The religious restrictions imposed by the government of China are some of the harshest on earth. However, they don’t only affect adult believers — many of the most restrictive policies aim to stifle the faith of young followers of Jesus.
“One of the rules that have always been in their law is that you cannot proselytize or you cannot convert somebody under the age of 18,” explained Erik Burklin, president of China Partner, according to Mission News Online.
Previously, many parents were instructing their “children come to church and many churches started what we would call Sunday school classes,” Burklin explained. “They would use that time to teach children Bible verses and teach them Christian songs and so forth.”
Now, however, the communist authorities have started to tighten the leash on youth ministry activities in a bid to prevent youngsters from becoming followers of Jesus. “Many churches have been notified by Religious Affairs Bureau heads that you can no longer conduct Sunday school classes in your churches,” Burklin explained. “They even put signage up in the entrance of some churches to indicate that.”
The censorship of religion is part of China’s wider bid to “sinicize” religion and nurture a greater devotion to President Xi Jinping.
In March, Premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed this commitment to the national legislature, declaring that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicisation of religion in China,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Government actions include the relentless persecution of the underground church and a bolstering of President Xi’s cult of personality among rural Christian communities. In essence, government officials want the people to pledge allegiance to the President and see Jesus Christ as a conflicting interest that threatens national security.
Last month, in a bid to ease tensions between the Vatican and Beijing, the Chinese government agreed to allow the official ordination of the first ever official Catholic bishop.
Antonio Yao Shun was “the first to take place in the framework of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China,” the Vatican said in a statement, according to the BBC.
The director of the Vatican Press Office, Matteo Bruni, added that the cleric had “been consecrated Bishop of Jining/Wulanchabu, Inner Mongolia (China),” and had “received the Papal Mandate.”
Pastors remain imprisoned
Several pastors remain behind bars for leading underground, and thus illegal, congregations. Pastor Wang Yi is one of the most high profile individuals who is currently imprisoned for his faith. He pastors Early Rain Covenant Church — a leading megachurch in Chengdu, Sichuan which has been persecuted intensely by Chinese authorities for refusing to sign on to the official government registry.
Last month, however, one of the church’s elders, who was arrested along with around 100 of his fellow church members, was finally released from custody.
He was originally arrested on charges of “stirring up trouble and “running an illegal business.”