Persecution isn't just physical attacks. Increasingly, digital technology and surveillance are being used to identify and discriminate against Christians.
Think of your phone. All that technology in the palm of your hand. It listens out for your voice commands, it knows where you are, it can recognise your fingerprints or even your face.
And some governments are very interested in technology like that.
Persecution is going digital. Among the trends discovered in the analysis of the data for the World Watch List 2020 is the disturbing way in which authorities are increasingly using technology like CCTV and facial recognition as a way of monitoring ‘subversive’ elements within their society.
As with so much of today’s technology, China is leading the way. President Xi Jinping’s government is alarmed by the rise of the Chinese church. There are some 90 million Christians in China – more, some estimate, than members of the communist party. Faced with such large numbers, the authorities are stepping up their use of technology. Some churches have been ordered to install cameras to monitor congregations and sermon content. In Xinjiang, at least one church made congregants queue for facial-recognition checks, and now the procedure has also been reported in the central province of Hubei too.
China is also launching a Social Credit System, which is a way of rating everyone to reward ‘good’ citizens and punish the ‘bad’. It’s like a credit score for your whole life. If you have a bad rating – maybe you’ve committed a traffic offence, or you’re a blacklisted journalist – you could lose the rights to travel, access financial services, or even use the internet at all. Worryingly, a test run in Rongcheng in Shandong Province is reported to have deducted points for those who ’illegally spread Christianity’. The authorities have also drafted new guidelines to curb ’chaotic’ online religious information which may well stop Christians accessing online resources.
Other countries are also using technology to control their citizens and the information they can access. Russia is trialling a ‘sovereign internet’, a closed system which will filter out subversive or risky material. India (10 on the World Watch List) is pressing forward with a national facial-recognition system. While this is ostensibly to help the police, Christians and other religious minorities fear it will be used against them.
Digital technology has been a huge blessing to the persecuted church. It has enabled easy communication. It’s made it possible for isolated Christians to listen to Christian media or be in contact with other Christians. It’s even made it possible for pastors to store their entire library on a micro SD card.
But now that technology is being weaponised against the church. The surveillance state is turning the cameras on the Christians. Persecution is going digital.
Lord, thank You that You are stronger than any forces of mankind, and that no surveillance can see further or deeper than You can. We pray that You would protect Your children in China and India, and frustrate the efforts of their governments to use digital technology to persecute believers. Give strength, wisdom and joy to our brothers and sisters, and opportunities to share the good news of Jesus despite opposition. Amen.
Lord Jesus, thank You that Your light shines most brightly in the darkest places. Continue to shine Your light in Sri Lanka, especially for those bereaved or injured in the 2019 Easter bombings. Breathe Your hope, Your peace and Your Spirit into Your church and strengthen them to continue to shine as lights for Your name’s sake.
Our brothers and sisters in India are keen to hear from you - and to know they are not forgotten. Can you send a message of encouragement to your family in India, who are following Jesus no matter the cost?Send message