Under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there truly is nothing sacred.
Consider how, according to recent reports, Chinese authorities have altered the famous Bible verse where Jesus forgives a woman who commits adultery: They rewrote the story so that Jesus himself stones her to death.
This is an egregious affront on the text that Christians hold sacred. Worse, it’s one of many offenses committed by the CCP against religious people in its crusade to bring religion under state control.
The Sinicization of religion, codified in the 2018 “Regulations for Religious Affairs,” has long been part of the CCP’s national strategy to heighten state power. Religious minorities of all stripes have been subject to crackdowns from local governments for decades.
In school, Chinese children are taught that religion is a “feudal superstition” that is bothw regressive and defunct. Regulations issued in 2018 explicitly state that a Party member can be removed for participating in organized religious activities. It permits Party members to participate in religious activities only if the organization supports the government and its policies.
Christianity is not exempt from the long arm of Chinese authorities. Churches that operate outside government approval, termed house churches, have been closed and defaced, according to local leaders. Entire congregations have been forced to disband for not meeting the 2020 “Administrative Measures for Religious Groups,” and youth ministries and Sunday schools have been banned entirely. Most worryingly, Beijing is trying to implement registration and oversight initiatives that give the CCP influence over Christian thought.
Why the Chinese government’s animus against religion? Fear of how religion can threaten Party control. Motivated by the internal strife that crippled China in the 19th century, the CCP is determined to prevent “external influence” from escaping government control.
Of the five poisons identified by the CCP as potential dangers to national unity, three are religious groups. For the Party, anything that does not identify Beijing as the highest authority presents a threat, thus religion is a natural target. With the dramatic growth of the Christian population in China to 97 million, it is likely that the CCP will add a sixth poison to the list.
The United States must take action to underscore its commitment to the protection of all religious minorities in China, including Christians. An earlier Heritage report called for the release of Pastor Wang Yi, who was detained in December 2019 after the underground church he led, Early Rain Covenant Church, was shut down in 2018. Cases like Mr. Wang’s are emblematic of the great lengths the CCP will go to in order to crack down on Christian activities.
The U.S. should not shy away from responding. Instead, the U.S. government should continue to call for the release of all political prisoners, including Mr. Wang. To better prioritize his case, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom should adopt him as a Religious Prisoner of Conscience and actively advocate for his release.
The U.S. government should also strengthen sanctions tools to hold perpetrators of religious persecution in China to account. One way of doing this is to issue a tranche of Global Magnitsky sanctions specifically designating violators of religious freedom around the globe, including China, perhaps in concert with the annual release of State Department’s Religious Freedom report.
Regardless of who is in the White House, it is important to remember U.S. commitments to the freedom and prosperity of those beyond our borders. America is at its best when we continue to strive to protect and preserve human dignity wherever it can be done. The egregious subversion of religious practice in China should both remind us of the legacy, and duty, that we carry.
• Olivia Enos is a senior policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. Jonathan Tao is a member of Heritage’s Young Leaders Program.