for actionable steps to counter China morally. What we have seen thus far is not nearly enough. Human rights cannot be overshadowed by climate change, corporate interests, or other issues.

The Uyghur people are forced to produce goods that are then sold around the world. Currently, any brand sourcing apparel, textiles, yarn, or cotton from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is almost certainly profiting from forced Uyghur labor. This despicable practice is a clear violation of human rights, and the United States must hold China accountable for these atrocities. 

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent and prohibits goods made with forced labor in the XUAR or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from the XUAR from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly engages in the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the XUAR.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has a proposed amendment to the NDAA to include the language of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.  While some have raised concerns about the amendment, that should not be an excuse for inaction or slowing down the passage of these requirements. Instead, the Administration should be insisting that Congressional Leadership work to overcome any procedural hurdles about this language and request it be fast-tracked to the President’s desk.

The United States must send a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party that products made through forced labor will not be accepted because these egregious inhumane practices will not be tolerated. It is unconscionable for the United States to ultimately be accomplices in profiting from slave labor. In holding the CCP accountable for the horrors that occur on a daily basis in the labor camps of Xinjiang, the United States has the opportunity to send a clear message that total disregard for human dignity will not be tolerated. 

I am deeply concerned with reports from outlets such as the Washington Post, Associated Press and Real Clear Politics that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John F. Kerry are interfering with the passage of this legislation.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is a necessary step for the United States to rightly prioritize human dignity in China. It is unacceptable that members of this Administration would allow other concerns to supersede that of human rights and would work against this bill. Mr. Secretary, it should not be difficult to summon the courage necessary to do the right thing in this instance. Please direct your staff to do everything necessary to work with Congress to hasten the passage of this Act and get it to President Biden for his signature. 

Respectfully,

Brent Leatherwood
Acting President
Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

By / Apr 13

The ERLC supports the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act so that the United States can be a place of refuge for Uyghurs fleeing persecution.

The ERLC advocates for the dignity of the sojourner in accordance with  Scripture’s expectation on God’s people to minister to the vulnerable. God’s love for the immigrant, refugee, and foreigner is a specific and consistent biblical theme, and He calls His people to do the same. Christ, the greatest example of love, commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The U.S. government has 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. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims. The CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose, and it’s estimated that 1-3 million Uyghur Muslims are detained in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, including rape, torture,  malnourishment, and forced organ harvesting. 

The Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act designates Priority 2 refugee status for ethnic Uyghurs and others who are suffering from arbitrary arrest, mass detention, and political and religious persecution by the Chinese government.  This bipartisan bill expedites their ability to apply for refugee status and asylum in the U.S. Priority 2 status is for groups of special humanitarian concern to the United States who are designated by the U.S. government for resettlement processing and provides them direct access to the U.S. refugee system.

The U.S. has a history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution, and we must not return Uyghurs to a country where they face a horrific genoicde. By offering priority 2 refugee status to Uyghurs, our nation can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and those whose human rights have been abused and whose religious freedom has been violated. The United States must continue to counter China morally and offering Uyghurs refuge is a strong next step.

By / Aug 12

The ERLC supports the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to send the message to the CCP that these abuses cannot continue, and urges Congress to pass this legislation.

The ERLC affirms that all people are created in God’s image and have innate dignity and worth, and deserve to be treated with respect. The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is a God-given, fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 2 that “everyone is entitled to the freedom of religion and belief without distinction of any kind, including race, language, religion, or national or social origin.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely violates the basic human rights of the Uyghur people. Since 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uyghur Muslims and placed them into what it describes as “re-education camps”. In these internment camps, better described as modern-day concentration camps, Uyghurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and face physical and physiological harassment.

The CCP systematically subjects Uyghurs to forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and throughout China. The Uyghur people are forced to produce goods that are then sold around the world, including in the United States, and the CCP is financially profiting from this reprehensible practice. Currently, any brand sourcing apparel, textiles, yarn or cotton from XUAR is almost certainly profiting from forced Uyghur labor. Brands and retailers have a moral duty to ensure they are not supporting or benefiting from forced labor. This despicable practice is a clear violation of human rights, and the United States must hold China accountable for these atrocities. 

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act prohibits goods made with forced labor in the  XUAR or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from the XUAR from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly engages in the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the XUAR.

The United States must send a strong message to the CCP that products made through forced labor will not be accepted because these egregious inhumane practices will not be tolerated. It is unconscionable for a free country like the United States to ultimately be accomplices in this Communist Party’s plan to profit from slave labor. In holding the CCP accountable for the horrors that occur on a daily basis in the labor camps of Xinjiang, the United States has the opportunity to send a clear message that total disregard for human life will not be tolerated.