There is no shortage of news about China. The country’s recent border spat with India, its strategic global investments, its support for North Korea, its controversial stance towards disputed South Sea islands, and the fact that it is a prime destination for outsourcing have all made news in recent months.
Unfortunately, one important aspect of China’s government has not made many headlines, and that is its increasingly hostile stance towards Christians.
What’s Fueling the Fire?
The Communist Party in China has always been leery of religious activity that it could not control. While official Protestant and Catholic churches are allowed to operate in various parts of the country, the Chinese government regularly cracks down on house churches, evangelism and other activities by non-registered Christian leaders. However, the persecution has become more intense since Xi Jinping became president of China. From this time onwards, it appears the government has put a priority on eliminating what it considers to be unpatriotic religious activity.
The growth of the underground church in China may also be a contributing factor. It has been estimate that there are currently 100 million Chinese Christians who do not worship in state approved churches. While official Chinese government sources put this number between 80 to 90 million, it is clear that they are worried about a large group of people who no longer embrace what Religious Affairs Administration Director Wang Zuoan recently called “The party’s faith and belief system”.
Ironically, China’s recent dialog with the Vatican also poses a danger for underground Catholic Christians in the country. While the Vatican and Chinese government are coming close to an agreement regarding the appointment of bishops for the official, government-controlled Catholic church, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong is warning that underground Catholics who don’t worship at state-sanctioned churches feel strongly that this move may lead to increased persecution.
The Difficulties Believers Face
Open Doors recently noted that Chinese Christians from a Uyghur or Tibetan background face more persecution than other Christians in the country. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the Northwest part of the country is a particularly volatile place as the government closely monitors the use of smartphones among the population and security forces open fire on civilians more often than before. Anti-terror measures are used to harass, detain and fine believers who meet outside a state-approved church, making it nearly impossible for Christians in the province to read God’s Word and pray together.
Even so, Christians all over the country are experiencing a crackdown on their religious beliefs. The government has demolished hundreds of churches over the last few years, even going so far as to bulldoze over a pastor’s wife who refused to get out of the way as a church was being destroyed. Both underground Christian leaders and pastors of state-sanctioned churches have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In other instances, Christians have been severely beaten when attempting to stop the government from installing surveillance equipment in a state-approved church.
What is more, Chinese lawyers who defend these Christians are being jailed as well. These lawyers are often drugged, beaten and tortured. In some instances, they are eventually released but in other cases their fate remains unknown.
Unfortunately, the situation is getting even worse. The State Administration for Religious Affairs recently released a statement declaring that it is illegal for any Christian to be a member of the Communist Party. This move will likely force out covert Christians who joined the party as well as party members who became Christians after joining the Community Party; what is more, it could also lead to the removal of non-party member believers who hold any sort of position of influence in the country.
Christians in China face more challenges than ever; in fact, China Aid has recently commented that the persecution in the country is the worst it has been since the infamous Cultural Revolution. Even so, Christianity continues to grow in spite of threats, arrests, beatings, harassment and martyrdom.
Chinese citizens of all ages and walks of life are discovering that the party faith doesn’t offer the peace, joy and purpose in life that comes from following Jesus — they are willing to go through whatever difficulties the future holds in order to hold fast to their faith.
~ 1776 Christian