11 December 2023

‘We … must speak out’: Synod condemns Uighur genocide

Melbourne Anglican church speak up on genocide of Muslims in China.

Caption: Synod condemned China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

By Chris Shearer

19 October 2021

A motion to condemn the genocide of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese Communist Party sparked debate during Saturday’s session of the 2021 Melbourne Synod.

The motion, brought by the Reverend Patrick Senn, also called on the state and federal governments to ensure no imported goods were the product of forced labour and urged the Prime Minster to accept Uighur asylum seekers. 

“It is no exaggeration to say that the [Chinese Communist Party’s] policies have been the most large-scale and systematic actions [of genocide] by a government since the Holocaust. And yet the world is largely silent,” Mr Senn said. 

He said he believed this silence was because so much of the world economy relied on Chinese manufacturing and the goodwill of the Chinese Communist Party. 

“Our very own state’s new metro tunnel trains are being developed by a Chinese company that accessed Uighur labour,” Mr Senn noted. 

“We as followers of a just and righteous God must speak out and condemn their treatment for what it is: genocide. It is a very small step we can take, but an important one.

“As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil’.”

But the validity of reports on the treatment of Uighurs, provided in an appendix to the motion, was questioned by some delegates. 

Nai Cheong Mak Mak, lay delegate from the Anglican Parish of St Thomas, noted they were mostly from American media sources, and suggested the allegations within them had not been tested by an impartial body like the United Nations. 

“I think as a member of synod it is not fair for us to be a judge over these serious allegations,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Dr Audrey Statham of St Mary’s Anglican Church, who opposed the motion.

“I believe more research into the sources cited in this motion needs to be done before we come to a definitive position as a synod, [and] that we should do more research rather than rely on the argument of apologising later,” she said.

But several speakers argued that there was ample independent evidence for saying that what was happening in Xinjiang province was genocide, and that it was the duty of the church to speak out. 

The Revered Professor Mark Lindsay invoked the Holocaust for the second time in the debate, arguing that the churches had been overly cautious then. 

“The churches were rightly condemned at the time [of the Holocaust] for being reticent to speak out against the well-known facts of genocide. We must not allow ourselves to be silenced again when we are equally clear on that genocide is happening again,” Professor Lindsay said. 

“The churches were wrong to be silent in the 1930s and 1940s. We cannot make that mistake again. It will reflect atrociously on us through the rest of history.”

Reverend Denise Nicholls, Banyule Anglican Church, agreed, urging synod to condemn the treatment of fellow humans made in the image of God. 

“As Christians made in the image of God, we always try to speak out for the voiceless and the oppressed, and all the more so when it is systemic and state-sanctioned,” Ms Nicholls said.

“And yet this is what is occurring with the Uighur peoples of China under the regime of the Chinese Communist Party, simply because of their ethnicity and because they are Muslim.”

The motion was passed 420 votes to 36, with 21 abstaining, without amendment.

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