Dear Mr. President:
It is well documented that evangelical Christians comprise a significant portion of your base, and are among your most loyal of supporters. You have earned, and continue to earn, that loyalty as you roll back regulation after regulation that has threatened their religious freedom. The Evangelical community is deeply grateful. That gratitude will undoubtedly grow deeper as your opposition becomes more and more aggressive in their tactics. But that community must once again ask you to stand up for religious freedom.
In recent months, reports have been coming out of China about crackdowns on Christianity in that nation. You probably have more information at your disposal than I do, but just in case, here is some of the reporting. In December it was reported that at least 100 Christians were simply taken off the streets. One church in China is, at great risk, blogging continually about what is happening with many links and resources. Over the weekend, the Guardian carried a piece with a comprehensive overview of just what is happening in China:
Early Rain is the latest victim of what Chinese Christians and rights activists say is the worst crackdown on religion since the country’s Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong’s government vowed to eradicate religion.
Researchers say the current drive, fueled by government unease over the growing number of Christians and their potential links to the west, is aimed not so much at destroying Christianity, but bringing it to heel.
“The government has orchestrates a campaign to ‘sinicise’ Christianity, to turn Christianity into a fully domesticated religion that would do the bidding of the party,” said Lian Xi, professor at Duke University in North Carolina, who focuses on Christianity in modern China.
I have received direct and personal reports from missionaries in the field in China and am currently working with them to be able to share publicly, and with you, their story without endangering them and their flock. But until such time as those arrangements can be made, these press reports are sufficient to point out that the problem is real and the need immense.
It should be to the eternal shame of the American mainstream press that all of these reports are from foreign sources. The NYTimes carried a piece about it on Christmas, more inspirational than reporting, but other than that all the US based reporting on this I have been able to find has been in the Christian press.
The timing boggles. One must wonder if this crackdown is not in reprisal for the pressure you, Mr. President, have brought to bear on the Chinese in trade discussions. Of course, no one is asking you to compromise anything in those negotiations for the sake of our co-religionists. But we are asking you to make their plight front and center in those negotiations and as important as the negotiations on the world stage. Bring the plight of Chinese Christianity front and center. This is an opportunity to embarrass the Chinese in front of the world and to use that embarrassment as a negotiating lever. The modern world simply cannot tolerate the state sponsored oppression of peaceful religious practice.
Mr. President, it was my privilege to visit the Soviet Union in its dying days. I witnessed first hand the power of religion as Gorbachev’s glasnost loosened the reins on faith in that nation. Christianity survived in that nation despite the best efforts of Stalin, et. al. to do away with it. When Gorbachev allowed it to stick its head above ground, it did not take long to flourish and contribute hugely to the downfall of that state. I understand the fear of Christianity in Chinese officialdom. But I also know, based on what I witnessed in the USSR, that the continued growth and flourishing of Christianity in China will do more to help us achieve our goals in trade talks, in the game of military chess currently being played in the South China Sea and South Pacific, and other areas of concern than anything you or your envoys can accomplish in negotiations.
Mr. President, you suffer unduly from popular representations that you are a heartless, uncaring and oppressive man. Your stand for religious freedom in this nation is being spun to fit that narrative. I can think of nothing that would help turn that PR problem around more than a strong stand for humanity, human rights and religious freedom in China. How can a stand against the arrest and “re-education” of peaceful pastors and missionaries be spun as heartless and oppressive? It is a call for simple decency.
This issue is a classic “win-win” – a phrase that you brought to the world. You promised us lots of wins. Let’s get this one.