As Washington negotiates with Beijing to end the tariff standoff, the United States must also demand the Chinese government stop its sinicization of religion, a program designed to make all religious groups extinct.
The campaign, which has escalated dramatically in recent months, includes new draconian measures enforced against Uyghurs from Xinjiang, hundreds of thousands of whom languish in concentration camps. The operation incorporates a vast Police Cloud that uses Big Data to identify, track and detain believers. The government is likewise focused on the elimination of any new religion such as Church of the Almighty God and the destruction of Tao and other religious monuments.
Recently, both the United Kingdom Parliament and the U.S. Congress have held hearings on the Chinese practice of organ harvesting, which seems to occur most often to religious minorities including Falun Gong, Tibetans, and unregistered House Church Christians. The zeal to eliminate any trace of faith includes persecuting one lone U.S. citizen, David Lin, who planted a church in prison to serve fellow inmates.
The story of Pastor Lin is extraordinary. A naturalized citizen, David Lin focused on raising his family, working in his field, and serving as an economic adviser to state officials in Iowa and California. When he arrived in the United States, he was not a man of faith. He told his family only ignorant people believed in religion. However, that changed years later when his wife became a Christian. As he came to understand the Christian faith, he became actively involved in his church. By 1999, he was traveling to China regularly and eventually sought a license from the Chinese government to start a Christian ministry. On one of his trips to China in 2006, he disappeared.
A year later, his family learned that Lin had been placed under house arrest and was prevented from leaving China. In 2008 he was put in prison, and in 2009 he endured a show trial where he was falsely accused of contract fraud, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
Despite their outrage, Lin’s family chose to stay quiet because phone conversations with Lin confirmed he saw prison as an opportunity to minister, sharing his faith, and encouraging inmates from more than 30 nations. He held a Sunday prayer meeting in prison and worked on a new translation of the Bible into Mandarin. This went on for 10 long years. Lin turned 60 alone there in 2015. He missed his children’s graduations and weddings. He missed the birth of his grandson.
But in December 2018, everything changed. His family opened a package to find he had sent home his personal Bible, his source of strength, help, and comfort for nearly a decade in prison. Soon after, during a periodic phone call with family, Lin spoke to them with an urgency they had never heard before and asked for them to help get him released. His family received word in February 2019 that his health is deteriorating.
The jarring deterioration of Lin’s plight coincides with a crackdown on Christian churches and church members in 2018. Confidential instructions shared among Chinese officials in February 2019 at a party event, Two Sessions, shows restrictions and surveillance of Christians increasing to maintain “social stability” in the Chinese Communist Party.
In September 2018, hundreds of Chinese Christian pastors signed a declaration against the Chinese Regulation on Religious Affairs, a new arm of the CCP that came into force on February 1, 2018, with the aim of destroying the “gray market” of temples and churches not directly controlled by the CCP. The landscape for religious freedom – long bleak and dicey – is darkening quickly.
It’s time for the U.S. government to demand Chinese officials allow Pastor David Lin to come home to his family. The United States must press for his immediate release. Both of us, as Commissioners serving on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, have adopted Pastor David Lin as a Religious Prisoner of Conscience and will continue to advocate for him until he is released.
Tony Perkins and Kristina Arriaga serve on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.