A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO UYGHUR GENOCIDE
BY CHELSEA SOBOLIK
I still remember the first time I heard about what was happening to the Uyghur people in western China. My husband, who works in Indo-Pacific foreign policy, told me that China was waging a systematic war of persecution against the Uyghur people. At that time, I had a hard time believing him. After all, we’re living in the twenty-first century, and we’ve vowed that never again would we allow a genocide to take place on our watch. Yet, my husband was correct; there’s an ongoing genocide against the Uyghur people, an ethnic and religious minority living largely in Xinjiang, China.
I work for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public policy and ethics arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and has approximately forty-six thousand churches and fifteen million Southern Baptists throughout the US. In 2018, my ERLC colleagues and I began working on this issue, seeking to bring attention to the Uyghur persecution and advance policy solutions to help counter China morally. We’ve advocated before congressional leaders and administration officials and worked alongside coalition partners, highlighting the atrocities occurring at the hands of the Chinese government.
While advocacy is deeply important, the most rewarding part of my work is getting to know the Uyghur community. I’m deeply thankful for the Uyghurs who’ve trusted me with their stories and allowed me to spend time with their families. Over the past few years, I’ve grown close to a number of Uyghurs living in the Washington, DC, area. We’ve shared meals, joys, and frustrations as we’ve worked side by side to counter the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) morally and collectively push back the darkness and help end the genocide.
Overview of the Uyghur Genocide in China
Who Are the Uyghurs?
The Uyghur people are an ethnic minority living in Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where they have lived for centuries. Xinjiang is officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and an estimated twelve million Uyghurs live in that region. The Uyghurs are a largely Turkic people group. Many Uyghurs are also Muslim, although not all are, and the intensity with which they practice varies. Smaller Uyghur communities live in Turkey, Kazakhstan, and other countries around the world.
Uyghurs have their own language, similar to Turkish, and view themselves as culturally and ethnically different from Han Chinese. Uyghurs have their own distinct food, culture, and language, and Uyghur is the official language of XUAR and is widely used in the region.
History of Oppression
Since 2017, the CCP has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against the Uyghur people. While the geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, the genocide is primarily located in Xinjiang.
In the 1990s, a separatist movement in Xinjiang led to violence, and in 2009, Uyghur demonstrations in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, led to the death of approximately two hundred people. Uyghurs were protesting against “state-incentivized Han Chinese migration in the region and widespread economic and cultural discrimination,” and this “marked a turning point in Beijing’s attitude toward Uyghurs. In the eyes of Beijing, all Uyghurs could potentially be terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.” These isolated incidents are the justification that the CCP has given, as it attempts to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor.
Life for millions of Uyghurs is a living nightmare, as they are brutally oppressed at the hands of the CCP. Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese government, is attempting to stamp out the voices of anyone who does not wholly confirm to his demands. Xinjiang is also important to the economic interest of China, as the region is at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s flagship trade project. According to Business Insider, “[T]he BRI, which went into effect in 2013, aims to link Beijing with some 70 countries around the world via railroads, gas pipelines, shipping lanes, and other infrastructure projects. It is considered President Xi Jinping’s pet project, and an important part of his political legacy.” China has invested trillions of dollars into the project and must exert total control over Xinjiang in order for the project to succeed.
"DEEPER THAN AMERICA'S LEGAL OBLIGATIONS, THOUGH, IS THE MORAL IMPERATIVE. WORDS MATTER, ESPECIALLY IN POLITICS, AND CONFRONTING EVIL OF THIS MAGNITUDE BEGINS WITH NAMING IT ACCURATELY."
Beginning in 2017, an estimated one to three million Uyghurs have been forcibly placed into internment camps, and experts say that more than a thousand reeducation camps have been built in Xinjiang. Reuters found that “thirty-nine of the camps almost tripled in size between April 2017 and August 2018; they cover a total area roughly the size of 140 soccer fields.”
Journalists also describe how they visited seven facilities “identified as detention camps from construction documents and satellite photos.” They detail that “all had imposing perimeter walls, guard watchtowers and armed guards at the entrances. Signs at two of the facilities identified them as vocational training centers. When reporters approached the compounds, police pulled them over and told them to leave.”
