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03/01/2022 China (International Christian Concern) – A scheduled ban on unauthorized online religious activities has come into effect in China today, cutting off many house churches from a crucial resource in their ability to preach the gospel.

At the end of last year, the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) announced an upcoming ban on the use of unauthorized online services for religious activity. Any religious group seeking to conduct activity online, whether it is streaming, or publishing sermons, must first get an Internet Religious Information Service Permit. Additionally, no organization or individual can fundraise ‘in the name of religion online, according to the measures.

These measures taken by the Chinese government represent a direct assault on so much of China’s informal and unregulated religious activity. Many house churches in China operate outside of the sanctioned religious organizations commissioned by the Chinese government’s SARA – for Christians. This is either the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). Christian churches that operate outside of these organizations have faced severe harassment from Chinese authorities.

As a result of this regulation, online religious activity will now be under even closer scrutiny by Chinese authorities, making the operation of a house church or a non-sanctioned church in China much more dangerous. It is widely expected that only state-sanctioned churches, like a TSPM Church, will be able to receive a permit. Additionally, it will also impact those state-sanctioned churches, as their permitted status places them front-and-center for government oversight online. This is extremely concerning given the already strict guidance for religious clergy to follow, including the promotion of national unity, love of country, and love of party from the pulpit. Similarly, the activities of in-person worship have already been subjected to monitoring by CCTV cameras. This is brought closer to home, as it follows two years of pandemically-induced social distancing, where religious communities had no option but to connect online. Under these new measures, congregations are now disconnected without the approval of the government, and the rest are closely monitored.

While the west grows more accustomed to the convenience of having our churches online, China’s Christians continue to endure the encroachment of the Chinese state. Under this new scrutiny, Chinese Christians must now find new ways to navigate the cascading barriers in the pursuit of their faith. Meanwhile, we must continue to call on our leadership to prioritize human rights and religious freedom as a condition of our future relationship with China.

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