Chinese Crackdown On Christians Ignored By The West
BY PNW STAFF AUGUST 14, 2018
Religion in atheist China is a curious thing. Officially, the 1982 Chinese constitution guarantees religious freedom for all citizens. Officially, there is no ban on Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism or Islam. But the reality is that along with China’s belt and road economic initiative, citizen-score initiative and the cult of personality forming around President Xi, the Chinese Communist Party has begun a broad crackdown on religion, including Christianity, that has gone largely unreported in the West.
As Xi Jinping consolidates his already vast power, any hint of Western influence is being pursued and either stamped out or “sinicized” into a Communist Chinese version. Bibles have been seized across the country and many online retailers have removed Bibles and other Christian literature from their websites. Seeking to limit the growth of Christianity, the government has banned children from attending services in some areas and all communist party members are likewise warned against stepping foot inside churches.
Across China, churches are required to register with the government and accept video monitoring. Also, new church construction is not legal without a permit which, in most cases, I now being withheld.
Take the case of a shopkeeper, using only the name Gao in the press for fear of reprisals, who worked to save enough to build a small brick church connected to his home. In March, he was visited by more than a dozen policemen who dispersed the gathered worshipers, took down his Christian artwork and crosses and told them that they would face arrest if they gathered again without registering. Gao reported, “They were never this severe before, not since I started going to church in the 80s.”
Christians, who are now estimated to number some 67 million in China, are not new in the Middle Kingdom having arrived as early the seventh century and saw a wave of conversions by missionaries in the 1500’s. Later, in the 20th century, the upheaval caused by Mao’s Cultural Revolution dealt a serious blow to Christianity as he sought to eradicate all religious belief. Millions of Christians were publicly humiliated or jailed and tortured or simply murdered for their beliefs.
In recent decades, Christianity in China has seen a powerful revival due the answers it provides to the moral and spiritual questions that communist ideology cannot answer. Millions of Chinese see the moral degradation affecting their country and have turned to God and the Bible as the answer. Sometimes this has been in the officially recognized churches across the country but increasingly it has been in small, informal house churches. These churches are independent of the official Chinese Christian Church and are now coming under increased persecution as the government continues its campaign to sinicize Christianity in China.
The term sinicize, or “to make Chinese” is an apt label here as the government has decided that instead of banning Christianity outright and forcing it completely underground, it is rewriting the Gospel to reflect Chinese Communist values. Christian moral teachings are being modified to include Chinese Communist values such as loyalty to the Communist Party. A senior official for religious affairs in China, Wang Zuoan, said at a conference for Sinicization of Christianity in Shanghai last year, “the construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition.”
In rural areas, such as that of the Christian residents in a township in southeast Jianghi province, many are being persuaded to replaced crosses and posters of Jesus with portraits of President Xi. A Chinese official boasted to the press that “through our thought reform, they’ve voluntarily done it. The move [of re-education] is aimed at Christian families in poverty, and we educated them to believe in science and not in superstition, making them believe in the Party.”
If the term “re-education” doesn’t conjure up images of Cold War era concentration camps, it is only because the world has begun to ignore what is happening inside China. Experts now believe that as many as 2 million Muslims, ethnic minorities in their provinces, have also been placed in internment camps. Sometimes government officials simply tear down churches, as they did in Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital. The church in which around 100 people worshipped for years, was visited by 60 government officials from the police and the religion department. They used saws and hammers to reduce the church to little more than ruble in a matter of hours before they arrested its pastor and several young church members. Their crime? Worshiping at an unregistered church. The church leaders had in fact attempted to register their church four times, but were ignored each time over the past several years and now destroying an “illegal” church makes for better press coverage.
In another case, government forces use threats and violence to shutter church doors. There is the story of Zion Church in Beijing, lead by Pastor JinMingri, that was ordered to install video cameras. The Pastor refused and his 1,500 person congregation faced threats and they individually received visits from the police. They were forced to sign pledges to leave the church and pressured to do so when the police visited their employers and the landlords of their apartments. Some were fired and evicted as their bosses and landlords were also threatened by the police. Disobedient churches such as Zion Church can find their pews empty long before the bulldozers arrive because of such strongarm tactics.
The Chinese Catholic Church has declared in a recent publication that “only members of sinicized churches can obtain God’s love”. As more churches accept the yoke of the Communist Party rather than see their buildings demolished and their members imprisoned, such warped teachings of Christian doctrine will only increase.
Along with lengthy prison terms for unsanctioned preachers and the physical destruction of unaffiliated churches, the Chinese government is attempting to co-opt Christianity for its own gain so that Christianity becomes hardly recognizable from the religion we all know and more a tool of the Party for social control.
Reports of a mosque demolition made the international press in August, but where is the coverage for the persecution faced by millions of Chinese Christians? Where are the mainstream news stories of the many Christian churches that being torn down each month, or the congregation members who are being intimidated into staying home? The West has largely ignored China’s large-scale effort to crackdown on Christianity by a process of sinicization, persecution and outright destruction as it tightens its hold over the minds and spirits of its citizens.