Suddenly this year, as the debate over Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China was revived, internal divisions were exposed not only within the Democratic and Republican parties, but also within the evangelical community. Conservative evangelical activists played a big role in putting the issue back on the map, citing Chinese persecution of Christian churches as a powerful reason to revoke MFN. Others in the evangelical community defended China's MFN status, alleging that its revocation would harm Chinese Christians. What was a concerned Christian citizen to think?
Persecution of Chinese Christians has expanded during the past five years. Underground Protestant church leaders report continuing church closings, sentences to "reeducation through labor" camps, and torture. Some would say this recent history undermines the pro-MFN argument that free trade and engagement produce greater political and religious freedom since it occurred during the very time that the official U.S. policy has been one of "engagement." Others argue that increased persecution of Christians in China has little to do with the nature of relationships with the United States and more to do with politics internal to China.
Some in the missionary community seem willing to subordinate human rights to evangelism. Some urge that we must choose between evangelism and human rights. That sounds like the tired, old debates between evangelism and social action. It is a false choice, especially when the freedom to share one's faith is the right being denied.
Evangelism is clearly an imperative for the church. But the church has other obligations: speaking the truth, seeking justice, and setting the oppressed at liberty. Evil actions—such as brutal persecution—should ...1
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