The Chinese authorities have banned a church from using the word Christ on the Internet.
In the latest crackdown on religious freedom in China, the authorities picked up on the use of the word Christ in a WeChat post published by the Early Rain Covenant Church – a regular target for the Chinese authorities.
The church’s WeChat account ran a book review group where members recommended book titles and voted on their favourites.
The latest posting included the Christian classics The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis and Exposition of the Christian Faith by Saint Ambrose.
‘The word “Christ” you are trying to publish violates regulations on Internet Information Services, including, but not limited to the following categories: pornography, gambling, drug abuse, incitement.’
‘In today’s China, it seems Jesus Christ is lumped in with porn, drugs and rabble-rousing,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide.
The only way the church administrator could get away with using the word Christ online was to substitute part of the word.
Early Rain Covenant Church set up its WeChat reading group five years ago. Members read a book a month. But tough new regulations intended to clampdown on churches using the Internet came into effect on March 1, 2022.
A partner of Release International warns: ‘the Chinese government has dramatically tightened its control on religion’.
Those regulations have been imposed by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of State Security among others.
The ban prevents any organisation or individual from posting religious information on the Internet without first obtaining the permission of their provincial government. It bans religious groups, schools and organisations without valid permits from conducting online sermons.
The rules effectively ban any live streaming, publication of sermons, reposting of religious content or any form of online religious education without government permission – and thereby government control.
Anyone performing online religious activities without a licence ‘shall be listed as untrustworthy individuals or organisations.’
Before the new regulations were imposed, UK-based Release International warned ‘the measure will hit churches, seminaries and other ministries.’
A Chinese attorney took to social media to describe the latest crackdown as against the Chinese Constitution. Huang Deqi said national security officers were issuing threats to Christians against talking about their faith online or making recordings of any sentences containing religious words. The lawyer’s post was rapidly taken down.
On Christmas Eve last year, Chinese police arrested Early Rain Covenant Church Elder Li Yingqiang for ‘disturbing social order’.
Li had been planning to preach during an online seminar that evening. The church leader had previously been jailed for eight months in an earlier crackdown.
‘The Chinese authorities appear to regard social media as a threat to the state,’ says Release International CEO Paul Robinson. ‘This is the latest measure to control freedom of expression and limit religious freedom.
‘This Draconian regulation is intended to curtail any Christian activity online. It effectively criminalises any online presence from churches that cannot in all conscience come under the control of the atheist state. And yet the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of faith, which is the foundation stone of every human freedom.’
The crackdown even extends to hand-drawn banners proclaiming the love of God, it seems.
In February, Chinese Christian Zhou Jinxia was arrested for trying to catch the eye of the Chinese premier with her banner proclaiming: ‘God loves the people of the world and is calling out to Xi Jinping’.
‘Even saying “Jesus loves you” has become a criminal offence in China,’ says Paul Robinson. ‘Release International continues to call on China to stand by its own constitution and guarantee full religious freedom for all of its citizens.’
Release International is active in around 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families, as well as Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.