A Chinese government agency last week fined a Christian man $2,870 for holding an online Bible study it says violated a new anti-religion law.
The man, Zhang Wenli, lives in Yunnan province and was contacted Aug. 11 by the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and accused of hosting “illegal religious education training” online, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).
The letter quoted a new law, the 2018 Regulations on Religious Affairs, which states that “non-religious groups, non-religious schools, non-religious activity sites, and temporary activity sites not appropriately designated as religious ones cannot conduct religious activities, accepting religious donations, carrying out religious training ….”
He was fined 20,000 RMB (approximately $2,870 U.S.).
Christians in China are allowed to join government-sanctioned churches that are part of the Three-Self movement. Because such congregations face heavy regulations and even persecution, millions of Chinese Christians worship in illegal house churches.
“This shows that it will be increasingly risky for any Christian in China to hold Bible study or conduct church activities online,” ICC said in a statement. “From Wuhan, Sichuan, to Yunnan, the local authorities have been keeping their eyes on Christians, especially those from house churches. Many of their online activities were bugged and interrupted.
“The objective of their action is to coerce the house church members to join state-sanctioned churches,” ICC added.
Christians in China have faced severe restrictions and persecution in recent months.
Three-Self congregations that were forced to close due to the pandemic are being allowed to reopen only if their pastors use their sermons for “patriotic education” and to support the Communist Party, according to a report from Bitter Winter.
Earlier this year, the government forcibly removed crosses from at least 250 Three-Self churches in the eastern province of Anhui. Last year, churches across China were ordered to remove copies of the Ten Commandments and replace them with portraits of communist revolution leader Mao Zedong and current Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Bitter Winter.
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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.