The Chinese government has released a set of proposed amendments to its rules regulating religious affairs, as President Xi Jinping attempts to exert even greater control over how religion is practised. The new set of amendments, released to the public on 7 September for a one-month consultation period, includes guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organisations that can exist, where they can exist and the activities they can organise. Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, emphasised the need for provincial officials to have a better overall understanding of religion, so that they are better able to resist “foreign” religions.
The idea of resisting “foreign” religions is generally taken as an attack on Christianity, which is considered a product of the West, promulgated by foreign powers with the intention of destabilising Chinese “harmony”. This all fits into the current government’s efforts to ‘cynicise’ every aspect of Chinese life – be it culture, news or religion according to Thomas Muller from Open Doors. This comes shortly after China’s broadcasting regulator announced that it is planning to curb all social and entertainment news that promotes Western lifestyles. In April, President Xi, speaking in Beijing at the National Conference of Religious Work, said he wished to “help religions adapt to the socialist society”.
Xi’s April speech was based around four themes:
. Unity between religious and non-religious groups in society, along with ethnic and regional unity. Xi urged officials to guide the religious to “love their country”, protect the unification of their motherland and serve the overall interests of the Chinese nation.
. Localisation of “foreign” religions in order to make them more “Chinese” and to prevent foreign infiltration. He stressed harmony in the building of a healthy and civilised society.
. Limiting religion’s influence by keeping it separated from government administration, the legal system, and education; and countering religious content on the Internet by disseminating the Party’s religious policies and theories online.
. Party leadership. The General Secretary called on Party cadres to strengthen their supervision of religion and encouraged them to guide and educate religious circles and their followers with socialist core values and with ideas of unity, progress, peace and tolerance.
“The implications for Chinese Christians remain to be seen, but it may be that these directives find their way into new regulations affecting the Church in China,” said an Asia analyst for Open Doors, who wished to remain anonymous. “Freedom in all sectors of society has been shrinking since Xi Jinping came into power, and there is evidence that the government is also tightening its grip on the Three Self Patriotic Movement, the state-approved Church”. In the past 3 years, over 1,500 crosses have been removed from churches in the south-eastern province of Zhejiang – known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its strong Christian presence. Meanwhile, some churches were labelled “illegal structures” and demolished. Those who have resisted have faced physical abuse, detention and criminal charges.
Open Doors’ Asia analyst calls it “the most blatant attack on the Church since the Cultural Revolution – under the guise of enforcing building-code regulations”.David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said he “remained concerned” about the situation. “We really encourage them to ease the restrictions all across the country and allow religious freedom and religious institutions to flourish and function without the kind of constraints that they face – that are so pervasive,” he said. China remained a “Country of Particular Concern” in the US State Department’s latest annual report. “Over the past year, the Chinese government has stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state’s supremacy and maintenance of a ‘socialist society’.
The Chinese government did not respond to the report’s assertions. However, US government-funded Voice Of America (VOA) News highlighted a year-old editorial on a pro-Chinese government news site, which reiterated that China “respects religious freedom” but that “the growth rate of Christianity in some Chinese provinces is among the highest in the world. Many people feel the churches and crosses in Zhejiang have become too big.” VOA added that it was “unusual” Beijing had targeted only one province and also state-registered churches, “rather than unregistered ones where many of China’s Christians pray in potential violation of the law”. Political scientist Carsten Vala told VOA: “It seems as though the top provincial leader in Zhejiang took offence that Christian churches were so prominent”
“They have these massive buildings and very large crosses that are visible from public highways miles away.” Vala said. Christianity has attracted younger and better-educated followers in recent decades and the Communist Party has become increasingly concerned that this may pose a threat to its power. However, he said that stronger pressure on the Church has in recent decades always led to stronger Church growth and that the most likely response to further pressure would be for more Christians to go “underground”. “I don’t think the Chinese authorities necessarily understand the history of Christianity, so they don’t understand that often this kind of campaign can boomerang and actually end up with the opposite result,” he said. “There’s also a push to try to register the unregistered churches.”
