I serve as senior pastor of a medium-sized church in Cary, North Carolina. Besides being multicultural and multiethnic, we are also politically diverse: There are Democrats, Republicans, and many politically “homeless” people who have a difficult time identifying with either party.

This year, like many pastors and church leaders in the United States, I find myself yet again leading my congregation through a season of deep division over the political future of our country.

But I have received valuable lessons in navigating these troubled waters from what might appear to be an unlikely source: Christians in China.

In the US, we often think about China in economic or political terms: trade deficits, global manufacturing, or the rise of Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism.

Narratives often pit the two countries as strategic rivals, breeding a sense of fear and competition. More than 4 in 5 American adults (83%) have an unfavorable view of China and its geopolitical role, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year. Survey respondents felt that China interferes in other countries’ affairs and that its actions do not contribute to global peace and stability.

As American Christians, however, we need to think carefully about our relationship with China. Instead of allowing cultural rivalry to become our driving perspective about China and its people, we are called to be Jesus-first, not economy-first or America-first.

The gospel has taken root in China, despite the indoctrination of materialistic atheism at every level of society and severe persecution under President Xi. Conservative estimates put the number of Christians in China at 40 million, while others say it is closer to 116 million.

How can the church in America support our brothers and sisters in China as they undergo these trials? We can refrain from escalating anti-Chinese rhetoric, embrace political advocacy, and learn from their example.

Sowing goodwill

Ongoing competition between the US and Chinese economies will likely fuel anti-Chinese rhetoric, aimed at swaying the American middle class in the voting booth in the upcoming November 5 election.

The vitriol often directed at mainland China inevitably impacts Chinese people living in the United States. Many of my East Asian congregants worry that there may be more incidents of anti-Asian violence if presidential candidates turn to anti-Chinese speech to motivate their support bases.

Their fears aren’t unfounded. Xenophobia against people of Asian descent has surged worldwide since the pandemic. Nearly 3 out of 4 Chinese Americans reported experiencing racial discrimination last year. And a growing number of Asian Americans are considering buying guns for self-protection, according to a CNN report.

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As followers of Jesus, we can choose not to fuel conversations that bear anti-Chinese rhetoric online and in real life. Ephesians 4:29 charges us not to engage in unwholesome talk but to use our words to encourage others. James 1:26 says that if a person does not keep a tight rein on their tongue, their religion is worthless.

In learning to think Jesus-first, we can muster up the courage to verbally correct misconceptions and reject stereotypes about China and its people during election season. We can grow in loving our Chinese neighbors in America. Rather than engaging in speech that escalates anxiety about China and its people, we can sow goodwill in times of animosity by helping others discover how God is at work through the Chinese diaspora to expand the gospel within China and around the world.

The power of advocacy

Refraining from anti-Chinese rhetoric is one way we can use our words wisely. Another way is to speak up on behalf of brothers and sisters in Christ who face persecution or repression of their freedoms.

Within the Chinese house church network, pastors are routinely called in by police for “tea time” and are warned against preaching the gospel. Many consider it the norm to undergo home surveillance, face unannounced evictions, or lose access to basic utilities without notice.

Chinese Christians like Yang Xiaohui and Chen Shang (who use pseudonyms for security reasons) were thrown into prison in 2022 for participating in an alleged illegal religious gathering. While there, they ministered to their fellow inmates and jailors through sharing stories about Jesus and singing hymns.

They are not the only bold ones in a country that has banned evangelism: Chinese churches continue to send mission teams to share Christ on many Chinese university campuses, even though access to college campuses is more restricted than ever.

Our Chinese brothers and sisters are willing to face these trials because of their love for Jesus Christ. They continue to plant churches, raise up young pastors, and serve their local communities.

When we hear about these injustices facing Christians under China’s repressive government policies, we have an opportunity not just to experience or express anger but also to increase our love and compassion for the people of China. As we Americans know, living in a country doesn’t automatically mean we are endorsing its leaders.

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Moreover, as people who do not live in a nation-state where Christians are being persecuted, we are called to advocate for those who suffer for their faith in Jesus.

We can become a voice for the voiceless, encouraging our leaders to urge the Chinese government to act as God’s servants for the good of the nation (Rom. 13:4). We can share about the plight of Chinese house churches in our small groups or sermons to help other American believers realize how costly it is to follow Jesus in China.

The way of the cross

Discouraging anti-Chinese rhetoric and advocating for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ are important ways to support the Chinese house church. But we can also do so in learning from their example.

In America, identifying ourselves as either blue or red is becoming central to our Christian identity. I face pressure from the right and left to align myself, and my church, with various political causes or candidates.

In China, tensions exist within house churches concerning how to faithfully respond to the repressive regulations that Xi’s government is placing on religious groups. Some pastors feel that a more careful approach is needed, which means limiting in-person church gatherings or meeting online only. Other church leaders believe that greater boldness is warranted and that increased evangelism and church planting should be pursued.

Both American and Chinese Christians can find common ground here: We should prioritize the kingdom of God over the pursuit of our political privileges.

The Chinese house church, through the life of prominent pastor Wang Yi, can teach us about what this looks like. Wang was arrested on December 9, 2018, for preaching the gospel. He is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence on the trumped-up charges of “subverting state power and illegal business operations.”

Before Wang was arrested, he was warned many times to stop preaching. Instead, he intentionally gained 30 pounds to prepare himself for prison. He also readied his soul to suffer for Christ.

“The Church must be willing to fight to the death, not for the civil rights and legal statures that we can see, but for the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the power of the Gospel that we cannot see,” Wang and other pastors and elders from the Early Rain Reformed Church wrote in “95 Theses,” a document that outlines the church’s theology amid suffering.

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“The Church should never give up her most important asset … the Holy Word.”

Wang Yi’s approach to living under political duress is an example of what it looks like to live fully surrendered to Jesus. While America and China may be experiencing geopolitical conflict, Wang exhorts us to remember that our highest allegiance is to Christ. Believers in both countries share and hold on to hope in Jesus, who has torn down the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14).

A surrendered life

Becoming Christians who are Jesus-first, rather than economy-first or America-first, is a process that requires humility, self-reflection, and conviction.

As American believers, we can consider how the choices we make, whether in public rhetoric or private voting, impact not only our economy and our security but also the growth of gospel witness in the United States and around the world.

And as we follow our Lord Jesus, who endured the cross so that a global people could be reconciled to God and to each other, we can resist perpetuating discriminatory speech and actions against people of Chinese descent. We can advocate for our brothers and sisters in Christ in China and pray for God to protect, encourage, and embolden them as they suffer for his name. And we can be renewed in our desire to preach the gospel and to live a life that is given over completely to building the kingdom of God.

Corey Jackson is senior pastor of Trinity Park Church in Cary, North Carolina, and founder and president of The Luke Alliance.

[ This article is also available in 简体中文 and 繁體中文. ]