China is cracking down on the Church in new measures designed to control religious groups and limit their freedom which take effect on September 1.
The new rules, announced by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, are intended to limit all religious activities to official venues only and prevent the display of religious symbols outdoors.
From September 1, all religious activity will have to be supervised by the state to make sure churches and places of worship support the leadership of China’s Communist Party.
Partners of UK-based Release International say the government is working to bring all aspects of religion under the control of the Party, which is officially atheist.
‘China is one of the worst oppressors of Christianity in the world and has just announced a tightening of the screws designed to eliminate the visible presence of Christianity in China,’ says Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International.
Release International’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 measures ‘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 Sinicization.
The aim of Sinicization is to make China more Chinese in the eyes of the Communist Party, by removing symbols of religion including Christianity.
In recent years, more than 1500 crosses have been torn down from authorised churches in Zhejiang province alone. And Release International’s partners report that a fresh wave of cross demolitions is set to begin.
The latest church to be given notice that its cross will be torn down is Dongqiao Church in Zhejiang. Others have been told to remove signs on their walls referring to Jesus, Christ, Emmanuel, and Jehovah, according to ChinaAid.
To eliminate the Christian presence from China’s streets, the new measures insists that places of religious activity shall no longer be named after churches, denominations or individuals.
And they stipulate that those who manage religious values must demonstrate that they are ‘loving the motherland and supporting the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system’.
These 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 face disqualification from preaching.
These new rules apply ostensibly to officially registered and state-controlled churches. Yet they will also impact the growing underground church in China, where Christians seeking freedom of worship are forced to gather in secret. These new restrictions will put a further obligation on those who host those venues.
‘This is a further attempt to clamp down on the church in China,’ says Paul Robinson of Release International. ‘Yet by every account Christianity in China is growing. The number of Christians in China has long surpassed the membership of the Communist Party.’
In recent years, Release International’s partners say the 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.
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.
RI 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 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.’
‘The international community must take note of escalating oppression from the Communist Party of China.’
Release International is active in around 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, as well as prisoners of faith and their families. It also supports Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.