Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

Let’s Avoid the Temptation to Brush Aside Attacks on Canadian Churches

by Arielle Del Turco

August 5, 2021

St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey, British Columbia, was the latest house of worship victimized by a rash of attacks against Canadian churches this summer. Attacks on church buildings is something one might expect to occur in a third-world country, not Canada. And yet, it’s become a shockingly common occurrence there over the past few months.

By one count, 57 Canadian churches have been targeted—21 of those churches were set on fire.

The Lady of Lourdes Chopaka Church in British Columbia burned to the ground. St. Gregory Mission Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land was similarly reduced to ashes. The doors of Grace Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alberta, were splattered with red paint. And these are just a few examples.

Investigations by Canadian police are ongoing, and the fires are being treated as “suspicious.” Many speculate the attacks are in response to reports this summer that hundreds of graves have been unearthed on some Canadian church grounds. These graves are thought to belong to indigenous children who died of disease in residential schools run by churches as part of a government-mandated assimilation program.

Operating from the 1870s to 1990s, the schools were often overcrowded and underfunded, making children vulnerable and physically unhealthy. Tragic deaths from disease followed. Although these incidences have been widely reported in Canada before, the discovery of additional graves caused a social media uproar in June.

Anger directed at the past is understandable. But many of the churches that have been set on fire serve indigenous people on indigenous lands; they are not symbols of oppression. Paul Tuns notes in the Wall Street Journal that around half of Canada’s indigenous population is Christian.

Burning and vandalizing churches in Canada will not bring justice to victims who died many decades ago—it will only hurt members of the community who benefit from these churches today.

The church burnings have garnered scarce attention, both inside and outside of Canada. This is unfortunate. Destructive acts against houses of worship should be met with strong condemnation no matter where in the world they occur.

It’s a sign of an unhealthy society for such horrific acts to be met with apathy. Sadly, these incidents are reflective of a growing hostility toward Christianity that has been mounting in the West. As the culture plunges further into the depths of the sexual revolution, biblical teachings on marriage and sexuality (which are also present in Judaism and Islam) are increasingly considered offensive by secular society.

In Finland, expressing biblical beliefs on sexuality caused the prosecutor general to charge Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish member of parliament, with multiple counts of “ethnic agitation.” This type of hostility to Christian beliefs—seen throughout the West—can cause public figures to shy away from standing up for Christians when they are victimized.

The wave of church burnings in Canada is a tragedy fueled by hate, and those tempted to ignore these attacks are misguided. Destruction does not honor the dead—it harms the living, including those from indigenous communities.

The relative silence on church attacks is not a good sign for religious freedom in Canada. Religious freedom requires more than mere protection under the law—it also needs cultural support. A culture of religious freedom involves people boldly living out their faith—including in the public square—and speaking out against serious physical or legal attacks on religious expression, beliefs, and houses of worship. For Canadians, now is the time to speak out. Attacks on churches must never be normalized or brushed aside.

In Pakistan, Economic Pressure Can Make a Difference for Persecuted Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

July 8, 2021

A Pakistani court has sent 13-year-old Nayab Gill back into the custody of a Muslim man who her parents claim kidnapped her. Ignoring documents that prove Nayab was underage, the court’s decision broke the hearts of the Roman Catholic parents. Her distraught father, Shahid Gill, say “My child then left the courtroom in front of our eyes, and we could do nothing.”

On May 20, Nayab went missing. An alleged Islamic marriage certificate was produced to the court baring the same date. Several problems are apparent in how the case was handled, and the decision to allow a minor to marry goes against Pakistani law. Unfortunately, instances of kidnapping of Christian girls, forced conversion to Islam, and forced marriage is not as uncommon as it should be in Pakistan.

The Continued Persecution of Pakistani Christians

Nayab is a Christian in a country where Christians make up a small minority—just 1.27 percent of the population. They are a marginalized group. Many are illiterate and undereducated. These social factors make the Christian community particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The forced conversion and forced marriage of Christian girls by Muslim men is an unfortunately common problem. Many estimates suggest that around 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and young women are kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and forced to marry their abductors each year.

