SBC becomes first US denomination to condemn China's genocide of Uyghurs

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 15-16, 2021, cast ballots for several motions and elections throughout the two-day event in Nashville, Tenn.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 15-16, 2021, cast ballots for several motions and elections throughout the two-day event in Nashville, Tenn. | Eric Brown

NASHVILLE — Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2021 Annual Meeting voted to adopt a resolution condemning the "genocide" committed against Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims by the Chinese government, becoming the first major United States-based denomination to speak out against the abuses.

Resolution 8 called for the Chinese Communist Party to stop its genocide of the Uyghur people — a community that resides mainly in China's western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region — and “restore to them their full God-given rights.” 

The motion also urged the U.S. government to “prioritize the admission of Uyghurs to this country as refugees, and provide resources for their support and resettlement." Additionally, the document asks for prayers for the persecuted religious minority and the Christian workers who bring both physical aid and the Gospel of Christ.

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The resolution, presented to over 15,000 messengers gathered in Nashville on Tuesday, cited “credible reporting” that uncovered the CCP’s persecution of the Uyghur people. The persecution includes forced abortions, rape, sexual abuse, sterilization, organ harvesting, human trafficking and scientific experimentation, among other abuses. 

Estimates suggest that as many as 1 million to 3 million Uyghur Muslims have been subject to internment camps in western China. They are allegedly subject to ideological brainwashing and taught to be secular citizens who never oppose the ruling Communist Party. 

Griffin Gulledge, a pastor at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia, wrote and introduced the motion. He called the persecution of Uyghurs “one of the worst things happening in the world.”

“It’s ethnic cleansing. It's a genocide. It's a Holocaust. The Uyghurs are being treated horribly in a way that is unique to our lifetime,” Gulledge told The Christian Post. “All all of this is happening under the authority of the Chinese government, and nobody's saying anything. We have an obligation to speak.”

Though they live in a remote region, China is employing its most aggressive technology to oppress Uyghurs, including sophisticated cameras, facial recognition technology and the collection of DNA samples.

A report from last year documents how hospitals in Xinjiang were ordered to abort and kill all babies born over China’s mandated family planning limits — including newborns born after being carried to full term. The orders were part of strict family-planning policies intended to restrict Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to three children.

Condemning the persecution of Uyghurs aligns with the SBC’s theological mission to obey Jesus’ call in the Bible for His disciples to spread the Gospel throughout the world, Gulledge stressed.

“The greatest Baptist contribution to theology is the freedom of religion,” he said. “This is an area for us to be consistent and to say, ‘We're going to protect the freedom of religion, no matter what it is.’ The freedom of religion opens the door to global evangelization. As Baptists, our two greatest priorities are the freedom of religion and global evangelization.”

Before presenting the resolution on Tuesday, Gulledge said he consulted with several Uyghur rights groups who were “very, very excited” to see Southern Baptists lend their support to the cause.

Currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Gulledge said his interest in the plight of Uyghurs began after reading a New York Times article highlighting their situation.

From there, Gulledge posted a series of tweets drawing attention to the abuses, which soon went viral. 

"China is committing one of the grossest acts of human rights violations in modern history, and we aren’t saying a word because it financially benefits most of the rest of the world," he tweeted.

Shortly after that, SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission hosted a webinar last summer focused on China's persecution of the Uyghur Muslim community.

The event included then-U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and garnered attention from major news outlets like CNN and BBC. 

At the time, then-ERLC President Russell Moore said that the crimes being perpetrated against religious minorities in China and elsewhere rely on an invisibility “where the rest of the world doesn't pay attention” and “tribalism.”

“Let's be the people who stand up for whoever is being made invisible, whoever is being intimidated and bullied in our own neighborhoods and in our own communities because we're the people of Jesus Christ,” Moore said. 

While he doesn’t claim to be the precipitating force behind the series of events, Gulledge said it “all kind of happened at once.”

“So when the SBC was approaching, I figured, what a better time to speak out than now? The SBC has spoken out against the Nazi Holocaust and the genocide in Sudan, and so I wanted us to speak out on this as well," he contended.

The SBC is now the first major U.S. denomination to condemn the actions of the Chinese government and call upon the U.S. government to fight for Uyghur freedom and uphold their dignity as human beings, according to Gulledge. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department labeled China's treatment of Uyghurs as a "genocide" following years of criticism during the Trump administration. During the early days of the Biden administration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed the new administration's position that what is happening to Uyghurs in western China is genocide. 

Gulledge said he would love to see Christian groups “of all sorts, whether nonprofits and NGOs, relief agencies or other denominations,” follow the SBC’s example in “using their voice and influence to advocate for these people.”

He cited Luke 4:18, which reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”

“I hope they'll speak out because I think that this is consistent with our call as Christians,” Gulledge said. “I hope that anyone who is able to speak will speak.”

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