Uyghurs are forcibly detained for a wide range of reasons, including “traveling to or contacting people from any of the twenty-six countries China considers sensitive, such as Turkey and Afghanistan; attending services at mosques; having more than three children; and sending texts containing Quranic verses.” Former IRF ambassador Sam Brownback states that Uyghurs have been detained for arbitrary reasons, "including common religious practices, such as having a beard, wearing a veil, attending services, observing Ramadan, sharing religious writings, or even praying."
The CCP has also forcibly interned or subjected other ethnic groups to different forms of repression, including Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui. Christians have also been placed into the internment camps.
In the camps, prisoners are subjected to political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse, malnutrition, sexual violence, rape, torture, and forced organ harvesting. The horrors the prisoners face are utterly appalling and atrocious. According to Reuters, “[F]ormer detainees describe being tortured during interrogation, living in crowded cells and being subjected to a brutal daily regimen of Communist Party indoctrination that drove some people to suicide."
In 2015, President Xi announced a new policy to “sinicize” religious practice in China, officially requiring religious teaching and practice to conform to China’s socialist core values. The government continues to destroy religious symbols on houses of worship, burn Bibles, confiscate religious materials, and close houses of worship.
The goal of the “vocational training schools,” or the “reeducation camps,” is to sinicize detainees with the “Xi Jinping thought.” Detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP and renounce Islam, they say, as well as sing praises for communism and learn Mandarin. According to Reuters reporting,
From early morning to night, the detainees said they were subjected to mind-numbing political indoctrination. This included reciting Chinese laws and Communist Party policies, as well as singing the national anthem and other traditional Red songs. Those who failed to correctly memorize the lines of Communist Party dictums were denied food, said one detainee. Detainees were forced to renounce their religion, engage in self-criticism sessions and report on fellow inmates, relatives and neighbors.
One of the intentions of the camps is to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to forcibly procreate with the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated. Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, states that “[t]he Chinese government’s forced separation of children is perhaps the cruelest element of its oppression in Xinjiang.” Not only are Uyghurs subjected to forced detention, but their families are ripped apart and children are separated from their parents with no promise of reunification.
For Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, there is no such thing as a private life. The Chinese government has built a pervasive surveillance apparatus that not only records the movements of Uyghurs but also tracks normal, routine actions. The Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), connected to a police mass surveillance system, “aggregates information about all residents of Xinjiang under the guise of providing public security.” According to Richardson,
Something as innocent as entering one’s house through the back door, not socializing with neighbors, using WhatsApp, or changing phone numbers could trigger suspicion from China’s highly developed artificial intelligence algorithms.
These algorithms intrude into the most sensitive and personal facets of the lives of Uyghurs, tracking their phones, cars, reproductive choices, and political views. The CCP often justifies its detention of Uyghurs on the grounds that they are engaged in extremist or terrorist activity, but the scope of China’s high-tech surveillance far outstrips the problem, resulting in arbitrary intimidation and arrests.
The CCP’s use of a pervasive, surveillance state extends well beyond Xinjiang, as the CCP tightly controls Internet access and the types of information available to the rest of the population. For example, references to the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre have been scrubbed from the Internet in China. My ERLC colleague, Jason Thacker, writes that “the goal is to control the information flow and only expose citizens to highly-scripted propaganda that strengthens the CCP’s power and influence over its citizenry.”
Authorities in China are also in the process of developing a social credit system, “a nationwide technology-driven reputational system that will allow the government to more effectively monitor and control its citizens through incentives of punishment and reward.” Examples include “bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games, wasting money on frivolous purchases, and posting on social media.” Punishment includes being banned from flights, disallowing the purchase of business-class train tickets and reserving hotel rooms, or barring children from enrolling in universities in China.
The CCP is attempting to control every aspect of life of those who reside in China. While their nefarious use of technology has devastating impacts on the Uyghur community, it’s important to understand that the desire of the Chinese authorities is to instill fear into its citizens, with the goal of achieving behavior modification that reflects the desires not of their citizens but of the Communist Party.
Persecution of Uyghur Women
One of the most egregious ways the CCP persecutes Uyghurs is the atrocities they’ve committed against Uyghur women. Imprisoned women have been subjected have been subjected to rape, sexual abuse, and forced sterilization and abortion. “Their goal is to destroy everyone. And everybody knows it.”
Tursunay Ziawudun, a Uyghur woman, spent nine months in one of China’s internment camps in Xinjiang. She was interviewed for a BBC article detailing the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that Uyghur women face in the camps. (Please be aware that the following describe vivid physical and sexual violence.)