While many Pakistanis are disgusted by this practice—just like many were grieved by the reports about Sunita Masih—Islamist mobs and a failure by Pakistan’s government to secure the rule of law enable this problem to continue. When extremist mobs form outside courthouses and threaten judges who might rule in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim, judges often relent and send the victims back to live with their abductors. This capitulation does an immense disservice to Pakistani minorities who seek justice.

When an investigation or court case involves a religious minority victim and a Muslim perpetrator, Pakistani radicals often view the cases as a challenge to Islam, rather than a question of criminality. Due to this dynamic, perpetrators may target Christians or Hindus as victims to hide their crimes behind religious tensions.

Attacks on Pakistani Christians are brutal. In April, seven houses belonging to Christian families were set on fire by Muslim extremists trying to take their land, according to International Christian Concern. In May, reports surfaced that a mob of over 200 Muslim men had attacked a Christian community in a small village, harming Christians and destroying property. The incident was reportedly sparked by a disagreement between teenage Christian workers and a Muslim man.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most recent report from the Pakistani government indicates that the Christian population has declined over the last two decades. Christian leaders say that intense discrimination has sent Pakistani Christians to seek better lives in other countries across Asia.

Economic Pressure Provides a Ray of Hope for the Persecuted

Promoting religious freedom in Pakistan is extraordinarily challenging. Yet, a major recent victory indicates that international pressure can make all the difference for religious minorities.

In June, the Lahore High Court acquitted Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who had been on death row since 2014 for supposedly sending a blasphemous text message. The couple is illiterate and claim the text came from a SIM card registered by someone using a copy of Shagufta’s national identity card. Imprisoned since 2013, the couple were separated from their four children and lived in fear of attacks from fellow prisoners.

After years of delays, the court’s decision to acquit the couple finally came just weeks after the European Parliament highlighted their case in a recent resolution against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. But the resolution did not just condemn blasphemy laws. It also called for a review of Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in light of current events. This is a tariff preference that benefits developing countries, and losing it would have a significant economic impact.

Maybe it is a coincidence that this couple was acquitted following the European Parliament’s resolution calling for their release, but after appealing the decision for years, the timing is hard to ignore. And the threat of economic pressure has proven to be effective at moving governments to change tack on their human rights violations in the past.

Most notably, American Pastor Andrew Brunson was freed from his imprisonment in Turkey after the U.S. Treasury Department issued Global Magnitsky sanctions on Turkish leaders. These successes should encourage Western countries to utilize the economic leverage they have to uphold internationally recognized human rights standards.

Pakistan is a young democracy, and to secure a peaceful and prosperous future, it is essential that the government work to eliminate religious persecution and discrimination. The international community must also do its part to hold Pakistan to a higher standard of human rights.

We live in a time where hatred directed at religious believers is flaring across the globe, often with violent consequences. International religious freedom is not a feel-good issue that can be relegated to the sidelines of foreign policy. The promotion of religious freedom across the globe is critical to peace, security, rule of law, and development. For the sake of innocent victims like Nayab, American leaders must take it seriously.

Britney Spears and Uyghur Women Share a Terrible Burden

by Arielle Del Turco

July 6, 2021

A recent special hearing regarding the Britney Spears conservatorship revealed shocking details about how the famous pop star is being treated by her father and management team. Most heartbreaking of all was the revelation that the conservatorship will not allow the 39-year-old to remove her intrauterine device (IUD) so she can have another child. This instance of forced contraception, which amounts to temporary sterilization, adds momentum to the already trending #FreeBritney hashtag spearheaded by fans who want to see her father’s abusive conservatorship end.

Under her father’s conservatorship, Britney has been rendered powerless to make her own decisions. She stated, “I wanted to take the [IUD] out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children—any more children.” The pop superstar and mother of two should be free to pursue having a family, as should all women.

No one should be subjected to the indignity and despair that results from forced sterilization, even a temporary kind via an IUD. Sadly, Britney is far from being the only person suffering this type of fate today. The Chinese government is currently enacting a large-scale campaign in Xinjiang to forcibly sterilize Uyghur Muslim women. These forced sterilizations, which include IUDs and tubal ligations, are a critical element of the Chinese government’s ongoing effort to limit Uyghur births, an effort that the United States has declared a genocide. Worse, President Biden doesn’t seem all that concerned that reinstating funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will contribute to the problem.

