Church leaders and political commentators are warning that the China’s Communist Party is feeling increasingly threatened by the ‘uncontrolled growth of Christianity’ in the country.
Today China’s political elite have gathered for the 19th Communist Party Congress. In the five years since the last congress there have been significant changes in China. One of those changes is the ‘uncontrolled growth of Christianity’ – a growth so explosive that, some experts believe, the Communist Party is now feeling threatened.
CULT OF PERSONALITY
Thomas Mueller, analyst for the Open Doors World Watch Research Unit, says the regime has two priorities: controlling the media and emphasising ideology. “The preferred line of thinking is emphasised by introducing President Xi Jinping’s own brand of ‘political thought’ into the Party constitution, tying ideology closer to the budding personality cult around him,” he said. “As the emphasis on Communist ideology and the personality cult emerging around President Xi gets stronger, the authorities will correspondingly act more strongly against all other ‘ideologies’ not fitting into this system, including the Christian religion.”
Another source who preferred to remain anonymous told World Watch Monitor that religious restrictions, in particular for students and young people, are tightening but that the policies are not equally enforced in all parts of the country due to its size and regional diversity.
'THE CORRECT PATH'
Between 2013 and 2015 over 1,200 crosses were pulled down from churches in the prosperous eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, known as the ‘Jerusalem’ of the east for its strong Christian presence.
Last month the Chinese government sharpened its religious regulations in a move seen by some as tightening its control on Christians, although it was claimed to be an anti-Islamisation measure. According to Wang Zuoan, the head of China’s religious affairs bureau, “the revision was urgently needed because the foreign use of religion to infiltrate [China] intensifies by the day and religious extremist thought is spreading in some areas”.
While the Chinese constitution guarantees religious freedom, Zuoan told South China Morning Post the new rules were to help the government maintain “the sinicisation of religion in our country… and keep to the correct path of adapting religion to a socialist society”.
Eugene K. Chow writing in The Diplomat said, ‘Threatened by the rapid, uncontrolled growth of Christianity, the Communist Party is gearing up for a sweeping crackdown.’
Chow reports that ‘many state sanctioned churches have been forced to install surveillance cameras. Preachers, selected by the government, are monitored to ensure that their sermons do not broach taboo topics’ – for example, messages that contain foreign influences. China’s government is concerned foreign powers want to infiltrate churches to destabilise the country.
“They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way,” said an underground church leader. This means that the state churches are even avoiding certain ‘subversive’ parts of the Bible. The story of Daniel, for example, who refuses to worship the state leader, is not a welcome subject in a country increasingly focused on the personality of its leader.
This increasing control is one reason why most Chinese Christians avoid the registered, state sanctioned churches, and gather for worship more covertly, in the booming ’underground’ churches.
However, as Chow concludes, ‘While the Communist Party has developed increasingly sophisticated ways to manipulate its citizens, it remains to be seen if the government can successfully subvert a religion that has withstood repeated repression over its 2,000 year history. Given Christianity’s long, enduring track record, party officials are perhaps rightly worried.’
China is number 39 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. The church is the largest social force in China not controlled by the Communist Party. As a result, there are increasing efforts to restrict the way Christians operate. A considerable number of Christians are still imprisoned. Violence is at a very high level and is increasing. Church meetings continue to be disrupted in several provinces. Churches were also closed and landlords pressured to stop renting premises to Christians.
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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List – a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.