Government restrictions on Chinese Christians are nothing new, but new rules proposed this month by China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs extend some of those religious restrictions to a group that has typically been exempt: Foreigners worshiping only with other foreigners in China.
The new rules, entitled “Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Regulations on the Administration of Foreign Religious Activities in the People’s Republic of China”, were published November 18. The rules say in part, “Foreign nationals in China who engage in religious activities shall abide by Chinese laws, regulations and rules, respect the principle of Chinese religion’s independence and self-management, accept the Chinese government’s management in accordance with the law, and must not use religion to harm China’s national interests, social public interests, and citizens’ legitimate rights and interests, and must not violate public order and good customs in China.”
According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, the new rules bring all aspects of foreigner-only religious gatherings under close government supervision.
“Article 11 requires Chinese religious staff to preside over foreigner religious gatherings, unless otherwise permitted by the government. Article 7 says that religious activities have to take place in approved temples and churches, unless permission is granted by the government. Article 10 says that applications must specify the times, number, and type of activities that will be conducted, with everything reported to the Religious Affairs Bureau. Article 13 says applicants must submit the ‘main classics’ of their religion, like the Bible they are using, for review. Article 8 says that the foreign conveners ‘shall abide by Chinese laws, regulations and rules, have no words or deeds hostile to China, have no bad records, be able to bear corresponding legal responsibilities, and have more than six months remaining in the Chinese residence permit.’ There is simply no aspect of a congregation’s life that is omitted from government involvement.”
Representative Foley says that the prominent publication of detailed rules may itself be designed to have a “chilling effect” to deter missionaries from using foreign religious gatherings as a cover for evangelizing and discipling Chinese citizens. “The longest part of the regulations describes all the penalties and punishments for foreigners who engage in what the law calls ‘religious communication’ with Chinese citizens,” says Representative Foley. “There are detailed requirements for how many religious books a foreigner can have for their own use, and the permissions they need to receive from the government to engage in ‘religious communication’. The new law says that foreigners should have no ‘religious extreme ideological tendencies’ and should not teach anything that could ‘violate China’s public order and good customs.’”
China’s new rules for religious restrictions now apply to foreigners
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Representative Foley says that the new rules for foreign religious activity may end up producing an unintended positive effect. “Foreigner Christians in China will no longer be able to avoid the suffering that their Chinese Christian brothers and sisters regularly experience,” say Representative Foley. “These new rules further criminalize the most basic aspects of being one body with Chinese Christians—things like worshiping, praying, and praising God together, and bearing one another’s burdens. Christians are one body in Christ regardless of our particular citizenship. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, ‘If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it.’ This new law will either force us to suffer together with Chinese Christians, or it will break off our fellowship with them altogether. But to do that would mean breaking off our fellowship with Christ himself. The choice is clear: We must be willing to stand with them in suffering.”
Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:
KB Bank: 463501-01-243303
Account Holder: (사)순교자의소리
Please note “China” on the transfer