The leader of a Christian nonprofit watchdog group is pushing back against a recent Pew Research report suggesting that the number of Christians in China could have declined in recent years amid a crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party.
"A recent Pew Research Report measuring religion in China suggests that Christianity in the country has stagnated and is perhaps even in decline," Global Christian Relief President and CEO David Curry wrote in a Nov. 19 op-ed for Fox News Digital about the Chinese Christian population.
"But to borrow from Mark Twain, such suggestions seem greatly exaggerated. In fact, many of us who are advocating for persecuted Christians globally believe the Christian community in China might even be growing," he continued.
Curry, who also serves as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), went on to explain that internal research by Global Christian Relief suggests Pew's estimates "could be off by as much as 100 million, but no one truly knows the size" of the Chinese Christian population.
The Pew study cited a survey by the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), which claimed about 23.2 million adults in China self-identified as Christian in 2010, whereas 19.9 million identified as Christians in the 2018. Both Curry and Pew Research noted such figures might be unreliable, however.
"Unfortunately, we cannot be certain how survey patterns are affected by political circumstances," the study noted. "There could be a real increase in the share of Chinese adults who identify with Christianity that is hidden from [the] survey measurement. For example, it is possible there has been growth in Christian affiliation that is offset in surveys by growing reluctance among respondents to identify as Christian due to the government’s intensifying scrutiny of Christian religious activity. While that is a hypothetical possibility, there is no way to know from the available survey data whether it is actually the case."
Curry wrote that "according to the analysts within Global Christian Relief, and our many contacts on the ground in China, only about one in five people are self-reporting."
In a recent phone interview with The Christian Post, Curry said the Church in China is "definitely under attack," and they have faced increased pressure since "President Xi has solidified his control."
"Part of that scenario is to try to minimize faith in general, but Christianity specifically, in large part because there are so many Christians, and this is why the number of Christians is significant," Curry explained. He speculated that the number of Christians in China is somewhere between 100 million to 120 million people, which is more than the approximately 98 million members of the CCP.
Curry said the Chinese government is trying to split churches apart, noting that he recently spoke to the leaders of a 500-person church in China that was forced by authorities to divide into separate groups of 100.
"This is a very common practice, where they're trying to take large churches and break them into pieces," he said, adding that such efforts of the Chinese government are effectively forcing many of them underground again.
"They're attacking churches and Christianity by trying to divide it and strike at the leadership of the church," Curry said. "But I think the Church is strong, and I believe it's still growing."
Curry also noted that he was "disturbed" by the warm reception President Xi received during his recent visit to the U.S., and that "business leaders are in for a rude awakening if they think that they can have a long-term success reaching the Chinese market without an understanding of the moral structure on which that government is predicated."
He further discerned Chinese-style pressure could be fast approaching for Western Christians.
"I think you're going to see it first in censorship, and then deplatforming," he said of the potential persecution. "I think you're going to see it in restrictions to banking systems for Christian ministries. I think you'll see it in using the tax system to punish Christian ministries or restrict them."
"It's going to put a lot of pressure on the Church, but I think in the long run, the American Church will have a chance to grow healthier if they respond properly, as I think the Church thus far in China is getting healthier, even as it's under pressure," Curry added.