As authorities in Mainland China continue their crackdown on Christian churches, Catholic dioceses in the north are reporting the Communist government is banning educational gatherings for kids, forcing churches to cancel summer camps.
According to the Union of Catholic Asia News, one parish was forced to cancel its camp after publicly promoting it, while another one—held in secret—went on as planned and without incident.
“It’s alright if the camp is held privately but once it goes public, it isn’t allowed,” a diocese member identified only as “John” told the news agency. “It must take place in secret.”
Ucanews.com also reported that another diocese had to move a summer class from a large parish to a smaller one in a rural village out of fear of retaliation.
Some churches are offering a childcare option to get around government scrutiny. Member John said churches are using the argument that “working parents are unable to take care of their kids during the summer vacation, so the parish is able to organize summer activities for the children instead.”
The crackdown is part of ongoing measures by the government to limit church influence, including the spiritual development of children. Last year, the government issued new religious affairs regulations, prompting some provinces to order churches to post signs banning minors from entering.
"They also threaten churches that they cannot be used if they refuse to post the signs," an unnamed priest told UCA News in February 2018.
In some instances, services were either canceled or churches were forced to close. The article cited an Internet message by a Catholic woman in Henan province who lamented the crackdown.
"Churches where we gather have been closed," she said. "Schools teach children to believe the [Communist] Party and not to have any religious faith. The local party secretary leads officials to villages, making sure no religious banners or crosses are displayed in violation of the law."
Churches allowed to meet are being forced to use government materials, including a new pro-Communist hymnal. As reported by Christian Headlines in June,
The Newly Compiled Hymns sanitizes the spiritual content of the original songs.
���The hymns published by the government only promote political, secularized content,” the director of a Three-Self church in China said. “All believers are unwilling [to] sing them.”
One of the hymns reads: “China is beautiful; China is great; the sons and daughters of China love China. … Bless China, O Lord.”
“Such hymns aren’t praising the Lord at all,” the director continued. “They are entirely praising the country, and are no different from secular songs. Isn’t the government engaging in dishonesty and deceit?”
A year ago, Christian Headlines also reported that officials in Henan were tearing down crosses. According to China Aid, a statement issued by the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness chronicled extreme oppression in the largely Christian province of Henan where restrictions have been placed on pastors. Churches have also been forced to fly China’s flag and display a portrait of the president.
Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence met with an interfaith group of religious leaders to discuss persecution in China.
"There were a handful of leaders from the world dealing with religious liberty who voiced concern about the shocking rise of religious liberty violations in China in the last six years," David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, said.
"We had people from different faith backgrounds but we joined together to give an in-depth briefing on the series of issues that are happening against Christians, Muslims, the Falun Gong and other religions that are being persecuted in China right now."
Curry said he’s hopeful the United States will hold China accountable for religious freedom violations.
"Up until this point, the United States never had a strategy against China's violations of human rights," Curry said. "They've recognized them as a country of particular concern, but it's not escalated. And there haven't been any punishments directly associated with it. So we think that might be something they would consider, as far as punishments go."
Open Doors, an international Christian persecution advocacy group, has ranked China as the 27th worst nation in terms of Christian persecution, according to its 2019 World Watch List.
“The management of religious affairs in China lies with the Communist Party now, not just with the government,” according to the Watch List summary. “And Christians are intensely and increasingly feeling this shift and fear of Christian persecution. Since the Communist Party took over, the implementation of the regulations on religion, the treatment of religious groups, especially Christians, became much harsher across the country.
“Crackdowns against Christians happen countrywide and in both state-approved and non-registered churches. The youth are increasingly being removed from church life; worship is monitored via CCTV and spies, and teachers and medical workers are told they are not allowed to have any religious affiliation.”
Photo courtesy: Denys Nevozhai/Unsplash
Lori Arnold is a national award-winning journalist whose experience includes 16 years at a daily community newspaper in San Diego and 16 years as writer-editor for the Christian Examiner. She owns StoryLori Media and is a member of the Evangelical Press Association.