One Uyghur woman previously detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps told the Associated Press that officials in her camp installed IUDs in every woman of childbearing age. At almost 50 years old, she pleaded and promised that she would not have more children. Nonetheless, she and hundreds of other women were herded onto buses and sent to the hospital for their IUDs. Some wept silently, and all were too afraid to resist publicly.

For 15 days, this woman suffered from continual menstrual bleeding and headaches. She claimed, “I couldn’t sleep properly. It gave me huge psychological pressure.” She added, “Only Uyghurs had to wear it.”

Gülgine, a Uyghur gynecologist who fled to Turkey, confirms stories like this. She recounted in an interview, “A lot of women were put on the back of a truck and sent to the hospital” for their IUD implants. “The [sterilization] procedure took about five minutes each, but the women were crying because they did not know what was happening to them.”

Researcher Adrian Zenz found that officials planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in some rural areas of Xinjiang to IUDs or sterilizations by 2019. The devices used in Xinjiang can only be removed surgically by state-approved doctors.

According to Zumret Dawut, Xinjiang hospitals require permission from five government offices before removing an IUD. Concerning her own compulsory IUDs, the mother of three told Radio Free Asia, “They caused a lot of problems for me. I passed out, lost consciousness, several times after the insertions.”

Earlier this year, Chinese state media took to Twitter to argue that the sterilization program liberates Uyghur women, “making them no longer baby-making machines.” The post was later deleted, but the abuses have continued. It is not liberation for Uyghur women—or Britney, for that matter—to be sterilized and made to labor for the benefit of a state or a conservator.

It is tempting, but incorrect, to assume Uyghur sterilizations are far removed from American politics. When President Joe Biden announced his intention to reinstate funding to the UNFPA earlier this year, he paved the way for American funds to go to an organization that partners with China’s National Health Commission (NHC). This is at a time when the United States has determined that the Chinese government is committing genocide in Xinjiang hospitals through forced sterilizations and abortions.

Although the UNFPA may not directly fund sterilizations in Xinjiang, its cooperation with the National Health Commission enables the NHC to divert other funds elsewhere. The hard-earned money of American taxpayers should not be supporting atrocities abroad, even indirectly.

Britney’s conservatorship, and her father and management team’s decision to retain her IUD against her will, brings the issue of forced sterilization closer to home for Americans. Fans and non-fans alike are empathetic as the pop star’s basic rights are violated.

Vulnerable celebrities in America and persecuted minorities in China deserve the freedom to have families and as many children as they desire. The American court system should work on freeing Britney, and the world should work towards freeing the Uyghur people.

Southern Baptists Stand With Uyghur Muslims Against Atrocities

by Arielle Del Turco

June 24, 2021

This is part one of a three-part series highlighting significant resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention this year that apply a biblical worldview to critical cultural and political issues.

At the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) largest gathering in over two decades, a resolution was passed condemning atrocities the Chinese Communist Party is currently committing against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. America’s second-largest Christian denomination might seem like an unlikely champion of a non-Christian minority group’s human rights, but that makes the resolution all the more meaningful.

Dozens of resolutions are submitted at every annual SBC meeting. Only a handful are accepted by the Resolution Committee and brought to a vote. By passing a resolution, the SBC is collectively agreeing to publicly affirming the statement. Many cultural, political, ethical, and theological questions and challenges are currently facing the SBC. The fact that a resolution on the Uyghur genocide was brought to the forefront is significant.

Around 17,000 “messengers” were sent to the Convention to represent their respective Southern Baptist churches and participate in the votes. Their choice to condemn human rights violations in China is meaningful.

