Today (1 March) sees the introduction of a new set of laws that will further inhibit religious freedom in China.
The authorities in China are cracking down on the spread of online religious content
Christians in China dependent on the internet for discipleship and evangelism have been dealt a grave blow under a draconian ban on online religious content not approved by the state.
Under the Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services – which come into force today (1 March) – internet users require a permit to post religious content. The licence is available only for the five state-approved religious institutions, such as the Three Self Patriotic Movement.
"We have already observed that in our area, online meetings with a large number participating have ‘disappeared’" Christian leader in China
In December 2021, President Xi Jinping reportedly expressed impatience with the slow ‘Sinicisation’ of religion – that is, make more Chinese – and indicated concern over religious content shared by Christians in particular.
The new measures mean that online services, sermons, Bible studies or any other religious messages in the form of texts, pictures, audio and video can be accessed only through state-approved channels, with content checked to make sure it reflects and supports China’s Communist Party. The measures extend to social media, leading to concerns that mentioning anything connected with Christianity could get people into trouble.
“[In the last two years] online church meetings have become the new normal,” a Chinese Christian tells Open Doors. “This new law now brings the church’s extensive use of the internet for evangelism and spiritual nourishment to a halt. Consequently, Christians will be cut off from access to online spiritual resources.”
In anticipation of the new regulations – the enforcement of which will likely vary depending on local conditions – Christians have deleted religious content from their social media profiles and even left chat groups.
Despite the laws not being implemented until now, some Open Doors contacts in the country have already reported being contacted by the local authorities with a ‘friendly reminder’ to remove religious content they had posted previously and to discontinue religious activities online.
“We have already observed that in our area, online meetings with a large number participating have ‘disappeared’,” shares a Christian leader in southern China. “So far, we have been able to hold small online gatherings, with a few church members attending each time. We will continue our meetings online, wherever there is space. We will play it by ear.”
Another church leader is urging fellow Christians to ‘collect and preserve as many relevant spiritual resources as possible’, adding, ‘we should wake up and begin to cherish the already limited spiritual resources and grasp every opportunity to equip ourselves’.
This latest setback reflects the intensifying persecution facing Christians in China. The country is number 17 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, having jumped 26 places in just four years.
“The Chinese Community Party (CCP) has long seen religion as a potential threat,” shares Dr David Landrum, Director of Advocacy for Open Doors UK & Ireland. “Where it can’t shut religion down, it has tried to contain it.
“In recent years, we have seen some state-approved churches install facial recognition technology, close and destroy churches and rewrite passages of the Bible for educational materials. They fear that Christians have another loyalty than to the CCP, and they are correct.
“Churches will need to adapt the way they operate, with many possibly coming offline for now. As the nation’s search for meaning continues to be unmet by the nation's official atheist dogmas, they will continue to grow.”
The Chinese church has seen astonishing growth throughout the centuries, often despite immense pressure and persecution. Our brothers and sisters in the country are facing a new wave of opposition. Please pray that God will continue to strengthen and grow His church – just as He has done so in the past.
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