China's first commandment: Thou shalt have no other God before Xi

China’s Xi Jinping turns out to be a jealous “god” indeed. The communist country’s long-known antipathy for religion has taken a more brutal form of late, the Associate Press reports, as Xi’s government has increasingly imposed a “Sinicized” form onto believers. The new policy has resulted in ethnic cleansing, forced re-education, and suppression of scriptures, including among the region’s Christians especially:

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.

The crackdown on Christianity is part of a broader push by Xi to “Sinicize” all the nation’s religions by infusing them with “Chinese characteristics” such as loyalty to the Communist Party. Islamic crescents and domes have been stripped from mosques, and a campaign launched to “re-educate” tens of thousands of Uighur Muslims. Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools and banned from religious activities during their summer holidays, state-run media report.

This spring, a five-year plan to “Sinicize” Christianity in particular was introduced, along with new rules on religious affairs. Over the last several months, local governments across the country have shut down hundreds of private Christian “house churches.” A statement last week from 47 in Beijing alone said they had faced “unprecedented” harassment since February.

Authorities have also seized Bibles, while major e-commerce retailers and Taobao pulled them off their sites. Children and party members are banned from churches in some areas, and at least one township has encouraged Christians to replace posters of Jesus with portraits of Xi. Some Christians have resorted to holding services in secret.

Make no mistake about it — this is a deliberate program to eradicate all religion, or to warp it into worship of The State. Xi is “a closet Maoist,” one expert tells the AP, who is “very anxious about thought control.” Xi wants to set himself up as a cult leader in Mao’s model, forcing people to declare allegiance not to God but to Xi as a god.

He’s hardly the first temporal emperor to deify himself, either sotto voce or literally. Rather than Christ, Xi wants his subjects to worship him as savior. The party declared “Sinicization” as official policy and as the only pathway to heaven. “Only Sinicized churches can obtain God’s love,” read the April declaration.

Before this wave of oppression, Beijing largely ignored home-worship services. Not any more:

Around the time authorities ordered Guo’s church to stop congregating in March, his district announced a crackdown on private Christian meeting spots. On a single Sunday morning, the announcement said, 700 religious banners were removed, 200 religious texts seized and 31 illegal Christian gathering places shut down. Officials went door-to-door stripping decorative scrolls bearing the cross from home entrances.

In Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital, all that is left of one house church is shattered glass, tangled wires and torn hymnbooks, strewn among the rubble of a knocked-down wall. Pegged to another wall is a single wooden cross, still intact.

The people of China are perhaps not quite as persecuted as Christians under the Romans, but it’s moving in that direction, and it’s not just Christians. Josh Rogin wrote last week in the Washington Post about the ethnic cleansing of Uighers in China, primarily Muslims, for both religious and ethnic reasons:

If ethnic cleansing takes place in China and nobody is able to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s what millions of Muslims inside the People’s Republic are asking as they watch the Chinese government expand a network of internment camps and systematic human rights abuses designed to stamp out their peoples’ religion and culture.

Since last year, hundreds of thousands — and perhaps millions — of innocent Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region in northwest China have been unjustly arrested and imprisoned in what the Chinese government calls “political re-education camps.” Thousands have disappeared. There are credible reports of torture and death among the prisoners. The government says it is fighting “terrorism” and “religious extremism.” Uighurs say they are resisting a campaign to crush religious and cultural freedom in China. The international community has largely reacted with silence.

The situation in China has only grown worse over the last several years, despite the best intentions of those attempting to engage on behalf of religious liberty. The Vatican has seen its negotiations stall over the direction of the Catholic Church in China, finally acknowledging the futility of those attempts earlier this year. Xi will brook no religion that gets in the way of his cult of personality.

History tells us that these times eventually pass, and that would-be gods crumble and fall. But it doesn’t mean that good people won’t suffer, and that others should remain silent. The US needs to speak loudly and clearly about China’s actions and get the rest of the international community to do likewise.