For more on why the Uyghur genocide is an issue Christians should care about and to see the statements the SBC agreed on, read the full text of the resolution, reprinted here:  

RESOLUTION 8: ON THE UYGHUR GENOCIDE

WHEREAS, “God created man in his own image” (Gen 1:27), people are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and “The life…[and] breath of all humanity…is in [God’s] hand (Job 12:10); and

WHEREAS, One of God’s commandments is “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:13); and

WHEREAS, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of [God’s] throne; faithful love and truth go before [Him]” (Psalm 89:14); and

WHEREAS, We are called to “Provide justice for the needy … [to] uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3) and to “remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily” (Hebrews 13:3); and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists resolved in 2019 “On Biblical Justice” that “we commit to address injustices through gospel proclamation, by advocating for people who are oppressed and face wrongs against them”; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists resolved in 2018 “On Reaffirming The Full Dignity Of Every Human Being” that persecution of religious minorities constitutes a significant challenge which threatens the dignity and worthiness of human beings and likewise resolved that “we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone”; and

WHEREAS, Credible reporting from human rights journalists and researchers concludes that more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps in the Xinjiang Province in the People’s Republic of China; and

WHEREAS, Atrocities reported by major media outlets against the Uyghur people by the Communist Party of China include forced abortions, rape, sexual abuse, sterilization, internment in concentration camps, organ harvesting, human trafficking, scientific experimentation, the sale of human hair forcibly taken from those in concentration camps, family separation, forced reeducation of children, forced labor, and torture; and

WHEREAS, The U.S. State Department, Canadian Parliament, UK Parliament, Dutch Parliament, and Lithuanian Parliament have declared the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people to be a genocide; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists stated in 1999 in “Resolution on Halting Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing” that “ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity in which one ethnic group expels members of other ethnic groups from towns and villages it conquers in order to create an enclave for members of their ethnic group”; and

WHEREAS, In the same resolution in 1999, Southern Baptists stated that “genocide is a crime against humanity in which one group dehumanizes and murders members of another people group—whether national, ethnic, or religious—with the intent to destroy that group completely”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15–16, 2021, condemn the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people, and that we stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call upon the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we commend the United States Department of State for designating these actions against the Uyghur people as meeting the standard of “genocide”; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we commend the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for their ongoing advocacy for the Uyghur people and for being among the first major organizations to advocate for their cause; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge the United States government to continue to take concrete actions with respect to the People’s Republic of China to bring an end to the genocide of the Uyghur People, and work to secure their humane treatment, immediate release from reeducation camps, and religious freedom; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we implore the United States government to prioritize the admission of Uyghurs to this country as refugees, and provide resources for their support and resettlement; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray for the Uyghur people as they suffer under such persecution; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray for the Christian workers and relief workers who bring the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so they can experience freedom found only in Christ.

This SBC resolution highlights the powerful truth that all people possess inherent dignity because they are created in the image of God. As such, Christians have a responsibility to treat everyone with respect, stand against injustice, and defend those facing oppression or mistreatment.

The resolution quotes Psalm 82:3, which says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” To this end, the SBC rightly adopted the above resolution, thereby condemning injustice and calling for action and prayer on behalf of the downtrodden. May we all commit to do the same.

As China Crushes Dissent, the Legacy of Tiananmen Square Lives On

by Arielle Del Turco

June 4, 2021

While the death count was still rising in Tiananmen Square on June 4,1989, NBC News correspondent Tom Brokaw called China “a nation at war with itself.” The Chinese People’s Liberation Army had just opened fire into crowds of young protestors. Tanks rolled on to the square to intimidate unarmed civilians into submission. It brought a bloody end to weeks of student-led protests in favor of greater political participation.

That was 32 years ago. Yet, the photo of a string of tanks facing down a lone student who stood in their way remains a defining image of the Chinese government’s relationship with its people.

Dissent is no more tolerated in Xi Jinping’s China today than it was in 1989. One need not look farther than the Chinese government’s suppression of human rights advocates for evidence of this reality.

Well-known human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s condition and location has been unknown since 2017, following long periods of detention during which he was brutally tortured. The Chinese government’s political persecution drove Gao to the Christian faith. Known for serving those from oppressed groups including Christians and Falun Gong adherents when it was taboo to do so, he was harshly punished for his outspokenness and moral clarity.

In 2018, Uyghur advocate Rushan Abbas spoke at a Hudson Institute panel about growing challenges for the Uyghur people under the Chinese government’s rule. Six days later, her sister and aunt in Xinjiang disappeared. Her sister has been detained continuously since then and the Chinese foreign ministry announced in 2020 that she received a 20-year prison sentence for terrorism-related charges. It’s a laughable charge for the former medical doctor, and Abbas believes it is in retaliation for her advocacy in the United States.