In the article, Uyghur women who have fled China describe the brutal rape and torture they experienced when imprisoned. Tursunay shares that “some of the women who were taken away from the cells at night were never returned. Those who were brought back were threatened against telling others in the cell what had happened to them. You can’t tell anyone what happened, you can only lie down quietly. It is designed to destroy everyone’s spirit.”
Multiple formerly detained women share that they were raped. Another detainee describes “witnessing a harrowing public gang rape of a woman of just 20 or 21, who was brought before about 100 other detainees to make a forced confession. After that, in front of everyone, the police took turns to rape her. While carrying out this test, they watched people closely and picked out anyone who resisted, clenched their fists, closed their eyes, or looked away, and took them for punishment.”
Sexual violence is dehumanizing in every way possible. Yet, in a world wrecked by sin, sex is often used as a way for evil people to wield power over the vulnerable. Nefarious men will use sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of sexual torment to control women and exert power.
Chinese authorities are going a step further than sexual violence toward Uyghur women and taking drastic measures to forcibly curtain the birth rates of Uyghurs and other minorities detained in the camps.
Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, delineates how the CCP has been systematically targeting Uyghur women in a draconian birth-control campaign. He writes that “while state control over reproduction has long been a common part of the birth control regime in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the situation in Xinjiang has become especially severe following a policy of mass internment initiated in early 2017 by officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
The report research reveals that birth-control violations are punishable by extrajudicial internment in “training” camps, and evidence from the leaked “Karakax List” document states that such violations were the most common reason for internment. According to Zenz’s report, “[I]n 2014, 2.5 percent of newly placed IUDs [intrauterine birth-control devices] in China were fitted in Xinjiang. In 2018, that share rose to 80 percent, far above Xinjiang’s 1.8 percent share of China’s population. Between 2015 and 2018, Xinjiang placed 7.8 times more new IUDs per capita than the national average.”
Uyghur women are routinely subjected to pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced IUDs, sterilization, and abortions. One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are even sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. The CCP’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs from China by maliciously manipulating who can and can’t bear children and how many children a family can legally conceive.
"WHENEVER AND WHEREVER HUMAN DIGNITY IS UNDER ASSAULT, CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE THE FIRST ONES TO PROTECT THE VULNERABLE AND UPHOLD THE INHERENT DIGNITY, WORTH, AND VALUE OF EVERY PERSON."
For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor. A report entitled Uyghurs for Sale examines the supply chains of over eighty international brands in the technology, clothing, and automotive sectors. The report’s findings document how Uyghur workers have been compelled to work in factories that are connected to the supply chains of those global brands. They find that “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen."
China is the world’s largest cotton producer, and the vast majority of those exports come from Xinjiang. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor. Because of China’s significant cotton exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase cotton or clothing from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people.
The Department of Labor details out the conditions under which the Uyghurs are subjected to forced labor:
Uyghurs detained in camps and forced to labor in factories must endure dreadful conditions. They receive little pay, are not allowed to leave, and have limited or no communication with family members. If family communication and visits are allowed, they are heavily monitored or cut short. When not working, the Uyghur workers must learn Mandarin and undergo ideological indoctrination. However, these abuses are not just limited to Xinjiang.
There are credible reports of Uyghurs being transferred from Xinjiang to different regions of China for the purpose of compulsory labor. Forced labor is a violation of both US and international law, and it’s illegal for companies to import goods manufactured wholly or in part by forced labor. Even though forced labor is against the law, goods and products tainted with forced labor have still been allowed to enter into the US market.
How Has the World Responded to This Crisis?
Some nations, like the United States and the United Kingdom, have taken strong steps to counter the Chinese Communist Party morally. Other nations have been fearful to criticize Chinese authorities, for fear of retribution and retaliation. Many nations are financially reliant on China, which informs their lack of response. In this section, we’ll examine some of the steps that have been taken to counter Xi Jingping and the Communist Party for the atrocities they are committing.
On the last day of President Trump’s presidency, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an official determination that the People’s Republic of China is “committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, for targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic
and religious minority groups.” This announcement came on Secretary Pompeo’s last day in office and a day before the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden. According to Axios, the US became the first country to adopt these terms to describe the Chinese Communist Party’s unconscionable human rights abuses in its far northwest.