At the very local level, there have been reports and discussions about linking those congregations to essentially what are the lowest level of the state-hierarchy ‘neighbourhood-watch’ committees. So maybe the government thinks that if they are registering the unregistered groups and then putting pressure on the official churches, that this will have a successful result. But history shows time and again that when persecution comes, it leads to a temporary lull and then a resurgence of believers.” Open Doors’ Asia analyst says Christians in China have been concerned that the situation in Zhejiang may be a “precursor to a more intrusive and widespread effort aimed at shutting down more and more churches around the country”. But so far, this has not been the case.
NORTH KOREAN CHRISTIANS CRUSHED UNDER STEAMROLLERS AND HUNG ON CROSSES ABOVE FIRE
North Korea has crushed Christians under a steam roller, hung them on crosses above raging fires, herded them off bridges and other devastating forms of torture, according to a report issued by Christian Solidarity Worldwide earlier this month. The report was issued to call action against the Communist state, which is the top persecutor of Christians worldwide, according to Open Doors. The horrifying report reads:
Christians usually practice their faith in secret. If discovered, they are subject to detention and then likely taken to political prison camps. Crimes against them in these camps include extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labour, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence and other inhumane acts. A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief. Even North Koreans who have escaped to China, and who are or become Christians, are often repatriated and subsequently imprisoned in a political prison camp.
Open Doors reports 50,000-70,000 Christians are in North Korean labour camps that hearken back to the Holocaust. To halt the abuse and torture, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, who released the report, asks the world to step up. Specifically, they are calling on the United Nations to intervene by:
* holding regular briefings on the human rights situation in North Korea with the participation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other relevant experts
* ensuring that human rights are central in any dialogue or negotiations, whether bilateral or multilateral, between North Korea and any Member State
* calling for the adoption of a Security Council resolution addressing human rights and impunity in North Korea
* supporting the referral of the human rights situation in the North Korea to the International Criminal Court, based on the United Nations Commission of Inquiry’s finding that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated
* investigating the possibility of creating an ad hoc tribunal of international lawyers and judges, past or present, to assess the evidence given to them and to maintain accountability regarding the crimes against humanity that are occurring in North Korea
* supporting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in their mandate, by looking to expand their capacity and ensure their continued independence, and that sufficient resources and security are maintained
* establishing a human rights contact group on North Korea
SCHOOLS IN TENNESSEE DROPPING ISLAMIC STUDIES FROM THEIR CURRICULUM
Most Tennessee middle schools are dropping the majority of their required social studies curriculum on the history and religion of Islam. An entire section on Islam currently taught to seventh-grade students has been removed from the State Board of Education’s latest draft of proposed standard for the 2019-20 school year, the Kingsport Times-News reports. The new draft is undergoing public comment in Tennessee. The move comes after parents voiced concerns to Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes. “They’re in favour of just taking it out of the standards. I don’t believe they want it taught at all,” Hughes said. One parent said during a Sullivan County school board meeting in early September that the “Islamic World, 400 A.D./C.E. – 1500s” study text proselytized for Islam.
So far, 11 standards have since been removed from the draft, including:
– information on physical locations and features of the Arabian Peninsula,
– expansion of Muslim rule and cultural diffusion of Islam,
– Arabic language,
– the origins of Islam,
– the life and teaching of Muhammad, including the historical connection to Christianity and Judaism,
– Standards about understanding the Quran and the different sects within Islam.
Board of Education Vice President Susan Lodal said Islam is still a part of required history teaching. Some Muslim history will remain a part of the seventh-grade curriculum, including the importance of Malian king, Mansa Musa and his pilgrimage to Mecca. Most of the sections involving Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions will remain unchanged in the draft. “What Tennesseans will see in the revised social studies standards are that they have increased clarity and manageability and are age-appropriate,” Laura Encalade, director of policy and research at the State Board of Education.
WORLDS FIRST THREE PARENT BABY – LIFE SAVING STRATEGY OR PLAYING GOD
A baby with three genetic parents was born healthy six months ago and is still doing fine. The child was conceived using IVF, in Mexico. The three-parent procedure is illegal in the USA. American Dr. John Zhang, a reproductive endocrinologist, and the participants went to Mexico because “there are no rules” there. Zhang combined DNA from three people, a man and two women because the mother had a potentially fatal flaw in her DNA. She carries a gene for Leigh syndrome, a neurological disorder that typically becomes apparent in a child’s first year of life and usually results in early death. The mother already bore two children, both of whom had the Syndrome. One died at age 6, the other at six months. People who have the syndrome rarely live past 7. The mother also suffered four miscarriages.