The Chinese government will go to great lengths to stifle criticism of its human rights violations or other unseemly policies.

The memory of student protests in Tiananmen Square was long commemorated by the people of Hong Kong, who resonated with the students’ call for democracy and reform. Since the passing of a new national security law, the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong—an event forbidden on the mainland—was banned by police last year and is now a thing of the past. This year, activists merely hung posters with cryptic messages, afraid to find out which phrases might violate new national security measures.

In what came to be known as the Tiananmen Square massacre, the official death count remains unknown. Estimates range from a few hundred to a few thousand. Though Beijing obscures the facts, history matters. By suppressing the truth about the shameful crackdown in 1989, the Chinese government is trying to erase history. But by doing so, they will merely repeat it. The cycle of Chinese government abuses against dissidents must come to an end as China seeks a positive international spotlight.

The United States must speak out on behalf of the Chinese people, who merely seek to live out their faith, express their opinions, and participate in the governance of their country. These are basic rights owed to all Chinese citizens, and the free world ought to stand with the individuals brave enough to publicly demand them.

Just like the protestor now known as the “Tank Man” was undeterred as he stared down armored vehicles, the Chinese people remain resilient even in the face of totalitarian efforts to suppress any dissent. An authoritarian regime can use its power to intimidate its people, but the human hope for freedom is not so easily crushed.

Kim Jong Un Encourages Workers to Maintain “Communist Faith”

by Arielle Del Turco

June 2, 2021

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un recently encouraged workers to build up their “communist faith.” In a letter released by North Korean state media last month, Kim wrote to a federation of trade unions, claiming that such communist faith is required to attain the utopian society supposedly possible in the world’s last true communist dictatorship.

But placing faith in the totalitarian Kim regime has not worked out for North Koreans in the past. In the 1990s, North Koreans had become accustomed to certain provisions by the government. But when a famine hit and the government could no longer provide food for the people, mass starvation and death followed, claiming as many as three million lives.

Some North Koreans crossed over the border with China in search of food, and some found spiritual sustenance as well. Missionaries from South Korea traveled to China’s border region to aid desperate North Koreans, offering them food, shelter, clothing, and sharing the gospel with them.

Missionary outreach from the 1990s is one of the main ways Christians in China today heard about Christ. To this day, North Korea remains the most isolated country on earth. There is no free access to information. It is particularly dangerous to be caught with religious materials. One defector suggested that murderers have a better chance escaping punishment than someone found to be in possession of a Bible.

Recently, North Korean defectors Yeonmi Park and Cherie Yang answered questions about their experiences in North Korea on YouTube. When the subject of religion came up, Yang recounted that her first experience in a Western church made her uncomfortable because it reminded her of the enforced adoration paid to the Kim family dictators in North Korea. She said that Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of North Korea) adopted songs praising himself similar to worship songs praising God that might be heard in a Christian church.

The North Korean regime transformed the country into an atheistic society as it set out to eradicate religious belief, driving the church far underground. But that was not enough. Kim Il Sung, along with his son and grandson after him, positioned themselves as gods, requiring the praise of their people. This is an unspeakably cruel and ultimately ineffective course of action. No “communist faith” or worship for a dictator will create a utopian society in North Korea or anywhere else.

The North Korean people deserve to be free—to practice their religion, to speak their opinions, to access information, and to have a say in their system of governance. Those of us in the free world should not stop advocating and praying for the North Korean people until the day that becomes a reality.

Courageous Faith in China’s Early Rain Church

by Arielle Del Turco

May 26, 2021

Earlier this month, Preacher Wu Wuqing was arrested just hours after he officiated a funeral service in Chengdu, China. Authorities accused him of “disturbing public order.”

This was not Wu’s first run-in with authorities. He belongs to Early Rain Covenant Church, a church now internationally known for being targeted by the Chinese government. Though he was released later that evening, Wu has been threatened and intimidated many times for his service to his church and his community.

Authorities have at times cut his home’s access to utilities and they warn that things will only get worse for him if he continues his work. But Wu does not plan to back down, just as other members of his church have not stopped boldly proclaiming the gospel despite other instances of intimidation, arrest, and even long-term imprisonment.

