Though the Powerful Ignore Genocide, Have Hope
Nine days before Christmas, Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Act, legislation that would effectively ban the importation of slave-labor-produced goods from China. The Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim minority in China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang, are the primary victims of a coordinated campaign by the Chinese government to erase their culture and existence. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have labeled these atrocities a genocide, which suggests the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has an “intent to destroy” the Uyghur people.
One would think that any action to eschew complicity in an ongoing genocide would receive universal support in the corridors of power in Washington. In reality, corporations and senior administration officials worked hard behind the scenes to oppose the policy—the former propelled by profit margins, the latter motivated by other political priorities. If the United States punished the CCP on human rights, the thinking went, Beijing might not cooperate on climate negotiations.
Ultimately, the policy sailed through both chambers without a single recorded opposition vote. But the tallies masked the quiet obstruction of many powerful people who were prepared to abandon the oppressed and reward their oppressors. The margins also obscured the significant political effort required to merely do the right thing. This weariness weighs heavy on my heart this Christmas season.
Even so, I take solace in this truth: the Christmas story is no stranger to atrocities, nor is it silent on those who would rather ignore them.
When Advent arrives each year, Christians gather around makeshift mangers, sing carols heralding peace on earth, and glorify the newborn king. In so doing, we join the shepherds, the Magi, and Mary, who “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). But the Christmas story was not marked by garland, but gore.
Jesus’ first advent was a bloody affair. The Apostle John’s grisly portrayal deserves more meditation in the month of December: “The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born” (Rev. 12:4). In his Gospel, Matthew chronicles Satan’s attempt to devour the infant King: a mass killing of baby boys throughout Jerusalem, ordered by King Herod (2:16-18).
Note that these atrocities were not only active, but also passive. The chief priests and scribes warned Herod of the threat Jesus posed to his rule (Matthew 2:1-4), but there is no account in Matthew’s Gospel of any of them seeking to stop Herod from butchering babies.
When Matthew described these atrocities, he quoted Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15). But Jeremiah continues:
Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country (vv.16-17).
This prophecy presents a judgment to those who abuse power: your schemes will fail, for “they shall come back from the land of the enemy.” To the authorities, he is Authority incarnate. Jeremiah also speaks to those oppressed by the powerful: “There is hope for your future.” To the suffering, he gives comfort. He also reminds those weary of politics: “There is reward for your work.” To the weary, he offers rest.
Throughout it all is the refrain, “Thus says the Lord… declares the Lord… declares the Lord.” That is my hope for this Christmas: in the midst of indifference to a genocide, Jesus’ word speaks judgment, comfort, and rest. God is not indifferent, cold, or distant. He entered the world amidst bloodshed, and he sits sovereign over it now. So, the weary world rejoices.