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More Christians Than Party Members

The (sometimes) good, the (unfortunate) bad, and the (too often) ugly.

ICC Note:

The writer sums up the current situation of religious liberty in China as “the (sometimes) good, the (unfortunate) bad, and the (too often) ugly.” Chinese Christians endured the most severe persecution during the Cultural Revolution under Mao and the current situation is much better than then. However, we cannot ignore the fact that Christians are still facing “restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses” due to their faith in this country. Those churches, families, and individuals are still enduring real pain. Please continue to pray for Chinese Christians and the country of China.

08/27/2014 China (The American Spectator)– Today China’s big cities look much like urban areas anywhere else in the world. There are cars, lots of cars.

What I didn’t expect was to see a Christian “fish” on an auto. In traffic. In Beijing. Christianity is real, growing, and visible. “Religion is on the rise,” one U.S. diplomat told me.

Religion also is under attack by the Chinese government. When it comes to religious liberty in the People’s Republic of China, there’s the (surprisingly frequent) good, the (not so constant) bad, and the (still too often) ugly.

Long the target of Christian missionaries, China turned hostile to Christianity after the 1949 revolution. Religion threatened the Communist Party’s totalitarian vision and Christianity was associated with foreign influences. Persecution grew particularly harsh during the Cultural Revolution, a mixture of political purge and civil war. Since then the PRC has routinely been ranked among the worst religious persecutors.

For instance, Beijing is listed on the Hall of Shame from International Christian Concern. China makes the Open Doors World Watch List. The State Department labels the PRC a “Country of Particular Concern.”

In its latest report on religious liberty State reported: “The government exercised state control over religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when these were perceived, even potentially, to threaten state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, including social stability. The government harassed, assaulted, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of religious adherents.” Nevertheless, the experience varied geographically: “In some parts of the country, however, local authorities tacitly approved of or did not interfere with the activities of unregistered groups.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that those individuals and groups perceived to be out of the ordinary or to pose a threat “face severe restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses.” Believers could be arrested, tortured, and imprisoned and pressured to renounce their faiths. The Vatican and Beijing remain at odds over the official “Catholic Patriotic Association.” while “Protestants and Catholics who refuse to join the state-sanctioned religious organizations continue to face severe restrictions, including efforts to undermine and harass their leaders, arrest and detentions, and property destruction,” according to the Commission.

The group China Aid, headed by Bob Fu, a former house church pastor, compiled a long list of repressive incidents: arrests, detentions, imprisonments, and church attacks. China Aid’s overall persecution measure, which includes incidents of persecution and of people persecuted, rose 38 percent in 2013 over the previous year. Fu feared that the anti-Christian campaign is spreading.

The authorities in Zhejiang Province have been particularly repressive. In April the province destroyed the 4,000 seat facility in the city of Sanjiang. The church, built with private donations, was a government-approved member of the Protestant “Three-Self Patriotic Movement.” In one day in mid-May, observed journalist Steve Finch, “authorities quietly removed or destroyed crosses at 50 churches in Zhejiang in what appeared to be a widening campaign against Christianity.”

Provincial officials pointed to zoning laws, but Renee Zia of Chinese Human Rights Defenders argued, “Nobody has any illusions that citing zoning law is nothing but looking for an excuse for the current wave of clamping down on Christian churches.” The government’s real concern is Christianity’s growth. Provincial party chief Xia Baolong reportedly complained that Christian symbols were too “conspicuous.” Another Zhejiang official, Feng Zhili, charged that Christianity’s spread was “too excessive and too haphazard.” Indeed, the city of Wenzhou has been called the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its large number of churches, around 1,000, and sizeable Christian population.

An internal provincial report cited by the New York Times, “Working Document Concerning the Realization of Handling of Illegal Religious Buildings,” targeted “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities. The paper emphasized bringing down crosses from “expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” and from “the rooftops to the façade of the buildings.”

Some observers wonder whether the Zhejiang campaign might act as a test run for a new national campaign. Christianity and Islam, centered outside of China, are seen as particularly suspect. Finch reported that a party “Blue Book” warned: “Foreign religious infiltration powers have penetrated all areas of Chinese society.” The CCP also objects to the role of universal values, which have caused Christians to play a disproportionate role as human rights lawyers. Prof. Fenggang Yang, a sociologist at Purdue, told the Daily Telegraph that government officials feared Christianity could “become an opposition political force” and be used by “Western forces to overthrow the Communist political system.”

However, religion is not unique in this regard. Shannon Tiezzi of the Diplomat contended that increasing government pressure should be seen in the context of the larger crackdown on liberty. Chinese officials emphasize harmony and the Chinese constitution bans “disruption of the socialist system.” Tiezzi wrote: “it’s clear that tightened controls on religious movements are merely one face of a broader campaign to assert CCP control over Chinese society.

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