China expands crackdown on Christianity to Hong Kong

September 01, 2015 08:43
China has been removing crosses from mainland churches and is now cracking down on Hong Kong churches who serve Christians from the mainland. Photo: The Telegraph

The Communist Party’s campaign against Christianity is the latest flashpoint in mainland China’s complex relations with Hong Kong.

Chinese authorities are now exerting pressure on Christians in Hong Kong, the latest blow to freedoms and religious liberties in the city, which has traditionally enjoyed some autonomy from the mainland, the New York Times reported.

In recent months, Chinese officials have barred mainland residents from attending some religious conferences in Hong Kong, increased oversight of mainland programs run by Hong Kong pastors, and issued warnings to outspoken leaders, the report said.

The party has long associated Christianity with subversive western values, and over the past year, officials have accelerated efforts on the mainland to demolish churches, shutter Christian schools and forcibly remove crosses.

It also launched a campaign in May to purge Communist Party members who believe in western religions, calling those with hidden religious faith “serious ideological threats" and "infiltrators".

Hong Kong’s vibrant Christian community -- home to about 850,000 Christians, 1,500 churches, a Christian newspaper and a Baptist university -- has long been a magnet for mainland Chinese visitors, the newspaper said.

Tens of thousands of people cross the border each year for Sunday school, seminars and megachurch gatherings in the city.

About 60 percent of Hong Kong’s churches were engaged in work, such as theological training, in mainland China last year, a survey by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement showed.

But spreading the gospel in the mainland can be difficult.

Hong Kong residents are often treated as foreigners, and they are not permitted to establish churches, hand out pamphlets, proselytize or preach, the newspaper said.

Church leaders have reportedly been harassed and even detained.

Rev. Philip Woo, the leader of a small Protestant church in Hong Kong, was summoned to Shenzhen recently for a meeting with officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

Over tea, he said, the officials rattled off a list of laws they said he had violated, and they ordered him to stop.

Rev. John Qian, a former pastor in Hong Kong who helps run religious charity programs in mainland China, said police closely monitor his work and have told him he must notify them when he visits a mainland church.

Lu Jingxiang, a pastor from Anhui province who wanted to attend a conference in Hong Kong on “the Christianization of China”, was told his travel documents could not be processed.

Pastor Liu Fenggang from a Beijing house church, who was one of the conference’s mainland promoters, was barred from entering Hong Kong.

Liu and more than 100 others were warned by the police that going to Hong Kong would be “making trouble”.

Others were reportedly placed under house arrest.

Looming over recent tensions is the mainland's new national security law, which came into effect on July 1, UCA News said.

The legislation is largely untested but wide-ranging and includes a section that specifically targets religious groups, long viewed by the party as potential destabilizers.

Hong Kong government officials have sought to reassure the public, saying the provision does not apply in Hong Kong, the NYT said.

In a rare move, even China's semiofficial Christian associations -- which are supposed to ensure the ruling Communist Party's control over Protestant and Catholic groups -- have denounced China’s campaign against Christianity as unconstitutional and humiliating, the Huffington Post said.

They have warned that it could risk turning the faithful into enemies of the party, which now counts about 90 million people as members.

China’s total Christian population is already a social force that could challenge the party’s influence.

It may now number as many as 100 million, by some estimates, and is growing quickly.

Officially, the People's Republic of China is an atheist country, but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied, The Telegraph said.

Which means China’s efforts to put the brakes on Christianity will work about as well as trying to baptize a cat.

Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival Under Communist Rule, said that by 2030 China will have the largest Christian population in the world, with more than 247 million members.

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