Sometimes we need to take the numbers coming out of China with a grain of salt. Between the desperation of the governing Communist Party (CPC) to save face (especially to outsiders) and the practical need for the underground church to be discreet, numerical analysis isn’t always accurate. Especially when it comes to Christianity.
However, part of “bearing one another’s burdens” would require us to know what specifically is burdening our brothers and sisters in Christ—if for no other reason than to pray for them. Enter China Aid. In March 2016, this nonprofit organization committed to “promoting religious freedom and rule of law in China,” published a report on the “Chinese Government Persecution of Christians and Churches in China” for the 2015 year.
On the page explaining how the information was gathered for the report, China Aid’s website states, “It is important to note that these cases only represent a small portion of the total number of cases of religious persecution occurring throughout China.” Let me paraphrase: Numbers are hard to gather in China. We can only give you a snapshot of what is going on. The reality is, sadly, probably much worse than what we are about to tell you.
In its opening statement, the report claims, “In 2015, the deterioration of religious freedom and human rights in China continued at an alarming rate, while the erosion of the rule of law was the worst it’s been since the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.”
When referring to persecution, the report is citing incidents like the following:
—In the Zhejiang region, 90 percent of the church crosses were destroyed, along with numerous churches themselves.
—”The government forcibly shut down house churches, detained large numbers of pastors…and confiscated church property.”
—Schools were forbidden to engage in any religious activities or celebrate religious holidays, and activities with religious affiliation, like Sunday school or summer camp, were shut down.
—”At colleges and universities, students and faculty were required to fill out questionnaires to report their religious beliefs.”
To give you an idea of numbers, China Aid was able to verify the following in just one region of the country (Zhejiang). However, to give you an idea of the reality, we’ve also included the estimates China Aid gathered from actual church leaders (shown in parenthesis).
—20 churches forcibly demolished (30 churches)
—1,300 crosses removed (1,500)
—500 Christians taken into custody, 130 Christians physically injured, 60 Christians administratively or criminally detained, 28 pastors arrested or charged with a crime (1,000 Christians taken into custody, injured, detained or arrested)
The report also offered a “bottom line” so to speak: An estimation of the total number of people (just under 20,000) who had been persecuted in 2015. This is an 8.62 percent increase compared to last year’s report.
China Aid is diligent to mention in multiple places that this report is an estimation; they only report things they can verify by a secondary source. They also are mainly reporting on the house churches (or “underground”)—and not the government-approved Three-Self Churches. Finally, they remind us that the CPC is not a fan of any religion, and just because this report only covers Christians, that shouldn’t downplay the reality that Muslims and Buddhists also suffer persecution.
Toward the end of the report, China Aid points to the fact that the persecution has acted like a refining fire, and that more and more Christians are starting to speak out against the CPC and its policies. In fact, even some of the Three-Self churches (which typically have to tow the party line pretty closely) “spoke publicly about leaving the government system, and urban and rural Three-Self church leaders resigned from their official positions.”
So why this sudden increase in persecution? An article by the Christian Post offers this explanation by Bob Fu, the president of China Aid, “‘It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the party.’”
China Aid’s report concludes on a bright note, stating, “Despite the worsening situation of religious freedom in China in the last decade, China Aid sees great hope in the fast growth of the house church movement across China and firmly believes that God’s love and justice will eventually cover the vast expanse of this nation.”
We should certainly be thankful for organizations like these that are giving us a glimpse into the suffering our brothers and sisters face. Let us continue to hold them up in prayer and seek to know their circumstances better.