Commentary

China’s War on Religion

John Stonestreet
By John Stonestreet | September 6, 2018 | 2:26 PM EDT

SHIJIAZHUANG, CHINA - APRIL 09: (CHINA OUT) A Chinese Catholic worshippers wait to take communion at the Palm Sunday Mass during the Easter Holy Week at an 'underground' or 'unofficial' church on April 9, 2017 near Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China. China, an officially atheist country, places a number of restrictions on Christians, allowing legal practice of the faith only at state-approved churches. The policy has driven an increasing number of Christians and Christian converts 'underground' to secret congregations in private homes and other venues. While the size of the religious community is difficult to measure, studies estimate more than 80 million Christians inside China; some studies support the possibility it could become the most Christian nation in the world in the coming years. Officially there have been no relations between China and the Vatican since the country's modern founding in 1949 though in recent years there have been signs of warming relations between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Pope Francis that could possibly allow greater religious freedom in the future. At present, the split means approved Chinese Christians worship within a state-sanctioned Church known as the Patriotic Association which regards the Communist Party as its leader, not the Pope in Rome. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Not since the days of Mao have we seen the sort of suppression of religion in China like we’re seeing right now.

Two recent stories from Xi Jinping’s China suggest it’s open season on religious believers there.

Reports out of Xinjiang Province on China’s western frontier say that up to one million Muslim Uighurs, the indigenous ethnic group of that region, are being held in detention camps.

One U.N. official expressed concern about reports that Beijing had “turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp.”

Of course, Beijing denies the allegations and insists that it’s merely cracking down on Islamic extremism.

As part of this so-called “crackdown on Islamic extremism,” China has banned the wearing of veils, prohibited giving children certain Muslim names, put limits on the length of beards, and made it a crime not to watch state television.

Given China’s horrendous human rights record, and the lack of evidence for a Uighur separatist movement, Islamist or not, it’s difficult to believe China’s denials. The more likely explanation is that Beijing is waging war on Islam as part of a campaign to subjugate the people of the region.

A similar war is being waged on Christianity in Henan Province in central China. It’s part of what’s being called “the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.”

The brunt of this suppression is directed at unregistered “house” churches. Hundreds have been closed down. There have been raids, “interrogations, and surveillance, and one pastor said hundreds of his congregants were questioned individually about their faith.”

Even registered churches haven’t been spared. Reporters noted that these churches bore notices stating that “minors and party members were not allowed inside.” Another church had a banner exhorting members to “implement the basic direction of the party’s religious work.”

Make no mistake. What is meant by “the party’s religious work” is the active elimination of any rivals to the Communist Party, and in particular Xi Jinping, in the shaping of the worldview of the Chinese people. As one expert told the Monitor, Xi “definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church, because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly, to Xi himself.”

 

Local officials aren’t even coy about this. They openly speak about “thought reform.” They’re not content with mere obedience to the laws or the lack of any real challenge to the Communist Party’s authority. Their goal is to eliminate any distinction between the Party and society.

But history, including Chinese history, illustrates the absurdity of efforts like these. Within the last sixty years, two attempts at this kind of “reform,” “The Great Leap Forward” and Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” attempted to remake Chinese society along explicitly ideological lines. What was left in their wake was tens of millions dead, and not much else.

This desperate need for control is why “Chinese leaders have always been suspicious of the political challenge … that Christianity poses to the Communist regime.” Not because Christians threaten or even desire to replace the regime, but because their ultimate allegiance lies elsewhere.

The same thing can be said about Muslims or observant Jews. Their worldview derives from something other than “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” And that reality, and not anything believers do, is what’s behind the heightened persecution.

And it’s why religious freedom for everyone everywhere must be a priority for both American Christians and our government.

John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.


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