For years people have told me, including some who’ve read my novel Safely Home, that there is no more persecution of Chinese Christians. True, compared to earlier decades, religious persecution in some parts of China has not been as extreme. In some places there may be little or no persecution. Local officials may look the other way, even if they suspect Christians are meeting illegally (as most Christians in China do).
In other cases, whereas Christians were once jailed for assembling without permission, they may now be ostracized and prohibited from holding significant positions of influence in government, education, or business. So the severity of their persecution is decreased but still very real.
However, in other places, Chinese Christians have continued to experience extreme persecution. In fact, it’s likely that more Christians in China are currently in prison for their faith than in any other country. Reports from unregistered churches continue to confirm that thousands of Chinese Christians are still imprisoned for following Jesus, and many are still beaten and abused in prison.
When I visited China and was doing background research on Safely Home, a Chinese Christian told me, “Somewhere in China, the sun is always shining, and somewhere the snow is always falling.” In other words, there’s always freedom somewhere and persecution somewhere else.
It is still illegal to teach children under eighteen about God and Jesus. It is still illegal for three or more believers to gather for religious purposes without government approval. A large percentage of Chinese Christians are part of unregistered illegal churches—remaining underground because they recognize only Christ as Lord, and they refuse to allow the atheistic government to control their churches. (A recent Breakpoint commentary, about Chinese pastors taking a stand for Christ, included these statistics on the number of Christians in China: “…the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life counts 67 million Christians of all kinds—35 million independent Protestants, 23 million Protestants in government-sanctioned churches, and 9 million Catholics. Other estimates go even higher.”)
It’s common for Americans, whether unbelievers or believers, to visit China, attend services at a registered church where people carry state-printed Bibles. Often they return home saying, “The persecution is gone. I didn’t see any.” But what portion of China does a visitor actually see? Visitors rarely go to the still illegal unregistered churches where there is complete freedom of worship and preaching.
They rarely visit the countryside, where much persecution takes place. They will not be given an audience with persecuted Christians. Believers will not step forward to share their stories with visitors who are escorted by or traveling under the favor of government officials.
Visiting a few cities in China and declaring “I saw no persecution” is naïve—why would you expect to actually witness it? And even if you visited an area where there actually was no blatant persecution, it would be silly to conclude on that basis that the huge nation of China is all or even mostly that way. What would you think if someone from China visited the USA and went home saying “America is hot” or “America is cold”? The most they could accurately say is “I visited Phoenix in July, and it was very hot,” or “I visited Minneapolis in January, and it was very cold.” It depends on where you go and when. Whether there is persecution in China depends on where and when.
However, recently a number of reports coming out of China indicate that persecution of Christians is increasing overall:
“Chinese authorities officially banned one of the country’s largest unregistered house churches, Beijing’s Zion Church. Two days later, authorities detained senior pastor Ezra Jin and other Zion leaders, the latest move in the government’s recent crackdown on Christianity.”
“China’s government is ratcheting up a crackdown on Christian congregations in Beijing and several provinces, destroying crosses, burning Bibles, shutting churches and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith, according to pastors and a group that monitors religion in China.”
“Chinese Christians have one month to tell their government what they think of proposed new rules that ban the sharing of prayer, Bible reading, baptism, communion, and other forms of religious activity online.”
“Approximately 100 agents from the religious affairs and public security bureaus attempted to break into Dali Church, located in Zhengzhou, Henan, on the evening of Sept. 9.”
(On a related note, see this article about the Chinese oppression of the minority Uighur people, including a small number who are Christians.)
And there are other troubling developments, including China’s plans to create a digital dictatorship. Citizens will be monitored 24 hours a day using a vast network of cameras and facial recognition technology, and issued “social credit” based on their actions and those of their family and friends. The Chinese government wants to have this operational by 2020 and says, “It will allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Those with high scores will get better treatment in society, including cheap loans and better jobs and opportunities, while those with low scores will be effectively locked out of society and unable to travel or get credit.
You really must read this article to understand where China is at and where it is headed in terms of a technological dictatorship. It seems obvious that among those most likely to suffer are believers who are part of house churches and will be increasingly unable to hide from the prying eyes of a government determined to control them.
Let’s stop being naïve about persecution in China, and let’s continue to intercede for our Chinese brothers and sisters who will likely face more difficult trials in the days ahead: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).