While “wiretapping” is a heated topic in the United States, on the other side of the world the Chinese government “quietly” began a campaign of installing surveillance cameras in churches to spy on Christians. Recent reports say that the government will know exactly who is attending services and what is said from the pulpit. Ironically, the communist government alleges that the surveillance is used for “anti-terrorism and security purposes”, but China has not experienced any threat of terrorist activity from its Christian communities (Dr. Thomas D. Williams, 2017).
By contrast, in the past five years, hundreds of churches were demolished, crosses were burned, and Christians were arrested. The regulatory order forces churches to install cameras at gates, rostrums, offering boxes and other places; if churches refuse to comply, government officials will install the devices by force. According to the latest report (ChinaAid, 2017) of a U.S. human rights advocate organization, hundreds of police officers intruded in a local church, beat the Christians who resisted the police installation of surveillance cameras, and destroyed the gate and other parts of the church building.
Voices from both inside and outside China questioned why Christians needed additional surveillance, since Christians are only allowed to the government-run churches that are already heavily monitored. In 2012, the communist government adopted a new three-phase approach to wipe out unregistered house churches, because the government saw Christians from non-official churches as a hostile group of dissenters. The “dissenters” have been forced to join the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church system. In the first phase, from January to June 2012, the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) was reported have been secretly investigating house churches across the country and creating, files on them. Following this initial phase, , a wave of crackdowns on house churches followed throughout 2013. The second phase also entails strongly encouraging unregistered churches to become part of the TSPM—at which point they would become known as “house gatherings,” with the government banning the term “house churches.” The third phase is eradication of “dissenters” and human rights activists.
On the occasion of the visit by the head of the Chinese Communist Party to the United States, Peter Roff (April 6, 2017) published an article titled A chance for Chinese Christians: Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping can find common ground on the issue of religious freedom. The author says, “Xi, like the rest us, is probably still trying to figure Trump out.” As a Chinese national, I do not think so. Case in point is the failure and betrayal of the Pope, who tried very hard to pacify the Communist Party rather than support “underground” Catholics in China. This unholy alliance between the Vatican and the Chinese government not only hurts the Chinese believers but also worsens the lives of house church Christians. As Bob Fu, the president of ChinaAid, described, the Communist Party has already targeted clergy who are not ordained by the state as illegitimate, and Vatican’s appeasement only encourages the criminal acts of the Chinese government, which continues to persecute Christians.
Yet, I do believe that President Trump should openly, firmly take a stand in support of Chinese human rights activists and condemn any persecution based on religion and political dissent. In addition, I only hope that through this increased surveillance of churches, the message of God may instead filter back to the Chinese Communist Party and help more Party members to accept Jesus as their Savior.