Early this year the Chinese government implemented new laws and regulations to tighten its control over the nation. The government says it wants to stop religious extremism, unrest, disturbances and violence. However, the regime wants to control religion, curb challenges to its authority and muzzle criticism.
All churches, sects and faith groups must apply for registration. House churches and other small groups will not be registered. They must close down; their members can join the State controlled church. More mechanisms (than previously) will be forged in to monitor churches. Foreign support, including mission, religious instruction and financial assistance, already forbidden, will be more closely watched. Internet surveillance is increased to crack down on the distribution of religious information, on-line religious instruction and other “illegal” activities. “The Australian” recently reported that arrests have already been made for such on-line activities.
Fines for disobedience have been increased to almost impossible levels. More frequent jail terms will also result. Venues which house “illegal” religious gatherings will be confiscated, whether owned by churches or rented from another party. The latter is included to persuade property owners to terminate leases with unregistered churches.
The Chinese government is also ramping up demands for its citizens to adhere to atheistic communist principles. They are constantly reminded that communism is about atheism. Communist Party members must not follow a religion. They should confirm their atheism, stick to the party’s faith in Marxism with Chinese characteristics and obey party rules.
Harshest restrictions since Cultural Revolution
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. 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.”
Churches feel the heat
The blow torch is acutely felt by Christian churches as the new laws and policies are rolled out, bit by bit. The net is being cast far and wide. In recent weeks local authorities have been told to commence a program to actively seek out and close down all unregistered churches. In one province alone some 2,000 churches have already been demolished or closed down. Registered (State controlled) churches are requested to promote Communist doctrine. Government officials sit in on church services to ensure compliance; video cameras are installed inside churches to record what is being taught.
Opposition is not tolerated. Hundreds of pastors and human rights lawyers have been detained recently. Some lawyers are detained simply for defending Christians or critics of the government.
Last week the central government banned online retailers from selling the Bible, effective immediately. This also means supplies of Bibles, available in the few bookstores that sell them, will dry up.
The central government has just issued yet another “white paper” reinforcing earlier statements about controlling religions and its insistence that churches teach and preach according to Chinese communist ideology. Indeed, churches must become agents to promote Communist party doctrine and urge people to support the current regime. Religious literature too must be rewritten to the same end. A Chinese-language magazine Chinese Affairs, based in the US says “Religions are expected to follow the leadership of the party, according to [president Xi Jinping’s] Chinese dream. Basically, they have completely changed the meaning of religion”.
In another move, local authorities in at least two provinces have told thousands of Christians the poorer rural areas to remove Christian posters and wall Bible texts from their homes and replace them with portraits of President Xi Jinping. It is part of a local government poverty-relief programme that uses money to “transform believers in religion into believers in the [communist] party”, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper.
Finally, in the past few months, China has expelled dozens of South Korean missionaries from Jilin, a north-eastern province that abuts North Korea.
On the positive side more and more young people want to learn more about Christianity and the number of young believers continues to grow. At the same time many underground churches are determined to remain faithful to the Bible, even if it results in punishment. Please pray for the churches in China.
Author: N. Nescio