As part of a push to "sinicize" religion, the Chinese Communist Party has embarked on a 10-year project to rewrite the Bible and other religious texts.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus famously confronts the accusers a woman caught committing adultery, saying "let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her." The chastened accusers slink away and Jesus says to the woman, "‘Has no one condemned you?' 'No one, sir,' she replied. 'Neither do I condemn you,' said Jesus. 'Go away, and from this moment sin no more.'"
Unless you’re a CCP official. Then it's a story of a dissident challenging the authority of the state. A possible sneak preview of what a Bible with socialist characteristics might look like appeared in a Chinese university textbook in 2020. The rewritten Gospel of John excerpt ends, not with mercy, but with Jesus himself stoning the adulterous woman to death.
Across Henan province, local CCP officials forced Protestant churches to replace the Ten Commandments with Xi Jinping quotes. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," became diktats like: "Resolutely guard against the infiltration of Western ideology." The 10-year project to rewrite the Bible, Quran and other sacred texts is all part of Xi Jinping’s quest to make the faithful serve the party rather than God.
At the 19th Party Congress, Chairman Xi declared "We will… insist on the sinicization of Chinese religions, and provide active guidance for religion and socialism to coexist." Let me translate: Xi Jinping has no problem with the first commandment, just so long as he and the CCP are playing the role of God.
You might expect the Vatican, the leaders of the largest Christian congregation in the world, to be incensed and defiant. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. In a secret 2018 negotiation, the Vatican agreed to allow the CCP to select Catholic bishops in China, supposedly in exchange for vague reassurances of "safety" for some Catholic congregations which were immediately abrogated.
The CCP wants the authority to select the next Dalai Lama, a sacred tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists are attempting to stand up to CCP coercion, but Beijing counters that even Pope Francis, leader of the mighty Catholic Church, accepts their authority over Church leadership.
Religion’s power is tantalizing to the CCP — what better demonstration of party supremacy than bringing global religions to heel? The PRC constitution states that citizens "enjoy freedom of religious belief," but, of course, the CCP’s definition of "freedom" bears a much closer resemblance to what we’d call oppression.
The United Front Work Department manages religious affairs in China because religion is a tool to be coerced, co-opted and corrupted to advance party goals and, once harnessed, control people’s minds. Only five faiths are officially recognized. Less-established faiths face even more intense persecution. The Falun Gong remains an unfamiliar spiritual practice to many outside China, but that does not make their suffering at the hands of the CCP any less real.
The State Department estimated that at times half of the population of China’s "Reeducation through Labor" camps, or modern gulags, were Falun Gong adherents. Thousands were tortured to death and there have been widespread reports of on-demand organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners.
But it is in Tibet and Xinjiang that we see the CCP’s unsanitized, brutal attitude toward religion. While other faiths are persecuted throughout China, Buddhists and Muslims in the far west of the country are facing, quite simply, the attempted annihilation of their faith and, in some cases, their population.
The CCP is committing genocide, the crime above all crimes, in Xinjiang while some of the world’s religious leaders, like Pope Francis, barely murmur a word in opposition. Tahir Hamut Izgil, a Uyghur poet, described in The Atlantic how the PRC government "had required all Uyghurs there to hand over any religious items they held … religious books, prayer rugs, prayer beads, articles of clothing. Some were unwilling to part with their Qurans, but with neighbors and even relatives betraying one another, those who kept them were quickly found out, detained, and harshly punished."
One Uyghur woman related to Freedom House that "[n]ow the rule is, if I go to your house, read some Quran, pray together, and the government finds out, you go to jail." Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, summed it up: "The [Chinese] government’s religious restrictions are now so stringent that it has effectively outlawed the practice of Islam."
The CCP is also perpetrating a slow-motion cultural genocide across China’s west and north, targeting the Muslim and Buddhist faiths and the identities of the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Kyrgiz, southern Mongolians, and other ethno-religious minority groups.
Buddhist statues are bulldozed. Monasteries are gutted. Mosques are destroyed. Children are forcibly separated from families and packed off to colonial boarding schools where religion and native languages are often forbidden.
Yet, even under intense persecution, faith persists throughout China and the number of faithful grows. In my work in Congress, I’ve heard unthinkable stories of religious oppression. But I’ve also listened to accounts of underground churches, brave clergy, and steadfast believers every bit as courageous as saints of the early Church.
Religion’s power is tantalizing to the CCP — what better demonstration of party supremacy than bringing global religions to heel?
While Chairman Mao called religion "poison," I’ve come to believe that the CCP’s blood-stained record of religious persecution is actually just a battle within their broader ongoing war on the human spirit, on our very capacity to reach for something higher.
The CCP wishes for there to be nothing higher than their authority, and views love for anything besides their Marxist-Leninist regime with vicious jealousy.
In an interview with The Guardian, the pastor of one Chinese church stated, "In this war, in Xinjiang, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Chengdu, the rulers have chosen an enemy that can never be imprisoned – the soul of man." The pastor ended with an assessment that we must make come true: "[The PRC rulers] are doomed to lose."
How does one respond to such a revelation? Ultimately, the same way the Chinese Pastor did in the concluding paragraph. Communism as a political approach has been around less than two hundred years. The Chinese Communist Party has been in existence as an entity less than 100 of those years.
And yet, the Bible, as the Word of God, has been around for thousands of years. Which of these do we honestly believe will be around for the remainder of time? Given that the dustbin of history is littered with the remains of failed political agendas, fallen kingdoms, and all-but-forgotten world leaders, I’ll side with the Bible!
Of course, lest we jump too quickly on the bandwagon in condemning the CCP, we may need to sweep around our own back porch, as it were. The re-writing of Scripture is not solely a far-eastern phenomenon. Far too many here in the so-called Christian west are guilty of much the same thing. After all, how many versions and/or editions of the Bible have been produced as of late that have found ways to tone down, restate, and/or alleviate any passage of God’s Word that people might find offensive in the modern world?!
It strikes me that we may be just as guilty in our culture of re-writing God’s Word as are the Godless Communists are!
And we would do well to remember the worlds of the Prophet Isaiah who was moved by the Holy Spirit to write:
20Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. 21Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.
We would also do well to remember that this same Prophet’s writings dealt with the overthrow of two of the mightiest empires the world has ever known: the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Both of these powerful kingdoms lasted far longer than the CCP, yet they still fell. And no doubt the reason they did is that they reached the point that they thought they knew more than the God of the Bible knew, and made it their purpose to outshine Him.
A word to the wise… Ever was it so. And ever will it be! Long live the Word of God!