China is ramping up its effort to wipe out house churches, the only place some say independent Christianity exists in the Communist country. The new campaign focuses on new restrictions on para-church or other clubs and groups they categorize as Christian “social” organizations. Even Buddhists are not immune to the crackdown.
To escape being banned, the groups must join the Chinese Communist Party-backed Three-Self Patriotic Association and give up all autonomy.
According to Radio Free Asia, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs announced the campaign and ended any social activity in communities in the name of a social organization, private non-enterprise unit or foundation not affiliated with the Communist Party.
International Christian Concern, a worldwide persecution watchdog group, reports that the government often brings false accusations against the groups including engaging in fraud or economic, cultural and charity activities.
The campaign has been quickly implemented in numerous provinces. According to RFA, on March 25 the Department of Civil Affairs in Sichuan published a list of 84 “Illegal Social Organizations.” Listed are several Buddhist and Christian groups.
Father Francis Liu from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness told RFA, “In the eyes of the Chines government, any religious group that refuses to submit to the CCP, or even charity groups, are seen as ‘illegal organizations,’ for the government is fearful that these civil groups can become a force that overthrows them.”
Christian charity Open Doors ranks China at No. 17 on its World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted.
A November 2020 report from the Pew Research Center showed that restrictions on religion in China had risen to a record level. Researchers found that China continued to have “the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index out of all 198 countries and territories in the study.”
A recent report revealed that Christians across China are being detained in secretive, mobile “transformation” facilities where they’re subject to brainwashing, torture and beatings to force them to renounce their faith.
One Christian who was held captive for 10 months in a facility run by the CCP after a raid on his church in 2018 shared how he was held in a windowless room with no ventilation where he was subjected to various forms of torture.
He also revealed that most of his fellow inmates were also people who had been released on bail during criminal detention for taking part in church-related activities. Because police couldn’t prosecute them for any particular crimes, they were sent to the so-called “transformation” facilities.
Boyd-MacMillan, director of Strategic Research at Open Doors, recently told the Express UK that China’s Christian community might reach a staggering 300 million people by 2030. The CCP is increasingly concerned about the Christian population’s growth, he said, and is cracking down on religion as a result.
“We think the evidence as to why the Chinese Church is so targeted, is that the leaders are scared of the size of the Church and the growth of the Church,” Boyd-MacMillan said.
“And if it grows at the rate that it has done since 1980, and that’s about between 7 [percent] and 8 percent a year, then you’re looking at a group of people that will be 300 million strong, nearly by 2030. And, you know, the Chinese leadership, they really do long term planning, I mean, their economic plan goes to 2049, so this bothers them. Because I think if the Church continues to grow like that, then they’ll have to share power.”
It is believed that China may have used Covid as a cover to begin the crackdown on Christian social groups as early as late fall.