Online Bible studies and even officially sanctioned services are now under attack by Communist Chinese authorities bent on removing faith from all aspects of its society.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that on Aug. 11, a Christian man in China’s Yunnan province received a notice of administrative punishment from the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau (ERAB). The bureau accused him of hosting illegal religious education training online.
The latest persecution after the government sent notices to churches in Shandong province stating that “all livestreamed preaching should be stopped immediately”.
With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, the use of Internet-based services has increased significantly. Non-registered churches began using online services after being involuntarily shut down. So did individuals holding private bible studies.
And the bans are not just against independent churches, officially-sanctioned churches are also a target. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC), have received an order to stop online preaching. Besides this restriction, these churches are also asked to assist in rooting out any non-approved churches within their communities.
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According to the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, one of their members, brother Zhang Wenli, was fined $2,870 for his unauthorized activities.
The notice cited the 2018 Regulations on Religious Affairs, Article 41, that state “Non-religious groups, non-religious schools, non-religious activity sites, and temporary activity sites not appropriately designated as religious ones cannot conduct religious activities, accepting religious donations, carrying out religious training…”
He was asked to stop his activities. If he objected to the notice, he could submit written appeal to the ERAB within three days after he received it.
Father Francis Liu told ICC that brother Zhang was not asking for donations, but was merely holding a Bible study online and was targeted by the authorities regardless.
ICC says the objective of the government’s action is to coerce church members to join state-sanctioned churches and is part of the overall government crackdown.
The communist regime has started inspecting books, photo albums, newspapers, and literature printed by churches in an effort to further regulate religious affairs.
Articles published by a church must have permission from specific institutions that are responsible for religious publications in order to be printed and their distribution is limited to a certain amount of people.
A Religious Affairs Bureau insider told the religious liberty and human rights magazine, Bitter Winter, that “Even materials printed for personal use are purged. It’s even illegal to print out unofficial Bibles downloaded from the internet.”
The government is now forcing churches and households to replace crosses, religious symbols, and images of Jesus with portraits of China’s communist leaders Xi and Mao.
Nearly 250 crosses were removed from church buildings in just one province earlier this year.
“As crosses are being removed throughout the country, those who refuse to cooperate will be accused of opposing the Communist Party,” a local Christian told Bitter Winter. “We are pressured to give up our faith, but we will persevere.”
Christians who receive welfare payments must remove Christian pictures and symbols from their homes and replace them with pictures of their communist overlords.
“All impoverished households in the town were told to display Mao Zedong images,” a local pastor told Bitter Winter. “The government is trying to eliminate our belief and wants to become God instead of Jesus.”
A church member in one of the villages recalled how authorities entered his home and destroyed a calendar with an image of Jesus on it, then replaced it with a portrait of Mao instead.
“Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing—they must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive,” he explained.
In April, the government of Xinyu city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi withheld a disabled Christian’s funds (about $14) if the believer continued to attend worship services.
And in Jiangxi’s Poyang county, an elderly Christian woman was taken off the government’s aid list because she said “Thank God” after receiving her monthly check (about $28).
In May, a government official in the eastern province of Shandong barged into the home of a Christian and posted portraits of Mao and President Xi Jinping, then said, “These are the greatest gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones.”
–Persecution wire services