The more than 500 members of Early Rain Covenant Church comprise one of the most influential house churches in China. Unashamed of their faith, these Christians do not bother to keep a low profile, although their status as an unregistered church makes them vulnerable to being shut down at the whim of the government.

Early Rain even runs a seminary and a Christian school, in addition to ministries that serve the most marginalized in society, including orphans, the families of prisoners of conscience, and the unborn.

The trailblazing streak of this impressive church grew under the leadership of Pastor Wang Yi. When Wang Yi converted to Christianity in 2005, he was already a prominent lawyer, public intellectual, and professor known for his human rights work. In 2006, he was even invited to the White House to meet with George W. Bush along with two other notable Chinese Christians. In 2011, Early Rain Covenant Church installed this former firebrand lawyer as their pastor.

As a pastor, he did not cower from the possibility of backlash from the government. He often spoke out in favor of religious freedom and against abortion, participating in local pro-life campaigns. China is still suffering from the painful consequences of the former one-child policy, and though that has eased to allow for two children, China still has the largest number of abortions in the world.

Pastor Wang knew that there was a strong possibility that he would one day be arrested. He prepared for that eventuality by writing a document he titled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience.”

His congregation was instructed to release the declaration if he were ever detained by the government for more than 48 hours. On Sunday, December 9, 2018, Pastor Wang, his wife, and more than 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested.

By December 12, the published declaration had begun to inspire Christians around the globe. It offers a beautiful description of what he terms “faithful disobedience,” contrasting his actions from political activism or civil disobedience. He wrote:

I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians.

I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience. In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement.

He was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court on December 26, 2019. On December 30, Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years in prison for the false charges of “illegal business activity” and “inciting to subvert state power” and fined 50,000 RMB.

It was a harsh punishment that surprised even the most cynical China hawks. Pastor Wang was far from a national security threat. Upon his arrest, the congregation of his church released a statement emphasizing this. They testified that Pastor Wang “has taught that even when the church is being persecuted, Christians should be willing to submit to the government’s physical restrictions of them as well as to the depravation of their property.”

The national security charge of “inciting to subvert state power” is familiar to many Chinese dissidents. Regularly abused in China, this charge is now utilized by the Chinese government against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong since it passed an oppressive national security law for the city.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party often feels threatened by anyone who publicly disagrees with the state or even pledges allegiance to authorities outside of Party control, and that includes God. This makes dissidents—and sometimes people of faith who refuse to comply to state regulation—perceived opponents of the state itself.

Today, Pastor Wang remains in prison. The Chinese government is likely to continue making the lives of Early Rain church leaders and members harder. But this congregation is unlikely to fold. They haven’t so far, and the eternal hope provided by their faith is something that no government can snuff out.

4 Reasons Why the Founders Valued Religious Freedom

by Arielle Del Turco

May 10, 2021

Contemporary debates over proposed legislation like the Equality Act and over COVID-19 church restrictions draw attention to the so-called “first freedom” listed in the Bill of Rights—religious freedom. This core right in the U.S. Constitution has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and passed down to contemporary Americans intact.

But as debates over how Christians and those of other faiths should live out their faith in the public square increase, questions about religious freedom will remain relevant. Understanding how religious freedom became a core value of the American Founders is critical to understanding its place in the United States today.

Here are four reasons that Americans in the Revolutionary era valued religious freedom and protected it for future generations:

1. The truth concerning religion is deeply important.

In advocating for religious freedom, its proponents did not embrace moral relativism. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher, argued that it is precisely because there is objective truth concerning religion that every individual deserves the freedom to discover that religious truth for themselves. Backus wrote:

The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator, and to do all the good unto, and enjoy all the happiness with and in his fellow-creatures that he is capable of; in order to which the law of love was written in his heart, which carries in its nature union and benevolence to being in general, and to each being in particular, according to its nature and excellency, and to its relation and connection to and with the supreme Being, and ourselves.

For Backus and others of his day, part of the definition of liberty itself is the freedom for an individual to “know, obey and enjoy his Creator.” Thus, policies protecting the ability to seek religious truth were a natural extension of this understanding of truth and the freedom to pursue it.

