China has adopted a new strategy in its war on Christianity, Open Doors reveals, targeting children to stamp out future generations of believers.
New regulations regarding religious practice took effect in China in 2018, Open Doors notes in its 2020 World Watch List, which was released Wednesday.
“Christians are increasingly being pushed underground in China,” said David Curry, president of Open Doors. “Pastors are being detained, churches are being closed and people who have a personal faith in Jesus are being watched using technology that was never available before.”
“The Church is being squeezed in China,” he noted.
Yet along with increased monitoring of religious activity and an outright ban on unregistered religious groups, the new norms specifically target children.
The 2018 regulations ban church youth camps, forbid young Christians from sharing their faith with their friends at school, and prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from participating entering a church.
In practice, the 2018 restrictions have instilled fear among Christian students and their parents that attendance at church or youth group, or sharing their faith, could result in the church being fined or negative repercussions for the student, Open Doors found, with Christian students threatened with penalties including obstacles to graduation.
Many Christian parents have begun to discourage their children from attending church activities out of fear of government or school reprisals, Open Doors said, meaning they have no exposure to Christian worship, bible study, or the sacraments.
“We know of some school teachers who warn children that if they follow Jesus they may not be allowed to graduate,” said one Chinese church leader on condition of anonymity. “This creates a terrible struggle in young people’s hearts.”
“They are torn between living free in the truth of who they really are, versus possible punishment at the hands of their teachers or parents,” he continued. “If they admit they follow Jesus, they could lose everything they have worked for.”
“Counting the cost of following Jesus is not just words here; it is a reality that even new believers have to face,” he said.
As Breitbart News reported in early 2019, one Chinese district forced kindergarten students to sign an atheist manifesto promising to avoid religious activities in an effort to eradicate religious belief in schoolchildren.
Both pupils and teachers are now required to sign a commitment statement promising they won’t browse religious websites or participate in religious forums, and the statement includes the declaration: “I will adhere to the correct political direction, advocate science, promote atheism, and oppose theism.”
The campaign forbids schools from hiring new teachers who hold religious beliefs, while calling for increased supervision of current teaching staff, including “comprehensive inspections of teachers’ preparation for lessons in order to root out any and all religious content.”
This past summer, the Chinese Communist Party banned a number of Christian summer camps organized for children, insisting that church attendance and religious instruction keep young persons from developing “a correct worldview and set of values.”
“Minors receiving religious education and formation too early in churches would seriously affect the normal implementation of the education system,” declared one notice from officials.
This summer, Catholics have had to cancel summer camps and disguise bible classes to avoid punishment from Chinese authorities.