By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - China's Communist government has halted online church services despite the coronavirus pandemic forcing many Christians to stay at home this Easter, Worthy News learned Saturday. The online religious rights watchdog Bitter Winter and local Christians said only groups holding state-issued licenses could stream religious services online in China. "We can't get together because of the pandemic," an underground house church pastor in the province of Jiangxi told Bitter Winter.
"Our first and only online gathering was blocked by the government soon after it started," the preacher said about a recent incident in February. That same day, another house church pastor, in the province of Shandong, reportedly tried to stream online services. "The meeting was stopped less than 20 minutes after the start," Bitter Winter reported.
Soon after, government-backed religious authorities issued a notice "demanding all churches in the province to stop live-streaming their services immediately," Bitter Winter revealed. In Jiaxing province, a government organization said it would investigate all online activities by state-approved churches, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Under Chinese law, "No organizations or individuals will be allowed to live-stream or broadcast religious activities." The legislation adds that banned activities include "praying, burning incense, ordinations, scripture chanting, holding Mass, worship." Additionally, receiving information on baptism online in the form of text, photo, audio or video, is also forbidden, according to experts who saw the law.
Churches in China must register with the government and join either the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. But because these state-approved churches face severe restrictions, millions of Christians worship in illegal underground house churches. Besides the reported crackdown on online services, authorities also continued with the demolition of crosses, Christians said.
In mid-March, crosses were reportedly removed from several churches in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui. Similar destruction took place in neighboring Shandong where already at least 70 crosses were removed from churches since last spring, Christians said. "More [crosses] have been taken down during the epidemic," added Bitter Winter.
Christians have linked the crackdown to the perceived authoritarian atheistic policies of Xi Jinping, China's leader, who abolished presidential term limits. Authorities have expressed concern about the spread of Christianity in China that they deem as a threat to the Communist system. Officials suggest China has as many as 130 million devoted Christians.