As millions were praying around the world yesterday in commemoration of “Persecution Sunday,” strong new evidence emerged that China is working overtime to further its control over the church — not tolerating any Christian worship outside of the confines of registered, official, state-approved institutions.
Why does the totalitarian government crack down on the independent churches? Because the government believes Christian faith breeds disloyalty, separatism, and subversion. And, do you know what? Beijing is absolutely right. When it comes to illegitimate regimes that maintain power only through brute force, the church may well be public enemy No. 1.
According to a new human rights report, “China: State Control of Religion,” there is a new level of sophistication in China’s crackdown on the church. While there are fewer arrests and detentions, Beijing is getting tougher about the requirement for registration, more discriminating with regard to which groups are deemed worthy of recognition and ringleaders of independent churches and Bible studies are more frequently targeted.
What does registration mean to the churches? “By registering, congregations agree to certain limitations on their independence, including control over selection of clergy, supervision of financial affairs, veto power over building programs, religious materials, and restrictions on activities such as education and social welfare projects,” the report says.
One of President Jiang Zemin’s claims, when he visited the United States, was that no one is prosecuted in China for religious belief — only for criminality. Of course, if a church refuses to submit to the intrusive monitoring which registration involves, it is, by definition, illegal and subject to criminal prosecution.
The report shows the entire government bureaucratic apparatus is now working together to eradicate unregistered spiritual activity. Agencies including the central United Front Work Department, local police, the Religious Affairs Bureau, and the patriotic associations such as the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Three Self Patriotic Movement (China’s official churches) all play a key role in the new persecution strategy.
“Sure, these tactics are not new,” said a Christian leader in Jiangsu province. “But there is a new sophistication of coordination since 1995. …We Christians in house churches feel like every single organ of state is now working against us.”
That’s because they are. Three new internal Chinese documents have recently surfaced which clearly show the government, at the highest levels, is intent on stamping out all unregistered Christian activity, whether Catholic or Protestant.
The documents, obtained by Compass Direct, a news agency specializing in covering the persecuted church, come from three different provinces: Hebei, Liaoning and Henan. Significantly, Hebei is the center for underground Catholic activists loyal to the Vatican, while Henan for two decades or more has been the center for unregistered Protestant house church Christians. The documents consist of three detailed articles written by correspondents of the government-controlled New China News Agency for internal circulation to top government cadres. They are dated April 11, 1997, and show conclusively the central government is behind the recent drive to register all unofficial places of religious worship and to shut down those which refuse to comply. Here’s a sample from the Hebei report:
“Since 1995, Hebei province has increased its efforts to re-organize the Catholic church at the grass-roots level in the villages, and to unite and win over the religious masses,” it states. “It has taken the first steps in destroying and smashing the basic organizational structure of the underground Catholic church. The Hebei Provincial Communist Party Committee took coordinated action across the province to prohibit illegal religious activities in accordance with the law, starting at the end of 1995 with Baoding as the center. In just over six months it has successfully prohibited a series of large-scale illegal religious meetings, scattered the leadership structure of the underground forces, and, in accordance with the law, sealed up and destroyed the churches and meeting-points of the underground forces.”
Remember, this is an official report by a state-approved “journalist” to top Communist Party leaders.
Why the war on the church? Because Beijing doesn’t want to make the same mistake Communist leaders in Eastern Europe made — underestimating the power of the truth, the power of the Gospel. After all, it was Pope John Paul II’s unequivocal and unwavering support of Solidarity in Poland that created the first big crack in the wall of the Soviet Empire.
The Chinese believe it was Moscow’s weakness in permitting such activities that led, ultimately, to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Beijing, therefore, will not allow for the notion that there is a higher power than the government.