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China’s relentless assault on religious freedom

As we lament the plight of Christians in China, it is useful and illuminating to recall the words of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the 2nd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom in Berlin in December 2013:

Ultimately, our struggle for religious freedom and our respect for the conscience of every human being are proof of the triumph of love over hatred, of unity over division, and of compassion over the numbing sensation of indifference that is rooted in contemporary materialism. True freedom of conscience is based on the conviction that our relationship with “the other” is not separate from but integrally related to our relationship with ourselves. After all, again in the words of St. Paul, “we are all members of one body.” (Romans 12.5)

For countries and cultures where there are dominant viewpoints, faith traditions, as well as political and economic instruments, the rights of the majority can only be truly and justly secured by guaranteeing the full human and religious rights of all minorities. This is why our Ecumenical Patriarchate tirelessly seeks to promote the rights of all peoples and faiths, both in Turkey and throughout the world. For the measure with which we treat and honor others is the measure with which we can also expect them to recognize and respect us.

“China’s relentless assault on religious freedom,” by Lela Gilbert, The Media Project, December 4, 2018:

(COMMENTARY) In January 2018, a massive explosion shook the Chinese city of Linfen. As pillars of smoke billowed above the eerily silent streets, onlookers realized that one of the largest churches in China had been leveled.

Elsewhere in the world, one might have logically assumed that the huge church’s destruction was an act of anti-Christian terrorism.

And it certainly was an act of anti-Christian violence. But the bombing didn’t happen in the Middle East and the perpetrators were not Islamist terrorists.

Instead, China’s paramilitary “People’s Armed Police” had raided the Golden Lampstand Church – home to more than 50,000 “unregistered” Christian worshipers – in Shanxi Province. They had packed its worship hall with explosives and clicked a detonator.

Like innumerable other attacks on Chinese churches – crosses ripped off, Bibles torched and pastors arrested – the demolition of the Golden Lampstand Church was officially sanctioned, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s escalating battle against religious faith.

Since 2017, a rapidly broadening pattern of assaults on believers, faith leaders and worship centers has been evident to observers, including US government researchers.

The 2018 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) was presented on October 10 by Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith. Smith explained that President Xi Jinping’s unsparing efforts to pound religious faith into a Maoist template has resulted in unspeakable misery and bloodshed. If Chinese citizens don’t follow hard-line Communist party requirements, Smith warned, “You are going to be arrested, you are going to be tortured, and in many cases you are going to be killed.”

Still, some seek to negotiate. The Roman Catholic Church, for example.

On September 22, the Vatican signed a secretive, controversial and provisional agreement with China to recognize state-appointed bishops. China would, in turn, recognize the pope as the head of China’s Catholics. Pope Francis explained that this was done “with a view to sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China.”…

Both Catholics and Protestants suffer discrimination in educational opportunities, wages, housing, and numerous other perks only available to non-religious Chinese citizens. But Christians are not the only victims of Xi’s abuses….

“The human rights violations in Xinjiang today,” Representative Smith recognized, “are of a scope and scale not seen in China since the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.”…

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