Why American Christians should boycott Beijing’s Olympics
President Joe Biden’s decision to launch a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics could not come at a better moment. Sparked by a bipartisan push on Capitol Hill and joined by Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the boycott shifts global attention from manufactured Olympic fanfare to a more serious matter: China’s egregious persecution of religious minorities and ongoing history of human rights abuses. But given China’s defiant response, in which they warned “the U.S. will pay for its wrongdoing,” foreign policy experts are skeptical this move will effect real change.
A diplomatic boycott of a sports event is more symbolic than substantive. The only way to apply sufficient pressure to China is to hit them where it hurts: in the pocketbook. The communist nation’s leaders are famously rapacious about economic growth, which means they are vulnerable to the decisions of everyday consumers in places like the United States.
Now it’s up to America’s 200 million Christians, and all who care about human rights, to force a change in course by boycotting Beijing’s Olympics.
China has suppressed people of faith for over seven decades, starting with the takeover of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. Tens of millions of Chinese Christians today are forced to secretly worship in illegal house churches at their own peril. Our organization, Open Doors USA, has been tracking China’s campaign of religious persecution for decades. In 2021, China ranked as the 17th most dangerous place on earth for Christians according to the World Watch List, a global database of faith-based human rights abuses.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the Olympics commence this winter, China is still actively committing mass genocide against its own citizens. Over a million Uyghur Muslims are interned in a prison camp system designed to crush resistance to Beijing’s orders and erase Uyghur culture. Tibetan Buddhists, the Falun Gong and many others have also suffered unspeakable abuses at the hands of an authoritarian government determined to cut off any threat to its control, real or perceived.
Leaders who have the courage to speak up about China’s travesties often face the greatest persecution. In recent weeks, the world has watched and waited after Peng Shuai, one of China’s best tennis players, was censored and silenced for accusing a senior Chinese official of wrongdoing. As a result, the Women’s Tennis Association announced the immediate suspension of all tour tournaments in China.
Peng’s silencing is an ominous example of China’s incredible ability to wield technology for the purposes of repression. Many of her posts on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, were pulled immediately, as were comments by others asking about her safety. Search results of Peng’s name were blocked and her only appearances in public appear to be carefully controlled.
Peng is not alone in having her online profile censored. In August, Zhao Wei, one of China’s wealthiest actresses, was virtually erased from the Chinese internet after she offended government officials. Religious leaders have also reported their online activity erased, then used to target them for arrest.
This technological sophistication goes well beyond internet censorship. Chinese officials are becoming adept at utilizing mass-surveillance technology, including over a hundred million closed-circuit cameras, facial recognition software and other forms of biometric identification, to keep constant tabs on its citizens. Security officials may even be capable of identifying citizens by their body shape and the length of their stride.
In the United States, however, most people of faith appear to be woefully ignorant of the plight of their fellow believers in China. The persecution of Chinese Christians is rarely if ever mentioned on Sunday mornings in American megachurches. Raising awareness has been a long, slow struggle for the handful of organizations dedicated to the effort of exposing religious persecution in China and elsewhere. The outright refusal of celebrities and major sports figures to acknowledge China’s repression, at least until the Peng Shuai case, hasn’t helped.
President Biden’s diplomatic boycott is a chance for Americans to act. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It’s time for American Christians to break their silence and stand up for their persecuted brothers and sisters in China.
Specifically, American Christians and others need to look at the more than 80 major brands with links to the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims. Some are also major sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics, including Panasonic and Samsung. China Aid, a Christian group led by former house church pastor Bob Fu, has already called for a boycott of Olympic advertisers until China “announces a date they will close Uyghur concentration camps and releases a list of religious prisoners.”
But more can — and should — be done.
People of faith should use their social media platforms to let sponsors know they disapprove of China’s treatment of religious minorities. Members of Congress should be inundated with calls and emails from constituents asking how they plan to halt the genocide against Uyghurs and the persecution of Christians. Faith leaders at America’s mosques, synagogues and churches should call on their followers to use the Olympics for a time of prayer and fasting in support of the persecuted in China.
Like all of history’s great tragedies, China’s systematic repression of faith will one day come to an end. Until then, it is incumbent upon those who have the ability and resources to do so to take action. No country actively committing genocide should ever be given the honor of hosting the Olympics.
Biden’s diplomatic boycott has set the stage. Now it’s time for people of faith to step onto it.
David Curry is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, which advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith.
Sam Brownback served as ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from February 2018 to January 2021. He served as governor of Kansas from 2011 to 2018. Brownback currently serves as co-chair for the International Religious Freedom Summit and as a senior fellow at Open Doors USA.
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