2. Respect for individuals’ consciences.

Former diplomat Tom Farr argues that human nature “impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers… we cannot live a fully human life.” Many of the American Founders understood religious freedom in much the same way.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1776, was drafted by George Mason and was influential when Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Virginia Declaration of Rights stresses the importance of religious freedom to each individual’s conscience:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

The declaration affirms the importance for all individuals to choose their religious beliefs for themselves, according to the “dictates of conscience.” This highlights how the lack of religious freedom is a very personal assault on the rights of every individual. It is wrong for the government to try to control what goes on in someone’s head, heart, or soul.

John Leland, a Baptist minister, argued for robust conscience protections and asserted that the state had no right to be involved in religion in part because every individual must make himself right with God and no government can answer for the souls of men. In 1791, Leland said:

It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated; and what is more common than for the best of men to change their minds?

Creating a political order with a state-established religion is not fair to the children and grandchildren who will come later because it may violate their conscience, which was not free to choose their faith since it was mandated by the government.

3. Establishment of religion is harmful for religion.

Many early American pastors were at the forefront of societal protests against the establishment of religion. They did so not for secular but religious reasons. Backus famously argued that a legally established religion or church corrupts “the purity and life of religion.”

Many religious leaders promoted religious freedom not just because the freedom to believe affects the conscience of individual Christians, but because the state establishment of religion can have negative affects on the established religion itself. When a state forces religious practice, it waters down churches with individuals who do not truly believe but rather are practicing the faith externally because they are compelled to do so.

Utilizing the force of government to require individuals to practice a religion is ineffective at making true religious believers. In 1675, William Penn said, “force makes hypocrites, ‘tis persuasion only that makes converts.”

Religious persecution doesn’t only harm those outside the religious majority, it harms the authentic practice of the majority religion. This makes the establishment of a state religion not only pointless, but also oppressive and detrimental to the religion the government associates with.

4. All people are equal under the law.

George Washington affirmed the inherent natural right to freedom of religion in a letter to a Jewish congregation. While president, he told the congregation, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Washington strongly repudiates religious persecution and emphasizes the equality of all religious groups and believers under the law.

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The embrace of religious freedom has contributed to what makes the United States unique in the world. Wherever religious freedom is not protected around the world, oppression and misery clouds society.

The world is better off because of the successful example of religious freedom that the United States has set. America’s promotion of international religious freedom has released religious prisoners, rebuilt religious communities devastated by genocide, and offered hope to the oppressed.  

This serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining religious freedom here at home. Our Founders enshrined robust religious freedom protections into law because they believed everyone’s right to seek the truth and live according to their beliefs was deeply important. This is worth protecting—for ourselves, for future generations, and for those around the world relying on our advocacy on their behalf. 

Beijing’s War on the Bible

by Arielle Del Turco

May 5, 2021

The Great Firewall allows the Chinese government to censor any content it feels does not suit its purpose. Their latest target is the Bible. Bible apps have been removed from the App Store in China. It now requires the use of a virtual private network (VPN) to download Bible apps in China.

Popular Christian accounts on the Chinese app WeChat were also recently removed. Users who tried to access the social media pages saw a message that the pages had violated “internet user public account information services management provisions.” Others report that Bible apps have been entirely removed from the platforms of Chinese tech companies Huawei and Xiaomi.

Physical Bibles are also unavailable for purchase on Chinese websites. In March 2018, China’s largest online stores, including Taobao, Jingdong, Amazon.cn, and others, suddenly stopped showing results for searches for the Bible.

In December 2020, four Chinese Christian businessmen from Shenzhen were tried in court for selling audio versions of the Bible online. The businessmen were arrested as part of a campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.”

Earlier that same month, Christian businessman Lai Jinqiang was tried in Shenzhen on charges of “unlawful business operation” for his business which sold audio Bible players. His company, the “Cedar Tree Company,” reported the highest sales of audio Bible players in China, distributing around 40,000 units per month.

Instead of allowing people to choose what they will read and how they will access their religious texts, China requires that all Bible sales be funneled through official channels only. Bibles can be purchased at state-approved church bookstores regulated by the government.

Even worse than suppressing the Bible is the Chinese government’s attempt to change the Bible. As a part of its five-year plan to sinicize religion and make it more acceptable for the goals of the government, one strategy is “reinterpreting the Bible and writing annotations for it” from a socialist viewpoint.

