MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Open Doors USA estimates almost 100 million Christians live in China. Some experts predict China will become the most Christian nation in the world by the year 2030.
But amid that growth has come a religious crackdown in recent years. As President Xi Jinping has consolidated his power, he has sought to unify China’s cultural identity.
Which means trouble for Christians, whose numbers are greater than those of the Chinese Communist Party.
Since 2014, Xi has demolished crosses, shut down churches, and stopped pastors from traveling overseas for conferences.
REICHARD: Now comes a new threat. On the line to tell us about it is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent June Cheng. June, welcome!
JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: Good morning!
REICHARD: June, tell us what’s happening.
CHENG: So, even though the Chinese government has heavily censored the internet, especially when it touches on anything political, it hasn’t actually applied that same pressure on Christian media. So, in the past few years there’s been a huge growth of Christian content online—including sermons, there’s testimonies, advice on how to deal with family issues, and then also theological issues. So, it’s been a super important resource for new Christians in China especially. But in September, the State Administration for Religious Affairs proposed a draft law that would restrict what kind of religious information can be posted online and who can post it. So, it bans videos of religious activities like prayer, baptism, or burning incense. And even more concerning for Christians, they also ban online evangelism. And religious media also has to register with the government, which requires them to be lawfully established in China. So, this means Chinese house churches and overseas groups wouldn’t be able to run Christian sites. And the government has the power to reject any applicant it wants.
REICHARD: Who would be allowed to post Christian content, then?
CHENG: So, it’d be government-sanctioned Three-Self churches and government-sanctioned media organizations. And these groups are the only ones allowed to post sermons online and those sermons have to be—quote—”Conducive to social harmony, the progress of the times, and healthy civilization, leading religious citizens in proper thought and action.” So, you know, who knows what that means exactly. And these groups would also be the only ones allowed to do online seminary classes and all of their students would need to register with their real names.
REICHARD: Well, because this is still in the proposal stage, is there a chance it could be changed or just scrapped altogether?
CHENG: So, that’s unlikely. In 2016, they had released a draft law for religious regulations and they gave church leaders an opportunity to share their opinions about it, but last year when the revised version came out, it turned out to be exactly the same. And so that was a big disappointment to churches who thought that things were improving because the government wanted their opinion. So, most likely, when this draft law becomes law, it will also be pretty much the same.
REICHARD: Can you tell us how Christian are responding or preparing for this? They’ve been quite resourceful over the years, so I’m guessing they’ll find a way around the regulations.
CHENG: The Christian writers that I’ve spoke to, they’re uncertain right now as to what their future will look like, and I think that they are worried that the sites could be shut down, but as for right now, they’re still writing articles, they’re still making videos, and I think their mindset is, “Let’s do this while we still can.” And, like you said, yeah, Chinese Christians have had to be creative for the past few decades, and every time they’ve banned one form of expression, they’ve been able to find a new one. So, in the past they would print out Christian magazines and distribute them by hand, but that was dangerous and costly and obviously that was very limited. So then they turned to the internet. And now it seems that as the internet is feeling this crackdown, it’s feeling the heat, who knows? They might go back to printed magazines.
REICHARD: June Cheng is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent. June, thank you for this reporting.
CHENG: Thank you, Mary.