As China’s government bans unapproved religious services, sermons, education, training, and videos online—even link sharing—starting in March, I turn to Psalm 90.
By JERRY AN
China’s new internet regulations went into effect March 1, laying out broad restrictions on religious communication, teaching, and evangelism.
The new rules put into writing unofficial penalties that some Christians already faced for their online activity, so Chinese believers aren’t sure how the rules will be implemented and how much it could hamper missions.
The regulations were announced at the end of last year by China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) and allow only religious groups with government approval to share information on the internet. According to the new Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services:
Organizations and individuals must not proselytize online and must not carry out religious education or training, publish preaching, or repost or link to related content; must not organize the carrying out of religious activities online; and must not broadcast religious rites … through means such as text, images, audio, or video either live or in recordings.
On February 28, the Chinese government issued a press release answering questions about the new regulation, stating the government “will have close and thorough cooperation to ensure the implementation of the measures.”
How will the implementation of these new measures affect the use of the internet for evangelism and mission by Chinese Christians? Will Christians in China no longer be able to do anything online? As the new measures come into force during the ongoing pandemic, where will the internet mission of Chinese churches in China and overseas now go?
CT Asia editor Sean Cheng interviewed several Chinese pastors and Christians (for security reasons, the names of Christians in China are pseudonyms), including:
- Jerry An, new media mission pastor and Chinese director of Reframe Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Eva Xu, member of an evangelical church in Los Angeles who has a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary
- Shi Ming, pastor of a church in China who has an M.Div from an American seminary
- Sean Lu, youth pastor of a church in China, now studying for a PhD in theology in the US
- Zhu Yalun, pastor of a church in China who has an M.Div from a Korean seminary
- Lynn Han, member of a Chinese church in Tokyo and host of a Christian WeChat group
- Zhang Qiang, big data expert and veteran media worker who lives in China
CT: How do you think the regulations will affect Chinese Christians’ use of the internet for evangelism and mission?
Shi: First, these are just “measures,” which, in essence, authorize the government to carry out certain operations and can be used as a management tool. They may claim to have the force of law, but they do not have the same degree of binding power of a law.
Second, these measures are not much more than the practices that already existed (e.g., deleting posts, blocking social media accounts, public security authorities summoning violators for admonishment, or even suing them for the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”). In other words, the measures merely fix on paper some exemplary practices that have already existed, in order to authorize and legitimize the government agents to do these things. This is not an overnight escalation of strict control.
Third, I don’t think this will have much impact on Chinese Christians’ use of the internet for evangelism and mission. Zoom meetings may be disrupted, and WeChat public accounts may be blocked, but these have always been the possibilities.
The only impact that is certain is that some Chinese Christians will stop their ministry out of fear. But Christians should not dance to the baton of such regulations in how we serve God and people. We should do everything we can to be faithful stewards of God’s resources until God takes them back.