Though the full text has yet to be revealed, the Chinese government’s previous manipulation of the Bible has been bizarre. In one textbook at the government-run University of Electronic Science and Technology, John 8 was shamefully distorted.

In the biblical version, an adulterous woman is brought to Jesus, and her accusers ask if she should be killed by stoning for her sins. Jesus disperses the angry crowd with his response, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (ESV).

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) version states that the crowd leaves, yet Jesus tells the woman, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead,” before stoning her himself. This retelling of a famous biblical passage proves what should be obvious—communists can not be trusted to re-translate the Bible.

Former communist countries have a long history of hindering access to the Bible. Missionaries like Brother Andrew famously served persecuted believers living under communist repression in the Soviet Union. Now, the CCP continues the legacy of communist crackdowns on the Bible.

As its attacks on the Bible continue to mount, the Chinese government should know they will never succeed. No earthly forces can crush the power of the gospel and the hope it has brought to millions of Chinese believers. As the Chinese government continues in its futile and oppressive efforts, American leaders should be bold in articulating that it is unacceptable for any government to control, suppress, or manipulate its people’s access to the Bible.

Religious Freedom is a Matter of Human Dignity

by Arielle Del Turco , Mary Szoch

May 4, 2021

A new report by Aid to the Church in Need found that religious freedom was not respected in 32 percent of the world’s countries. Furthermore, approximately 5.2 billion people live in countries that experience serious violations of religious freedom, including populous countries such as China, India, and Pakistan. Christians in all three countries face a certain amount of risk for simply living out their faith in the public square. 

Such concerning numbers warrant attention. Yet, we can tend to take concepts like “religious freedom” for granted and fail to grasp the full significance of this fundamental human right.

At its core, religious freedom is the freedom to choose and change one’s religion and to live in agreement with those beliefs. Attacks on religious freedom target one’s conscience—the very core of their being, making it uniquely important that religious freedom be protected.

Protecting religious freedom is essential not only because it is a fundamental human right but also because it is a vital component of respecting human dignity.

Humans are inherently drawn to seek out answers to life’s biggest questions and to find meaning beyond this temporal existence. As a being with an innate sense of right and wrong, man is led to continuously search for truth. Seeking truth is an expression of freedom, which is what makes man unique.     

While man cannot be forced to contemplate truth, humans are unique precisely because no other creature has the ability to do so. Though some may choose not to embark on the quest to find truth—all men have a right to do so. Allowing a person to live according to his pursuit of truth is fundamental to acknowledging that person’s participation in the human species—respecting the search for truth is foundational to respecting a man’s dignity. To do otherwise would be to treat man as less than human.        

Man’s determinations regarding truth lead to both interior and exterior expressions of deeply held beliefs. While the path to discovering truth is certainly, at times, a personal journey—it is not exclusively so. The connection with others who are also pursing truth is a natural and necessary component of this journey. Thus, the answer to the question, “what is truth?” is often found through religion.

For Christians, the concept of Imago Dei, taken from Genesis 1:27, refers to the fact that every human person is created in the image of God—who is Truth. Because we are created in the image of Truth, we long to find truth.  

While only Christians identify this search for truth as a component of being made in the image of God, this reality extends to people of all faiths as well as those of no faith. All people, because they are made in the image of God, possess inherent worth and deserve to be treated as such.  

For a government to fully affirm the dignity of the human person, it must allow individuals to live out their faith in the public square according to their conscience without government restrictions or social harassment. As James Madison expressed, man’s duty to search for truth, man’s duty to God, comes before man’s duty to government; thus, the government has the duty to respect man’s pursuit of truth.

Christians should advocate for religious freedom for all people because any effort to coerce individuals to believe or abandon any faith violates the conscience of a precious person created in God’s image who is deserving of respect.

In the United States, we are fortunate to have robust constitutional protections on religious freedom and founding documents that affirm basic rights. The Declaration of Independence recognizes the God-given equality of each and every human person, and the “unalienable rights” that flow from that. Let’s pray that human dignity is advanced through the expansion of religious freedom to people of all faiths in all countries of the world.

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