Evangelicals sided against the Trump Administration in a trade dispute with China.
First Things article raises an important question: Do US business ties with China allow the Chinese Communist Party to exert influence on American Bible publishers? In other words, are Russell Moore, the ERLC & Lifeway soft power assets of Beijing?
In 2019, LifeWay president Ben Mandrell and ERLC chief Russell Moore attacked the Donald Trump Administration’s China trade policy. Specifically, Evangelical publishers in general and Mandrell and Moore in specific attacked US trade policy on the grounds that it hurt Bible publishers printing Bibles in China. However, First Things raised a very good point: these Evangelicals were acting not only in their own financial interests but in Beijing’s political and trade interests.
According to First Things, “Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, asserted that ‘the proposed tariffs will impact all Christians’ ability to exercise their religious freedom in the United States.’ Pastor Ben Mandrell, CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, declared: ‘I am troubled that the Word of God would ever be taken hostage in an international trade dispute. These past months have strengthened our resolve to get Bibles to the people who need them. Our mandate is built on obedience to Christ, regardless of any policy proposal from Washington, D.C.’”
And here’s the point: “It’s not difficult to imagine that if the Chinese government put a bit of pressure on the supply chain, American Bible publishers would be motivated to lobby against other policies that are similarly tough on China, effectively making them soft power assets of Beijing.”
According to scholars, “The goal of enhancing China’s ‘soft power’ has been at the heart of China’s efforts to shape international perceptions,” over the last few years. And, these same international relations scholars, Kingsley Edney, Stanley Rosen and Ying Zhu, point out soft power is the ability of China to influence the hearts and minds of people outside China.
Taking China’s side in a trade war sure looks like one example of soft power.
Notice that LifeWay prints in China—and obviously does this for economic reasons. According to information released by LifeWay, China accounted for 31 percent of its printing costs.
It is a business decision. China’s massive Bible printing operation uses its massive scale to achieve dominance in Bible publishing.
Like so many of America’s critical industries, LifeWay offshored its printing business to gain a competitive advantage.
However, that comes at a price. And the price is a relationship with China and the Chinese Communist Party.
As First Things pointed out (and the Capstone Report too), Amity Printing has connections with the CCP.
Even as the Southern Baptist Convention condemned China for human rights abuses in a resolution and the ERLC complained about the treatment of Muslim Uighur population by Beijing. Of course, that 2019 resolution by the SBC was preceded by a 2000 resolution demanding strong action against China’s abuses.
And Amity is involved in the CCP’s plan to rewrite and Sinicize the Bible. A five-year plan that, as First Things details, includes making the Bible align with CCP values.
In March 2019 at the Great Hall of the People Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China’s state Protestant church, attacked Western Christianity.
“[We] must recognize that Chinese churches are surnamed ‘China’, not ‘the West’,” Xu told delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, according to the South China Morning Post. Xu claimed Christianity is an imperialist religion.
The Bible and the State
The Bible played a pivotal role in the development of England and its colonies. Access to the Bible in the vernacular spurred the growth of Protestant and nonconformist Christianity in the West. Also, the widespread reach of the Bible shaped culture and politics.
As Daniel Dreisbach quotes in his book, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers, “There is much truth in the remark that ‘without Tyndale, no Shakespeare.’ It is also true that ‘without Tyndale, no King James Bible.’ ‘Without the King James Bible,’ Alister McGrath observed, ‘there would have been no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Handel’s Messiah, no Negro spirituals, and no Gettysburg Address. … Without this Bible, the culture of the English-speaking world would have been immeasurably impoverished.’”
As Rich Lowry writes, “The English became a Bible-soaked people.” And he then goes on to demonstrate that this applied to the American colonies too.
The first King James Bible arrived on the Mayflower and it wouldn’t take Colonists long to begin printing the Bible upon reaching America. According to Lowry’s book The Case for Nationalism, New England received its first printing press in 1638 and biblical literature immediately followed with printing of the Bay Psalm Book.
The CCP’s desire to change the Bible is unsurprising. The Bible threatens the CCP both spiritually and politically.
The last thing Christians and our Southern Baptist entities should do is side with China. Doing so because of the bottom line betrays Christians in the US and in China. We owe them much more.
Bible publishers must find ways to end its printing relationship with the CCP. The Bible is a precious gift from God. Surely, we can be print Bibles in places other than CCP controlled businesses.
Returning Bible printing to the US or its allies would reduce Chinese influence on evangelicals and insure that we are not inadvertently helping the CCP suppress its Christian citizens. Such a move is our Christian obligation and it makes good political sense too.