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Whispers of freedom

We need a collaborative response to China’s anti-Christian regimes, says Release International's CEO

Hong Kong has been going through turbulent times as protestors take to the streets in their thousands to defend the freedoms they enjoy.

Today, the former British colony is ruled by China as One country under two systems.’ Its laws differ and Hong Kong’s citizens enjoy a degree of independence – which many now fear is under threat. 

Their concern is that Hong Kong citizens suspected of crimes could being extradited to the mainland to face trial. Those citizens are deeply suspicious of Chinese justice’. And with good cause. The freedom to think and to follow your conscience is being challenged. Christians might call that freedom of worship. 

But on mainland China, freedom of faith is coming under increasing pressure. In this single-party superstate the only political choice is communist. And the only religious choice truly tolerated by the Communist Party is to be atheist. 

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Instead of rule by the people, for the people,’ the Chinese system, it would seem, is rule of the people by the party. Thirty years ago, China nailed its totalitarian colours to the mast when the so-called People’s Liberation Army pitched tanks against students calling for democracy in Tiananmen Square.

The apostle Paul’s edict, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” would be best not uttered aloud on the streets of Beijing.

Greater London-based Christian charity Release International supports persecuted Christians in some 30 countries, including China. Our partners working with the Chinese church tell us persecution there is the worst it’s been since the Cultural Revolution.

China has two churches – one the state barely tolerates, and the other the state persecutes with growing impunity: the official church and the underground church. The first submits to the rules and regulations of a suspicious and all-powerful atheist state, while the latter cannot in all conscience. 

Christians who cannot submit to state control over their pastors, their teaching, their membership and their meetings, who believe young people should be allowed to attend church, or who refuse to install face-recognition cameras to spy on their own congregations, are driven underground.

In 2018, China passed tough new anti-religion laws, giving sweeping new powers to local communist officials. Since then, the persecution has intensified – for official and underground churches alike. The authorities raid church meetings, detain congregations, imprison pastors, tear down crosses, and raze entire churches. 

Earlier this year, the leader of single state-approved church threw himself to his death in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the clampdown on Christianity. It was pronouncements like this that drove him to take his own life:

when officials raided a country church in China’s southern Guizhou province and churchgoers asked what law they were supposed to have broken, they were told: It is illegal for you to teach your children to sing hymns and to spread [Christian] thoughts.”

So, is thinking is now illegal in China? The logic of the Chinese authorities seems simple enough: if you say Jesus is Lord, then how can the Communist Party be paramount? And if your first allegiance is to God (who doesn’t exist) then you are at best deluded and at worst an enemy of the state. And if you persist in that delusion, then you become a danger to others and it is our duty to remove you. 

The people of Hong Kong are well aware of how freedoms are being eroded on the mainland. Their streets echo with the same desperate cry for freedom that is resounding throughout the whole of China.

There are many Christians in the UK who refuse to sit in silence while their brothers and sisters suffer for their faith. Release International gathered a petition with their signatures calling on China to live up to its own constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. But when we went in person to the Chinese Embassy to present it, they refused to accept it, citing security concerns. But those signatures must get through. So the petition, we agreed, would be sent through the post. 

China must know that many who enjoy freedom of faith will never take that freedom for granted. We will use our liberty to the full and fulfil our mandate to Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” (Proverbs 31:8 – 9). We will speak up and defend their God-given rights. 

Release International supports and prays and provides for persecuted Christians around the world. We give them practical and spiritual support and tell their stories so that together, we as Christians can hold them in our hearts. Please find out more at www​.relea​sein​ter​na​tion​al​.com

About the author

Paul Robinson is chief executive officer of Release International, an inter-denominational Christian ministry working through local church partners in more than 25 countries, helping persecuted Christians prayerfully, pastorally and practically.

See more from Paul Robinson

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