A new report from China Aid shows that the persecution of Christians, encouraged by Chinese state authorities, increased by 42% in 2012. Furthermore, there was a 125% increase in the number of sentencings. This upsurge of vilification stems largely from the Chinese government’s strategy to eradicate so-called ‘underground’ or ‘house churches’; Christian congregations that meet and worship outside the state-approved, state-monitored, state-restricted version of the faith.
In reaction to these thriving congregations, the Chinese government has recently outlined a three-stage strategy for coercing people away from house churches, censoring their pastors, and aiming for total elimination within ten years. A vital part of this strategy is pressuring Christians away from non-conformist congregations and into the state-administered ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
And yet, for all the draconian attempts of China’s monolith to contain Christianity, the faith continues to grow and thrive, as it did under previous historical attempts to nullify its enlargement. Within Chinese communities, religious literature is becoming more widely circulated, Christian inspired charities are broadening their activities and the laity’s understanding of the faith is growing ever deeper. Estimates suggest there are now more practising Christians in China than there are in Europe and if current trends continue, China could one day have the largest Christian population of any nation.
Chairman of Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Luca Volontè, spoke of the future choices this posed for the China:
“This Christian awakening has been identified by some within the Chinese Communist party as an existential threat to the People’s Republic – yet it need not be. Not only is it counterproductive to force Christians to choose between faith and country, but it is entirely unnecessary. China’s house churches are not formed as demonstration of political protest but rather through the peaceful desire to worship unimpeded and to listen the word of God. Criminalising a rapidly expanding part of Chinese society can only lead to internal division and international isolation. The Soviet Union believed that through coercion they could constrain the Christian faith, as did other powers before them; China would be unwise to repeat the mistake of fallen empires.”
* Luca Volontè is also Chair of the EPP Group within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe