International (MNN) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a bi-partisan commission that evaluates levels of religious freedom across the globe. One of the functions of the independent USCIRF is to inform the United States President, Congress, and Secretary of State on issues regarding international religious freedom. Read more about the function of the list here.
The USCIRF Report
On Monday, USCIRF released its 20th Annual Report. Upon the release, Mission Network News met up with Dr. David Curry of Open Doors USA to discuss the list. Per Curry, there were no surprises on the list, but there are a couple of countries which should have Christians on alert.
“Whenever the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom comes out with their report, it’s always a subset of some of the larger issues going on, meaning there are other places where Christians are being persecuted. But it has highlighted a couple of key areas,” Curry explains.
“What the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom does, in my view, is give you a handful of the places where they think religious freedom is crossing over into the political best interests of the United States.”
Russia Designated as CPC
On the 2019 report, Russia is recommended as a Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern (CPC). A country can be designated as a Tier 1 CPC “for engaging in or tolerating ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations’” regarding religious freedom. CPCs designated as Tier 2s only meet one or two of these defined violations, but never all three.
Russia’s classification on the list is attributed to the government’s actions against “nontraditional” religious minorities through fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the mask of fighting extremism in the country (This information found on page 80 of the USCIRF 20th Annual Report). Curry believes part of Russia’s designation is because the U.S. is sending a political message that it does not like what Russia is doing and is concerned for “religious freedom and what it means…for that region.”
Curry says in some of Russia’s provinces, there have been Muslim extremists attacks on Christian churches. There are also questions regarding some of the nation’s laws from the last few years which give significant control to the state to restrict evangelical churches. However, these laws are unevenly implemented. Learn more about these laws here and here.
World Watch List vs. USCIRF Report
Russia is also ranked #41 on the Open Doors’ World Watch List* (WWL). The WWL is a report based on research into countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The WWL works at a “grassroots level marketing key data” and determines precise factors that contribute to the ranking of countries. For this reason, Curry says the WWL is “the lead indicator for the USCIRF report”. Open Doors also shares its WWL data with the U.S. State Department.
“[The USCIRF report is] not giving you every place that Christians are being persecuted. They’re just telling you what, where that persecution, quote ‘is cross reference with their political interest’…But certainly, the Open Doors list is more comprehensive,” Curry notes.
China Designated as CPC
The USCIRF Annual Report also includes China, which is recommended as a Tier 1 CPC. The nation was previously designated in November 2018, but Curry says the reasons China was designated a Tier 1 CPC might take some catching up for the average U.S. citizen. China is also ranked #27 on the WWL.
For a period of time, China was expanding religious freedom so Christians and other religious groups could practice their faith – provided it did not overtly conflict with the Communist Party agenda. But according to Curry, in the last five years, persecution against Christianity and other religions has increased in the country. Furthermore, China has an added layer of technical sophistication which gives them control of how people “live and experience life”.
“This technical sophistication allows them to use facial recognition, keep master lists of people who are going to church, who call themselves Christians, and then begin to give social scoring to people who are considered less than ideal citizens if they’re committed followers of Jesus. You can see where that’s headed, in a worst-case scenario,” Curry explains.
Curry recalls an incident in Beijing from last September when a church refused to add cameras to their pulpit. The purpose of the cameras was to use facial recognition to discover who is attending. Curry also says individuals under 18-years-old are no longer allowed to attend church.
“It’s just it’s stunning the levels to which China is now going to, to persecute and to hold down the expression of Christian faith,” Curry says.
China: Additional Challenges
To add fuel to the political fire, Christianity is seen as a “Western” religion. In 2019, the U.S. and China have gone back and forth in trade wars. For the U.S., this means religious issues go on the backburner., though it is a forefront issue.
“For Christians in the United States, we need to continue to pray, care, and show concern for what’s happening to brothers and sisters in China. This is a very severe problem. And there are [a] great many Christians whose faith, the practice of their faith, the freedom of that is at risk,” Curry emphasizes.
Responding to the USCIRF Report
Still, the question remains, how can Christians respond? The first step—education. Curry encourages Christians to learn the facts of what is happening in both China and Russia. Start by reading the USCIRF Annual Report and familiarizing one’s self with the WWL. Also, stay up-to-date with the pressures Christians are facing globally at the Open Doors website.
“When you find out what’s happening to individual people, these stories come alive. I mentioned a church in Beijing, Zion Church, their pastor is in prison in solitary confinement. His story, his courage I think inspires us all in our faith. And then to be people of prayer for our brothers and sisters, because Jesus asked us to do that. Pray for those in prison for the name of Jesus,” Curry says.
Pray for the religious freedom of expression for Christ-followers in China and Russia. Pray for the religious liberties in the countries listed on the USCIRF Annual Report and the WWL. Ask God to encourage and strengthen Christians living in these countries and that His Word and Gospel would penetrate the culture despite the religious restrictions.
*Open Doors USA’s World Watch List (WWL) is a ranking of the 50 top countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Find the WWL here.
Header photo by James Coleman on Unsplash.