You can argue that Christians are more free than they were 30 years ago. But persecution is rising and the central government does plan to eradicate house churches.
ICC Note: In the following article Bob Fu, founder and president of Christian human rights organization ChinaAid, defends his organizations recent report that persecution is steadily increasing in China and that the Communist Government does indeed have a plan to wipe out house churches.
By Bob Fu
2/27/2013 China (CT) -The ChinaAid annual report states simply that the number of incidents of "persecution" increased in 2012 from the previous years, including a number of arrest, sentencing to labor camps, short term detentions, rape and torture in police custody, destruction and confiscation of property, beatings, fines, the loss of jobs or business licenses, and police intimidation. We believe these to be egregious and severe violations of the international freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief that warrant the attention of the worldwide Christian church, human rights advocates, and policy-makers.
One can certainly argue that the persecution we detail is not as gravely serious as that of 30 years ago, when religious believers were disappeared and jailed in huge numbers. However, one cannot discount our findings that the Chinese government is taking steps to "eradicate" the "house church" movement unless the documents and facts we discovered and reported are somehow proven to be fabrications.
Abuses faced by Christians in China are not only a matter of corrupt local officials stealing land or because a church leader is publicly critical of the Communist Party. They occur because it is a policy set by the Communist Party, assisted by the Public Security Bureau and the State Administration of Religious Affairs and carried out by provincial police, an extra-legal anti-cult team called the 6-10 office, and local Religious Affairs Bureaus, a pervasive security and bureaucratic apparatus that does not exist to ensure the freedom of Chinese religious believers.
Given our findings and experience, the Communist Party does not draw clear lines between what is political and what is religious. Fearful of a collapse reminiscent of the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe, the Party sees all organizations it cannot control—Protestants and Catholics who refuse government oversight, democracy and free speech advocates, intellectuals, and labor unions—as the biggest political threat to their power. One only has to look at President Xi Jinping's recent speech in Guangzhou to recognize that an Eastern European model collapse remains prominently on the mind of Communist Party leaders.
In other words, one does not have to act, in what we in the West consider to be overtly politically ways, to be considered a political threat in China. The persistence and growth of the "house church" movement is such a threat no matter how much is stays clear of party politics. How else to explain another central government-sponsored secret initiative we recently discovered that seeks to curtail the spread of Christianity and Christian fellowships among college students and professors in the name of "anti foreign religious infiltration"?
I was jailed in the 1990s for organizing an illegal "house church" while teaching English at the Communist Party School. My wife and I were able to escape, by the grace of God, through a network of friends and allies, eventually settling in the United States. Many of my friends and colleagues were not as fortunate. I know that China has changed much in the past thirty years and we continue to praise progress where and when it occurs. Christianity has grown despite persecution and restrictions. The most extreme cases of violence or imprisonment are reserved now for the most influential leaders to encourage self-censorship and fear, such as in the cases of Fan Yafeng, Alimujiang Yimiti, Gao Zhisheng, Yang Rongli or Cao Nan.
While the tactics may be different and more subtle, we are dismayed to find that many of the goals remain the same, particularly when it involves the "house church" movement. There continue to be too many religious freedom abuses in China and it remains unfortunate that many elements of the Chinese central government and security forces continue to see the "house church" as a threat that must be eradicated if it does not conform. Christans in China are hoping for a different future and for opportunities to assist their country address massive future problems of spiritual bankruptcy, materialism, and poor systems of elderly care, education, and rural health.
I want to thank my colleagues Brent Fulton and Jan Vermeer for their opinions and their expertise. As Christianity in China continues to grow and Chinese becomes (hopefully) a society open to more international engagement, there is a need to build a working consensus among the worldwide church and parachurch agencies on how best to engage government entities dealing with religion, how to encourage more openness, and how to equip Chinese Christians with the capacity to flourish without (again hopefully ) government oversight, persecution, and control. That is the mission to which ChinaAid remains committed.