The eyes of the world may be on Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but the head of a religious liberty watchdog says China's persecution of Christians is nevertheless escalating.
"It is getting worse," David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, told Christian Headlines.
China was No. 17 on this year's 2022 World Watch List, which ranks the countries of the world according to the danger level for Christians. The report said Christians "are facing increased pressure from the Chinese authorities," due partially to the "most oppressive and sophisticated" surveillance system in the world.
Chinese Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping "knows that he cannot stamp out" the nation's Christians, Curry said. There are an estimated 96 million Christians in China, the report says.
"And so he is slowly strangling Christian faith, and he's doing it with high-tech surveillance. They watch, and they track everybody in what they're doing – through facial recognition and other things. Imagine if the IRS owned every camera in every restaurant on every street in America. We would be very concerned that the IRS has that. China has that plus other means of surveilling, and so they have the ability to track and to score behavior."
Christians in China must attend government-approved churches that face heavy regulations, such as the editing of sermons. Because of that, many Christians attend illegal underground churches.
Curry summarized the surveillance strategy like this: "[These two citizens] are going to church too often. Therefore, they're not good communists. Therefore, they should lose their job. They can't fly – they're on a no-fly list."
"And all they did was go to Bible study. That's happening right now in China," he said.
Chinese law does not allow children "under the age of 18 to attend church," Curry said.
"So parents either have to disciple them themselves or sneak them into some sort of Bible study," Curry said. "What happens, in this case, is that the kids may not be let into the college of their choice if they attend Bible study, they may not get jobs, the parents may lose their job. So there's repercussions for this sort of thing."
The pandemic has given the government an excuse to persecute. Although all churches closed during the pandemic, "some churches were forced to remain closed once restrictions began to lift, and were quietly phased out," the report said.
"Christian leaders are generally the main target of government surveillance, and a very small number have been abducted," the report said. "Converts from a Muslim or Buddhist background from minority ethnic groups arguably face the most severe violations of religious freedom, because they are persecuted, not only by the authorities, but also by their families and communities."
Photo courtesy: Chuttersnap/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.