A ministry which helps persecuted Christians has warned that new laws which took effect this month in China will “suffocate” the Church in the Communist nation. Release International says the measures are designed to eliminate the visible presence of Christianity in China; to increase supervision to control their activities; and to limit their freedom.
It explains the laws announced by the State Administration for Religious Affairs confine all religious activities to official venues and ban the outdoor display of religious symbols. Places of worship can no longer be named after denominations, churches or individuals.
Religious leaders must clearly show they are “supporting” the Communist Party and leadership. Last year, it became illegal to post evangelical Christian content on the internet, or via social media, without permission from the Communist Party.
The only approved Christian religions are Three-Self Church Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. “China is one of the worst oppressors of Christianity in the world,” said Release International CEO Paul Robinson.
His ministry’s partners say the new measures will severely restrict setting up new state-controlled churches and further regulate the way churches are managed. They warn the new laws “amount to a complete ban on religious activities” and an attempt to “suffocate” the burgeoning unofficial church, which is made-up of Christians who have been driven underground to seek freedom of worship.
The Measures on the Administration of Religious Activity Venues demand that all religious activity must uphold the leadership of the communist party, the socialist system, and adhere to China’s policy of Sinicisation which aims to make China more Chinese in the eyes of the Communist Party, by removing symbols of religions including Christianity.
In recent years, more than 1500 crosses have been torn down from authorised churches in Zhejiang province alone. Release International’s partners report that a fresh wave of cross demolitions is set to begin. Churches have been told to remove signs on their walls referring to Jesus, Christ, Emmanuel, and Jehovah, according to persecution watchdog ChinaAid.
The new measures even seek to control what may be preached in churches. They require that the content of Christian sermons must reflect China’s politics and the core values advocated by Chairman Xi Jinping, rather than religious doctrines. And clergy members who refuse to follow guidelines face disqualification from preaching.
“Authorities have made concerted efforts to cripple congregations financially with fraud charges and additional fines to prison sentences. Numerous pastors, leaders, and church co-workers have been imprisoned on alleged fraud charges for taking up offerings in church. Christians are increasingly finding themselves accused under terrorism legislation,” according to Release’s partner organisations.
They also suffer unprecedented censorship on the Internet, where there is a strict ban on religious content without an official licence. This includes videos of sermons, making it increasingly difficult for Christians to gather online.
Realise International partner, Bob Fu, President of ChinaAid, says: “I don’t think I’ve seen the Chinese Communist Party as bold as they’ve been this [northern] summer in playing God and twisting how the Gospel is taught. The only correct perspective in the eyes of the communist government is worship of the state and placing faith in Xi Jinping Thought.”
Mr Robinson says: “Despite this further attempt to clamp down on the church in China, by every account Christianity in China is growing. The number of Christians in China has long surpassed the membership of the Communist Party.”
Photo: International Christian Concern