When former Secretary of State Pompeo made his official genocide determination, he stated that key to “his determination that the atrocities in Xinjiang rise to the level of genocide—is the Communist Party’s efforts to stop Uighur women from giving birth via forced abortion and sterilization. Involuntary contraception measures, such as forced insertions of intrauterine devices, are also deployed.” He went on to remind the world that “not every campaign of genocide involves gas chambers or firing squads.” President Joe Biden has upheld this finding, which is an important step in continuity between administrations in responding to the genocide.
A genocide determination carries significant weight and is an important step in countering the evil being perpetrated against the Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in China. The United States is a signatory of the Genocide Convention of 1948, which obligates member states to “prevent and punish” genocide anywhere it occurs.
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide defines “genocide” as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The acts enumerated include:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
A genocide determination sends a powerful signal to the international community that the United States will not remain silent in the face of the CCP’s atrocities toward the Uyghur people. Deeper than America’s legal obligations, though, is the moral imperative. Words matter, especially in politics, and confronting evil of this magnitude begins with naming it accurately.
According to the US Holocaust Museum, the word “genocide” did not exist prior to the Holocaust. “It is a very specific term coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer seeking to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder during the Holocaust, including the destruction of European Jews. He formed the word genocide by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing.”
Governments have passed nonbinding resolutions rightly describing China’s actions against the Uyghurs a genocide. These countries include Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Lithuania, and France. Other governments haven’t been quite as strong in their condemnation but have condemned China using the terms “severe human rights abuses” or “crimes against humanity.” Those governments include New Zealand, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.
China denies any allegation of genocide. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, states that the “so-called ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang is ridiculously absurd. It is a rumor with ulterior motives and a complete lie.” A Chinese ministry spokesperson says that “[l]ies cannot conceal the truth, cannot deceive the international community nor stop the historic course of … Xinjiang’s stability, development and prosperity.”
Even though there have been atrocities committed that have been designated as “crimes against humanity,” making a genocide determination is a powerful tool a government has in bringing the fullest and strongest charge to counter evil and the intentional targeting of people.
Multiple countries, including the US, have applied sanctions to individuals and corporations for their link to the genocide, persecution of Uyghurs, and participation in forced labor. In 2021, the US, “its allies in Canada, Britain and the European Union coordinated announced sanctions on several Chinese officials."
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorized the executive branch to impose visa bans and blocking sanctions against any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” Global Magnitsky sanctions are a powerful tool to promote human rights abroad. By allowing the US to apply targeted sanctions, these sanctions can pressure foreign government leaders and entities to change their behavior.
"WHEN WE ADVOCATE FOR THE VULNERABLE AND OPPRESSED, WE ARE FULFILLING THE COMMANDS OF SCRIPTURE AND MODELING TO THE WATCHING WORLD THE HEART OF CHRIST."
Passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act
At the end of 2021, Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and President Biden signed the bill into law. This bill prohibits goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjiang from entering the US market. This legislation also instructs the US government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly engages in the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang. Now, the administration has begun implementing this important bill, and human rights specialists will be keeping a careful watch to ensure that it’s properly implemented.
Beijing, China, hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics despite significant pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone or move the Olympics because of the ongoing genocide. There were concerns that during the opening and closing ceremonies, China would likely attempt to portray itself as a hospitable nation to all and inappropriately highlight the cultures of ethnic and religious minorities. Unfortunately, the IOC did not move the Olympics, but many took the opportunity to rightly bring attention to the persecution of the Uyghurs.
China and Religion
Xi Jingping is attempting to reform the hearts and minds of China’s citizens into his image. Nina Shea writes that “in 2018 the state issued regulations requiring houses of worship to uphold CCP dictates. These include barring minors from churches and from any exposure to religion. Bibles became harder to find and began being censored on the Internet and in app stores.” She goes on to describe that in 2021, "over fifty new rules went into effect, specifying that leaders must actively support CCP practices, leadership, and core values, even in sermons.”
China banned the sale of the Bible on all of the country’s e-commerce platforms. Since then, the only way to purchase a Bible is through government-sanctioned bodies. Richardson says that “[t]he Communist Party sees religion as an enemy." The country’s constitution nominally guarantees religious freedom, she says, but Beijing wants religion “to be either eradicated or co-opted."
While the genocide is currently being perpetrated against the Uyghur people, Chinese authorities view all religion as a threat to their leadership, power, and authority. As my friend Rushan Abbas with Campaign for Uyghurs says, “The way of the Uyghur is the way of the future.” Xi Jingping wants to be worshiped and viewed as a deity and will ruthlessly stamp out any opposition to his ascension.
