An article from La Croix recently reported that China is warning local Christians not to speak up about persecution. That call to silence is unnerving for a country with more frequent arrests and demolitions, increased censorship, and other intensive religious restrictions.
How bad is persecution in China? Eric Foley with Voice of the Martyrs Korea says that since February 2018, "it has become a crime to be an underground Christian."
But being a part of the registered church presents its own problems. Foley says that China is trying to "Bring the state churches under greater control in terms of their involvement in spreading communism through the church and through the church services."
That leaves many Chinese believers with a nearly-impossible choice. They can either be associated with an underground church that is now illegal or be part of a church in which sermons are censored and surveillance efforts take attendance rather than providing religious privacy.
So where do silencing efforts come in? Foley says one of the major tools used against the church is interrogation. Investigations focus "not only your own involvement in that church, but you're expected to talk about, for example, does the church have any connection with outside churches? Have there been foreign speakers?"
If authorities release someone after interrogation, they are then committed to silence. If they tell anyone they were questioned in an interrogation setting, they could face jail time. "The person who exposes that information, which is called revealing state secrets, can face between 7 to 15 years in prison simply for indicating that they were interrogated," Foley says.
Preserving Public Image
But why is silence so important to maintain? Foley says it's all about keeping up appearances. "China actually does pay attention to how the church and the rest of the world responds," he says. "It also cares what governments think ... if governments around the world recognize that the Chinese government is engaged in religious persecution, this creates real problems for the Chinese government."
To dissuade such problems from cropping up, China attempts to "undermine the claims of persecution on the part of underground Christians and on the part of Chinese refugees who are now fleeing the country." Take members of the Early Rain Covenant Church, who are trying to make asylum claims so they can enter the U.S. China is currently doing what it can to stop that from happening.
"All they can say is, 'These people were part of cult organizations or their churches were illegally connected to foreign organizations that are seeking to undermine the Chinese government,'" Foley says. If China can undermine Christian credibility within China and the Chinese church's credibility outside of China, it can silence dissenting voices that could tarnish China's image.
How to Stay in Touch
So what can you do? First and foremost, Foley says, you can stay up to date with what's happening around the world, particularly in China.
"You have situations like Early Rain Covenant Church, you have situations like Pastor John Cao, and with those situations the Chinese government is very willing to draw those situations out as long as they can, because their belief is that Christians around the world will lose interest and move on to the next case," Foley says.
In other words, don't lose sight of the problem. China expects people to forget about how bad persecution actually is in China. "What China counts on us doing is simply losing interest," Foley says.
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