The headlines these days read like something out of the books of the Maccabees. These books were written about 130 B.C. They recount the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Antiochus IV was a Greek king in the eighth generation after Alexander the Great. He lived from 215-164 B.C., and is infamous for his attempts to Hellenize the Jews. This was a gruesome campaign to indoctrinate them with pagan Greek religion, culture and customs.
|Antiochus IV Epiphanes|
Mind you, the Jews already had been under Greek rule for a century-and-a-half. They were dominated physically and politically. But that wasn’t enough for Antiochus. He wanted to control not just their bodies, but their minds. So, he made a decree that “they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances” (1 Macc. 1:49).
The enforcement of this decree involved social pressure, economic pressure and, where those failed, torture and death. These awesome powers of the Greek state were used both to forbid Jews from practicing their faith and to coerce them into doing abominable things.
Jewish mothers were forbidden to circumcise their children. Rabbis were told to hand over Bibles to be burned, and if any were later caught with one they would be executed. All Jews were forced both to eat unclean foods and to perform sacrilegious ceremonies like sacrificing pigs to the Greek gods.
Antiochus also decreed that once a month the people of each city should be gathered to violate their consciences all over again. On that day they were made to re-perform their sacrilegious ceremonies. Then, any children that had been circumcised in the previous month were gruesomely killed along with their mothers and the rabbis who performed the ceremony (Macc. 1:60-61).
All of this seems long ago and far away. But it is not. Headlines from China today indicate that eerily similar things are happening right now. President Xi Jinping is consolidating power by ramping up pressure against religious liberty across the board. In April, 2016 he declared that religious groups “must adhere to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Christians are seeing a crackdown on the house-church movement. Muslim Uyghurs are being sent to internment camps for re-indoctrination. Tibetan Buddhists have seen their monasteries placed under state surveillance.
For Buddhists, this means that loyalty to the Dalai Lama is forbidden. To force compliance, the CCP has focused especially on the monasteries. They have set up “management committees” to control each monastery and have required them to fly the Chinese flag and display portraits of CCP leaders.
|Sera Monastery (2013), monks watched by a special military |
police officer (foreground). Photo by: Woeser
Surveillance cameras have also been installed inside the monasteries and regular police inspections look for any signs of loyalty to the Dalai Lama. If any are uncovered, the monks and nuns are subjected to “patriotic re-education,” arrest, torture and expulsion from the monastery.
The Muslim Uyghurs are a different matter. A recent report from Human Rights Watch suggests that as many as one million adult Uyghurs are being held in crowded detainment camps for re-indoctrination. They are detained indefinitely and promised release only on the condition that they denounce their Muslim faith. Meanwhile, their children are held in orphanages, and some are even being put up for adoption by non-Muslims.
Chinese Communist Party officials are also moving into the very homes of Uyghur Muslim families in order to keep a close watch on whether they observe the traditions of their faith. In particular, during the season of Ramadan they are expected to eat pork and violate other aspects of their Muslim faith in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the CCP.
Christian persecution focuses mainly on the house churches. Long ago, the churches registered by the CCP have been coopted into being arms of state propaganda. Since the CCP knows that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” Christians have been forbidden to bring anyone to church under the age of 18.
For reasons such as these, authentic Christians have gone underground. They gather in homes and listen to preachers who have not sworn loyalty to the CCP. These house churches are now in the crosshairs of Xi Jinping.
Last Sunday afternoon (September 9), Zion, Beijing’s largest house church, was raided by 60 CCP officials who sealed the building and confiscated pastor Jin’s personal assets and all church items that they deemed to be “propaganda.” Apparently, Bibles top of the list of propaganda materials. Only a week earlier in Henan province, numerous churches were raided, and worshippers were assaulted. At least one of these also reported that its Bibles and crosses were burned.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has confirmed that these are not just hyperbolic stories. On Tuesday, September 11, it released a statement saying, “These collective actions ... signal an alarming escalation in persecution of citizens in China under Xi Jinping. USCIRF condemns the Chinese government's ongoing brutal and systematic targeting of religious communities for their beliefs.”
The tactics of Antiochus Epiphanes are still alive and well. For the Chinese Communists, like the Soviet Communists, the Nazis, the North Koreans and others, it is not enough to control territory and bodies. Godless Materialism is threatened by anyone who believes that there is something or Someone who transcends the power of the state. For this reason, Materialists must control not only the body, but also the mind.
They still use the same barbaric methods of Antiochus. Bibles are burned. Piety is prevented. Communication is shut down. Vile acts and blasphemies are forced by fines, imprisonment, assault and death. It didn’t work for Antiochus. It won’t work for Xi. But in the meantime untold numbers of people must suffer under these inhumane attempts at mind control.
As terrible as this is for nearly half of the Chinese population that holds some transcendent faith, it is not isolated there. The Christian West, which was once the world’s last bastion of freedom, is beginning to see these barbaric ideas encroach on its humanity.
Just last week at Goldsmiths, University of London, a group calling itself “LGBTQ+ Goldsmiths” asserted that people who oppose their ideas should be sent to Soviet-style gulag camps for rehabilitation. These camps used starvation, cold, disease and execution to kill tens of millions of Soviet citizens over the course of decades.
“LGBTQ+ Goldsmiths” wanted not only to change minds, but to do so with punishing force. When called out, they doubled down, claiming that the gulags were a rehabilitory way “to correct and change the ways of ‘criminals.’” They assured us that nobody was locked away for life. The “longest sentence was 10 years” because if the reindoctrination “couldn’t be done in ten years, it couldn’t be done at all.”
One might assume that this broadside was directed at Muslims or Christians. It was not. Rather, it was directed at “Radical Feminists” who objected only to a few of their ideas. This incident is a clear reminder that once the attacks on religious freedom ensue, no one is exempt.
The USCIRF is standing with persecution-watch organizations to advocate for Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese house churches. Their advocacy benefits not only the religious, but the secular as well.