China Making Steps Towards Increased Religious Freedom

Signs are emerging from China that the federal government may be seeking to take action towards inhibiting wanton persecution of Christians by local police, a Virginia-based mission agency reported Thursday. According Christian Aid, reports from Beijing indicate that federal government officials are considering making significant changes to religious policy.

Though the communist nation of China officially claims to grant religious freedom to all, multiple reports of arrests of Christian leaders without warrants and interrogations meant to force them to reject the Christian faith have made their way into the Christian media and even the secular media. Particularly, in recent months, multiple reports of arrests in certain provinces have been released in what many believe to be a part of a crackdown on Christian house churches this year. This summer, hundreds of Christian leaders were arrested in a series of incidents in which police officers raided their meetings.

According to the director of China's Religious Affairs Bureau, proposed changes to the policy include a discontinuation of the requirement that all religious groups register with the government and submit to its demands. The national government would also inhibit provincial authorities from abusing their power and persecuting Christian groups, Christian Aid reported.

Whether the government will carry out these propositions remains to be seen.

Dr. Freddie Sun, Christian Aid's director for China, said reasons for these changes in government policy are varied. One such reason involves the younger generation of men and women where were granted positions of leadership in the communist party in 2003.

Sun says that this younger generation of leaders could bring needed reforms to China's policies on religious freedom. "A growing number of high-ranking officials are students returning from abroad," Sun said. They come back having been exposed to the freedoms and prosperity of other countries, and are eager to duplicate some of this in China.

Christian Aid reports that it was in this manner that communism came to China over 50 years ago. It was brought primarily by students returning from study abroad. Now, rather than bringing restrictive political ideologies, many students are bringing the mindset of freedom. “Their less-restrictive policies have given cause for hope among Christians in China,” Christian Aid stated.

According to Sun, "Some officials pursue a policy of 'keeping one eye open and one eye closed' toward Christian meetings and activities."

Christian Aid reports that signs of this freer policy are beginning to surface. In one such case, an orphanage for disabled children supported in part by Christian Aid recently became the first Christian children's home in China to be officially approved by the communist government. In addition, an evangelical Bible institute won government approval.

“Pray that, whatever the government's policies may become, Christian churches in China continue to grow and flourish,” Christian Aid stated.

Protestant church officials have estimated that at least 20 million Chinese worship in official churches, while foreign and Chinese sources estimate that at least 30 million persons worship in Protestant house churches that are independent of government control. Some foreign academics estimate that the country's Protestants may number as many as 90 million. Although there is no official count on the number of believers in China, domestic and foreign experts agree that the number of Protestants in the country is growing.