China is launching a new campaign to rid the country of "illegal social organizations," a category that includes millions of Christians who worship in illegal house churches.
According to International Christian Concern, the new campaign targets organizations that are not registered with the government but have "carried out activities in the name of a social organization, private non-enterprise unit or foundation." House churches are one of the targeted groups, ICC reported.
Churches in China are required to register with the government and join either the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (for Protestants) or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. But because such churches face severe restrictions – including limits on what pastors can say and a ban on attendance by children – millions of Christians worship in underground "house" churches. Some meet in homes, others in buildings.
"In the eyes of the Chinese government, any religious group that refuses to submit to the CCP, or even charity groups, are seen as 'illegal organizations,' for the government is fearful that these civil groups can become a force that overthrows them," Father Francis Liu of the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness told Radio Free Asia.
The number of Christians who worship in house churches is unknown but is estimated to be in the tens of millions.
The five targeted illegal organizations, according to International Christian Concern, include:
- "those committing fraud and those engaged in economic, cultural or charity activities in the name of implementing national strategies."
- "organizations using the words' China,' 'Zhonghua,' or 'National' in their names pretending to be subsidiaries of state organs."
- "those who join forces with legal organizations to deceive" the government.
- "organizing competitions in the name of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)," which is this year.
- organizations that "pretend to promote health, sinology, or mysticism, and those that hold gatherings in the name of religion."
The Department of Civil Affairs in the province of Sichuan published a list of "Illegal Social Organizations" in March that included several targeted groups, including house churches and Buddhist groups, Radio Free Asia and ICC reported.