The Chinese government recently signed off new regulations to tighten its iron grip over the country. Although the regulations are due to come into effect in February 2018, authorities in some provinces are already enforcing them.
The government claims the new regulations are to stop religious extremism, unrest, disturbances and violence. However, it’s actually about controlling religion, muzzling criticism and squashing human rights. The government is casting a very wide net. For example, all churches, sects and faith groups must apply for registration with the government. There are several reasons for this demand.
Firstly it is an attempt to bring into the open underground churches and other groups and collect all members’ personal details. Churches are being raided. Financial books will be prised open. More mechanisms (than previously) have been forged to discover every hidden church or group.
Second, by forcing them into the open the government has the option of closing down many of the smaller churches. There are currently thousands of small underground churches throughout China, and it is simply impossible for the government to monitor them all. Many will be forcibly dissolved and their members sent to the Government controlled churches.
The third reason for registration is to tighten control over government sanctioned churches and groups. For example, preachers will need to apply for a licence before they can preach. To get a licence requires “government training”. This in turn means preachers will be required to become agents for the government by promoting communist ideology and government policies. The government also appointing agents to attend churches and inform the government about activities. It goes without saying that the demand for registration is unacceptable for many underground churches.
The new regulations will also be used to further stamp out “illegal” foreign support for churches, including mission, religious instruction and financial assistance. Internet surveillance is being increased to crack down on the distribution of religious information, on-line religious instruction and other “illegal” activities. Some newspapers report that arrests have already been made for such on-line activities. Publishing houses, especially those that print religious and human rights material are being closely monitored; some have been closed down. Many lawyers who promote human rights have been punished.
Fines for disobedience have been increased to almost impossible levels. Longer jail sentences will be handed down. Venues which house unregistered religious gatherings will be confiscated, whether owned by churches or rented from another party. The latter will persuade property owners to terminate leases with unregistered churches.
The CEO of ChinaAid, an organization that monitors events in China, writes: “This is by far the harshest and most restrictive religious policy the Chinese regime has issued on religious matters since the end of the Cultural Revolution [1966 – 1976]. It shows the Chinese regime will further tighten its total control on any unapproved religious organizations, such as independent house churches and religious activities, in the name of the ‘law.’ If implemented accordingly, all unregistered churches and their religious activities will be completely banned and subjected to severe, unprecedented punishment if found in violation. It specifically forbids any unauthorized religious training, schooling, or proselytizing.”
Within days of the new regulations being signed in, the police began to contact house churches. For example, in Nanjing they attended a church service of a “hidden” church. This move had two purposes: first to notify the church members that they are being monitored and can no longer hide. Secondly the police requested that the church hand over all its records and make application for registration. Refusal will result in punishment. The office bearers, who were given time to respond.
The battle for the church is raging, also in China. However the government’s crackdown does not dampen the demand for the Gospel. Young people in particular are increasingly interested in the Christian faith. The number of believers continues to grow.
Please pray for China.