While the mother does not have Leigh Syndrome, a gene for it resides in her DNA, in her mitochondria, the portion of the cell that provides energy. Zhang was able to use most of the mother’s own DNA to make the new baby. That included the all-important nucleus. However, he did not use the mother’s mitochondria because that contained the defective gene. Instead, he used the mitochondria from a donor egg. Then he combined the portions of the two eggs with the father’s sperm to create a healthy embryo, which was implanted in the mother’s uterus. The resulting child is not genetically one-third each parent, it’s almost entirely made up of genetic material from its father and mother. “If you look at the amount of DNA, it’s like 2.001 parents rather than three. But it’s DNA from three different people,”
CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said. Zhang says the baby has not shown any signs of illness so far. The child’s mitochondria have been tested and less than 1 percent carries the mutation, believed to be too low a level to lead to disease. Sian Harding, a medical professor and bioethics adviser who reviewed the ethics of the technique in the United Kingdom, told New Scientist the case seems to have been handled according to ethical standards. The U.K. recently approved the procedure despite heated protests against it from people citing concerns about “designer babies” and “playing God.” Leading churches in Britain, both Protestant and Catholic, oppose the procedure on religious and ethical grounds.
A French program to de-radicalize Muslims within the prison system has gone awry after one in the program attacked authorities and several others had to be transferred because they posed immediate threats. The de-radicalization initiative was announced by Prime Minister Manuel Valls following the January 2015 Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris. The program, designed by French sociologists, focuses on the background of each Islamist inmate and features discussion groups where various opinions are “respected” and the attempt is made for greater understanding of their alienation, according to a report by The Clarion Project. Eighteen inmates at Osny prison were undergoing the program.
But on September 4, Bilal Taghi, 24, who was part of the program, attacked two wardens with a 6-inch, home-made spike, wounding one of them in the neck, face and arms. Taghi then made a heart shape on the wall with his victim’s blood and began to pray to Allah, according to The Clarion Project. When a security team arrived he lunged at them with the spike before he was stopped by a plastic bullet. An investigation revealed that the attack on the warden was planned with four other inmates as an Islamic style execution. On September 16, the other four were evacuated from the Osny prison and transferred to other prisons to be placed in solitary confinement, according to The Clarion Project.
Ouisa Kies, the sociologist in charge of the de-radicalization program said “We have to understand why they are alienated and use violence against the society they grew up in. We tend to view them as monsters. They are dangerous because they take action, but they are not crazy. Jihadists have deeply-held political and religious convictions. We need to listen to those convictions in order to counter them.”
STOPPING THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (IRS) FROM CENSORING PASTORS SERMONS
Pastors may soon have more freedom when it comes to preaching on politics and social issues without risking their churches’ tax exempt status. A coalition of Republican leaders and attorneys are pushing to restrict the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a law they believe is used to violate pastors’ free speech and freedom of religion. “The IRS uses the Johnson Amendment to tell pastors what they can and cannot preach, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said in a statement. That is why congressmen Steve Scalise, and Jody Hice, introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act in the House. The bill would prevent the IRS from using the Johnson Amendment to censor churches. “It’s time that we eliminate the targeting of the IRS. Enough is enough and this has been going on for far too long.
It is absolutely unconscionable that our government would force individuals to choose between their constitutionally protected rights or their faith,”Congressman Hice said. Senior Counsel Erik Stanley says that although the Johnson Amendment “was never intended to affect churches,” it has still been used to “intimidate” pastors into censoring what they say from the pulpit. “No tax exemption can be based on a requirement that a church or any organization give up a constitutionally protected freedom, including free speech,” he added. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council is also a strong supporter of the bill. He says politicians and government should stop getting in the way of pastors’ constitutional rights. “Government bureaucrats should not be arbiters of freedom of religion and speech.”