Officials in central China are increasing pressure on unregistered religious groups and religious centers, including churches for Christians.
Observers say Chinese President Xi Jinping aims to contain the growth and spread of Christianity in the country. China’s government tightly controls the activities of religious groups.
Jonathan Liu is a clergyman with the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness. Liu lives in the United States. His group has offices in San Francisco, California.
Liu told VOA China’s campaign against Christians and their churches has intensified in Henan province since August. He said at least four churches in Nanyang city were raided this month.
Liu said people with ties to Chinese churches have told him that many unidentified police and local government officials were involved in the raids. He said they showed up at the churches without search warrants from a court.
Christian churches closed
The unidentified police and local officials were said to have removed religious symbols, such as crosses, and covered up signs hung on walls. They also damaged or seized church property before closing the churches.
Liu said Christians who resisted were either beaten or taken away.
VOA has not been able to reach police and religious affairs officials in Henan and Beijing for comment.
Since February, hundreds of family churches in Henan have reportedly been closed. That is when officials put into effect new Regulations for Religious Affairs.
Family churches, also known as house churches, are independent of state-approved religious organizations.
Liu said that provincial officials “plan to merge many local Christian churches. Some local priests told me that up to two-thirds of churches there may be closed down.”
Raids have also been carried out on churches in two other provinces: Guangdong and Heilongjiang.
Fuk Tsang Ying heads the divinity school at Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He noted that Henan has one of the country’s largest Christian populations. He said that, while the policy to control religious groups comes from the central government, the campaign in Henan seemed unusually forceful. An earlier campaign in Zhejiang, he said, had only targeted crosses set up on top of churches.
Zhejiang carried out a forceful campaign against churches between 2014 and 2016.
Observers say that the Communist Party’s effort to extend control over religious groups may be increasing. They said the effort appears to be directed at Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists.
For example, more than one million Muslims are believed to have been detained in Xinjiang in what are being called “re-education camps.”
In early June, Buddhist religious workers in Tibet were asked to complete three days of training in Lhasa, the area’s capital. They were to learn about the government’s policies on religions and socialism with Chinese characteristics to “strengthen their political beliefs.”
China’s Communist Party has made it clear in recent years that the teachings of all religious groups should be secondary to the goals of the party.
Last year, speaking at the 19th Party Congress, Xi spoke about religion. He said “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society.”
Liu said even registered Christians face difficult tests. Those who fail government tests on values of Chinese socialism or Xi thoughts can be banned from serving in churches.
Liu said one-third of Christian clergy who take the tests may be disqualified.
Recently, almost 30 preachers of family churches from across China released a joint statement. They urged Chinese officials to stop suppressing churches. They added that “such acts of brutality have not been seen since the Cultural Revolution.
China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. But as one Chinese Christian told VOA, “The police and local religious affairs bureau keep harassing my church. Please, explain to me, how is my religious freedom guaranteed?”
It is estimated that about 70 million people follow Christianity in China. That is close to the 88 million who are Communist Party members.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Joyce Huang wrote this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
warrant – n. legal permission from a court to enter and search a place
symbol – n. an object that represents a larger idea, belief or system
merge – v. to bring two or more things together into one
priest – n. a religious worker in the Roman Catholic and some other religions
divinity – adj. of or related to religious leadership
characteristic – n. a quality that makes something different from other things
orientation – n. the level to which associate with some things and not others
adapt – v. to be able to change to meet new needs or requirements
brutality – n. violence or harshness
harassing – adj. to mistreat or bother someone
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.