A Catholic church was demolished in Jinan Province last month as Chinese Christian leaders ask the government to stop “violent actions [against churches]… unprecedented since the end of the Cultural Revolution”. (Photo: AsiaNews)
A Catholic church demolished in Jinan Province in August. (Photo: AsiaNews)

A public letter urging the Chinese government to stop its “violent actions” against Christians has been signed by some 279 church leaders in the country, reports the St. Charles Institute.

In central Henan province alone, two-thirds of churches have closed and more than 7,000 crosses have been demolished after pressure from authorities.

Ever since the revised religious regulations came into effect on 1 February, pressure on Chinese churches has increased, resulting in “violent actions … unprecedented since the end of the Cultural Revolution”, say the Christian leaders, coming from 21 different provinces and autonomous regions.

“These include demolishing crosses on church buildings, violently removing expressions of faith like crosses and couplets hanging on Christians’ homes, forcing and threatening churches to join religious organisations controlled by the government, forcing churches to hang the national flag or to sing secular songs praising the State and political parties, banning the children of Christians from entering churches and receiving religious education, and depriving churches and believers of the right to gather freely,” says the public letter, initially posted on 30 August, after which the number of signatories has grown.

These actions are not just “unjust” and an “abuse of government power” but also “infringe on the human freedoms of religion and conscience and violate the universal rule of law”, the pastors say.

They add that the Church will obey and respect authorities “as long as the government does not overstep the boundaries of secular power laid out in the Bible and does not interfere with or violate anything related to faith or the soul”.

Internet restrictions

This letter mirrors that of 34 churches in the capital, Beijing, in July. In the face of surveillance, fines, intimidation and pressure to close they said they were committed to “stand together” in the “new environment” that had been created following the issuance of the new Regulations on Religious Affairs in February.

Earlier this month the authorities closed one of China’s largest unofficial “house churches” in Beijing, along with all its branches in the city, while new measures have been introduced to curb religious activities online.

Philip, a diocesan Internet administrator in China, told the Catholic news agency UCAN that the new rules prohibit social media users from publishing religious information of any kind, including text, images and videos.

“The measures, plus the recent suppression of house churches, reveal that authorities are completely obliterating the space for house churches to publish information since the Internet is the main way in which house churches preach,” Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Christian Times.

"Christians are an enigma to the Chinese Communist Party," researcher Aaron Ma says. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
“Christians are an enigma to the Chinese Communist Party,” researcher Aaron Ma says. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

As World Watch Monitor has reported, the main concerns for the Chinese government are foreign forces using religion to infiltrate China, and social unrest or separatism at home.

Beijing has long sought the ‘Sinicisation’ of religion, which requires religions considered foreign to China, whose adherents may attract foreign support, to adapt to Chinese socialist society.

In that context, “It would be good for the churches to keep low profile in dealing with the authorities (e.g. advocacy without giving strong comments, avoid involving overseas parties in a high-profile manner). This is to avoid the authorities from reckoning Chinese churches intentionally involve overseas parties in their advocacy,” commented Aaron Ma, an Asia-based researcher for the Christian advocacy charity Open Doors International.

In June, Ma had said Christians were an enigma to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): “The CCP believes the Church is a de-stabilising force, but not because it is bad; in fact, local communities and authorities tend to believe Christians are good people. Some suggest that because Christians’ allegiance is first and foremost to God and not the Communist Party, there is a conflict of interests that the party believes can potentially hinder the process of unification. Others are more concerned by what they perceive as potential ‘chaos’ arising from the huge number of Christians.”

Since then the party has also started to work on eliminating religion from its own ranks, as World Watch Monitor reported last month; it published revised regulations for its own members, including a clause for those who are religious.

“Party members who have religious belief should have strengthened thought education. If they still don’t change after help and education from the party organisation, they should be encouraged to leave the party,” the new rules say.

The rules also warn that those who attend “activities that use religion for incitement” face expulsion.