China (MNN) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report today. According to it, among the worst violators of religious freedom, in the Top Tier of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Both USCIRF and the U.S. State Department release annual reports on international religious freedom, but each has different purposes.
The State Department’s report documents religious freedom violations in every country in the world. USCIRF’s Annual Report recommends countries to be designated as “countries of particular concern,” which the Executive Branch considers on policy issues.
Among the key USCIRF findings, religious freedom deteriorated during the past year, with abuses committed by governments and non-state actors. A non-state actor is an influential organization that causes change even though they do not belong to any established institution of a state. (An example is ISIS.) The USCIRF also monitored a marked increase in social intolerance.
Under Countries of Particular Concern, the absence of Syria and Iraq is significant; however, notes the Voice of the Martyrs USA and Open Doors USA, that’s due less to government oppression and more to the insurgency of ISIS. Also observed — the impact of the resulting global refugee crisis.
China’s religious freedom problems
The dichotomy in China proved interesting in this year’s USCIRF account. There have been stories about religious freedom in the Three Self Patriotic Movement government-registered churches.
However, according to USCIRF:
“The Chinese government represses those advocating for human rights and religious freedom and the human rights defenders who bravely represent them. The US must underscore with China that global leadership must goes hand-in-hand with the respect for and protection of religious freedom and related human rights.”
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, concurs. “We have seen over the last two-year period, a ramping up, starting in Zhejiang Province with church buildings being demolished, and crosses being torn down.” The Central Government is using the provincial government in Zhejiang as an example, he explains. “’That’s how we want you to do it too. Look, they’re doing a great job. We want everyone else to do it like they’re doing it’.”
The question is: why? It’s all about control, observes Nettleton. “They want control of religious expression. They want you to be a good Communist first. After that, you can be a good Buddhist, or Christian or whatever, that’s your business, as long as you’re a good Communist first.” Since Communism makes demands of a citizen that can run counter to God’s Word, there is an obvious conflict on the make.
As of late, the Zhejiang government has been using violation of ‘beautification’ codes and land ownership questions as the impetus behind its campaign of church destruction, at 1,500 so far. The latest: Beitou Church in the central Henan province. Nettleton explains, “The bulldozers were sent in to demolish a church building, and the pastor and his wife stood in front of the bulldozer. If we think back to Tiananmen Square and the man standing in front of the tank, it’s really very similar. They said ‘No. you’re not going to destroy this church unless you’re willing to destroy us first.’”
Unlike the Tiananmen Square outcome, “The demolition crew pushed them into a hole and pushed dirt over them. The pastor was able to dig himself out; his wife though, was not, and she died in that attack.”
Her death has become a rallying cry against persecution at the hands of the Beijing government. “The international community is looking at this and saying ‘how can you even say there’s religious freedom when people are being killed because they won’t let you tear down their church buildings?’ I think now China is saying, ‘this is making us look really bad’, and so they’re backing away a little bit.” Two demolition workers were arrested in the woman’s death. Plus, he says, the task force in the city has now ruled that that property actually does belong to the church. “‘It is their property. The building shouldn’t have been destroyed.’”
Yet, this incident underscores the Chinese government’s increasing pressure on Christians. VOM supports printing operations to help meet the demand for Bibles, Sunday school materials and other Christian literature. For men like this pastor who lost his wife, Nettleton asks you to pray. He concludes with this thought: “Regardless of what the PR spin is, there is not religious freedom in China. There are Christians there who are being persecuted right now, simply because they are following Jesus Christ.”