Why Should Christians Care about the Genocide?
Image of God
Christians cannot look away from the ongoing genocide occurring in China. Scripture calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to speak up for the oppressed. We must take those commandments seriously. Sadly, some people don’t understand why Christians defend and protect the religious freedom of all people, not just other Christians.
First and foremost, our care, concern, and advocacy is rooted in the fact that every human is made in God’s image. Christians believe strongly in the sanctity of human life, and Scripture tells us that every single person is made in God’s image and has innate dignity, worth, and value (Gen. 1:27–28; Ps. 139:13–16).
The rich theology of the imago Dei changes the way us Christians see all of our neighbors. There are no disposable people in God’s economy. We should think long and hard about difficult ethical issues and, as redeemed image-bearers, actively advocate for policies that respect the dignity of our fellow image-bearers. Whenever and wherever human dignity is under assault, Christians should be the first ones to protect the vulnerable and uphold the inherent dignity, worth, and value of every person.
Christians Care about Religious Freedom
Fundamentally, Christians believe everyone, everywhere, should have the freedom of conscience and belief. All people should have the ability to freely practice their faith, without fear of persecution. The role of government must never be to oppress or persecute their citizens, and when we do see people being persecuted at the hands of their government, we must speak up.
As one of America’s founding fathers James Madison stated, “[C]onscience is the most sacred of all property.” The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is a God-given, fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 2 that “everyone is entitled to the freedom of religion and belief without distinction of any kind, including race, language, religion, or national or social origin.”
Public theologian Russell Moore reminds us that
[r]eligious liberty for everyone is a corollary of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No bureaucrat can stand on anyone's behalf before the judgment seat of Christ, and the government cannot issue regeneration the way it issues driver’s licenses. To give the government oversight over religious beliefs and practice, even over those with whom we disagree, is to confer spiritual lordship on the state, a lordship Jesus never delegated to it. Only a losing religion needs the government to support or enforce it. The gospel is big enough to fight for itself.
Freedom of religion means choosing what you believe without coercion. Working to advance international religious freedom is a reminder that the assault on freedom of conscience is global, and we must promote and fight for the religious freedom of all people. The church has an obligation to help all victims of injustice, whether they are Christian or not.
How Have Christians Responded?
Christians have long advocated for the religious freedom of all people, and in June 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention was the first denomination to pass a resolution calling what’s happening to the Uyghur people a genocide. The resolution passed unanimously, urging “the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse.” The resolution went on to state, “[W]e implore the United States government to prioritize the admission of Uyghurs to this country as refugees, and provide resources for their support and resettlement.”
Nury Turkel, the vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), states that “[t]he [SBC] has blazed a trail for others to follow. This is a historic resolution where Baptists have come out to affirm solidarity in standing up against atrocities, no matter the ethnic and religious identity of the victims."
This unanimous resolution has greatly aided my advocacy work in Washington, and I’m grateful for the fifteen million Southern Baptists to speak with resolve for those who are currently facing a genocide. The resolution ended with a resolve to earnestly pray for the Uyghur people and for “Christian workers and relief workers who bring the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
What Can Christians Do to Help?
William Wilberforce, who famously worked for years to abolish the slave trade in the UK, stated, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” There’s no denying that an ongoing genocide is occurring against the Uyghurs, and each one of us must answer the question, “How is the Lord calling me to push back against the darkness and love my Uyghur neighbor?” We should earnestly pray over how the Lord is calling us to get involved in this current season of our lives. Below are a few suggestions for ways to care for and advocate on behalf of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities who are being persecuted. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but a starting point for you to consider how to get involved.
God has told us who our neighbor is and how we are to care for our neighbor. Perhaps you’re wondering how the Lord is calling you to get involved in caring for the vulnerable among us. Spend time in prayer asking for wisdom, discernment, and direction. We aren’t called to do everything or to bear all the burdens on our shoulders. Our job is to be faithful and obedient to how God is specifically and intentionally calling us to serve.
Christians cannot underestimate the power of prayer for our neighbors across the ocean. Each one of us can commit to regularly praying on behalf of the Uyghur people. We can lift up the Uyghurs in private prayer, together as a family, and corporately as a church. Many churches make it a regular practice of praying for people around the world, and I’d encourage you to think about how to regularly remember the Uyghurs in prayer.
Below are some ways to pray:
Pray for the leaders of China, that they will end their oppression and persecution of their citizens, especially Uyghurs, Christians, Hongkongers, the Falun Gong, and other ethnic and religious minorities.
Pray for Christians in China, that they will be bold in proclaiming the good news of the gospel and that they will stand up for those who are being persecuted.
Pray for world leaders, that they will have the courage and wisdom to counter China morally and hold the CCP accountable for their gross violations of human rights.
Pray for the Uyghur people, to remain bold and courageous, even when faced with forced internment and persecution. Pray for their physical safety and that the CCP would swiftly end their persecution.
Pray for Uyghurs who aren’t themselves interned, or subjected to forced labor, but have family members who are held captive. Pray that their family members would be swiftly released.
Pray that many Uyghurs would come to know Christ as their personal Savior and experience the transforming power of the gospel.
Scripture instructs us for how we ought to respond when faced with injustices. In Proverbs 31:8–9, we’re commanded, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” We can use our power, resources, and voices to advocate for Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities who are facing brutal persecution.
Countering the CCP must be a top priority of this administration and our allies. We should call on President Biden to respond with bold leadership and swift action. One of the roles of governments is to protect its citizens and allow them to live and worship freely. When governments fail to do this, the proper response is to counter them with strong moral leadership.
A few specific ways to advocate are listed below:
Priority-2 Refugee Status
The US has a long history of welcoming refugees fleeing persecution. Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), religious persecution should be considered in this determination. Human rights advocates have long called for Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status for Uyghurs.
The US government defines the term “refugee” as “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Priority 2 (P-2) refugee status is granted to “groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the U.S. refugee program.” By offering Priority-2 refugee status to Uyghurs fleeing persecution, our nation can demonstrate that this country is a safe haven for the persecuted and those whose human rights have been abused and whose religious freedom has been violated.
Special Envoy at the State Department
At the time of this writing, a special envoy in the US State Department does not exist to address the ongoing genocide in China. The creation and appointment of special envoys are tools that administrations can use to allow more effort and focus to be applied to an issue, organize efforts on the issue, and elevate the profile of the issue. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) has long advocated for the appointment of a special envoy and has stated that “among other responsibilities, the Special Envoy would coordinate diplomatic, political, economic, and security activities pursued by the United States government to address the mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, the surveillance and police detection of the Chinese government, and the counterterrorism and counterradicalism claims used by the CCP to justify policies in Xinjiang.”
Consider urging your representative and Senators to advance these two specific policies, as well as continuing to exert maximum pressure in countering the Chinese Communist Party morally.
As we pray, advocate, and serve, we should also commit to knowing and serving our Uyghur neighbors. Griffin Gulledge recommends that we do our homework. Below are some of his practical suggestions for serving our Uyghur neighbors.
Research if there are Uyghurs near you. Are there refugees you can help? Can you collect goods? Can you volunteer? I heard of churches in California doing ministry to Uyghurs just the other day. We can help, but we can’t do it with our head in the stand. Speak up. Look up. Stand up. Mobilize for the good of your neighbor and the spread of the gospel.
We can help meet physical needs of Uyghurs in our community; we can financially donate to organizations that are on the front lines of serving ethnic and religious minorities; and we can pray for our Uyghur neighbors.
You can also serve by using the freedoms you enjoy by speaking up for the Uyghurs. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the US government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices.
Christians should be on the front lines of advocating for the dignity, human rights, and religious freedom of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices. Proverbs 31:8 instructs us to “open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.” When we advocate for the vulnerable and oppressed, we are fulfilling the commands of Scripture and modeling to the watching world the heart of Christ.
As I work alongside others to counter the Chinese Communist Party, I try to work and advocate like I’d want someone to advocate for me, if I was facing a genocide. I regularly remember my Uyghur friends in the US who face the possibilities that they might never see or hear from their family members again. I grieve with them and work alongside them to push back the darkness.
Our words and deeds matter not only for the poor, marginalized, and persecuted, but our actions have eternal significance and consequence. May we be resolved to always defend the innate human dignity in our neighbors. In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to people who have experienced gross violations of their human rights.
Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, policy director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has a background in working for the US House of Representatives on pro-life, adoption, foster care policy, and religious freedom issues. Author of Longing for Motherhood: Holding onto Hope in the Midst of Childlessness, she shares her journey of infertility and hope. Sobolik’s advocacy work also extends to issues such as Uyghur Muslim oppression in China.