The CCP imposes extreme measures to ensure that the young are not exposed to religion: from interrogating 10-year-olds to separating minors from religious families.
by Li Guang
Since the new Regulations on Religious Affairs came into effect on February 1, 2018, minors in China have been banned from entering places of worship or participating in any religious activities. The ban includes Sunday schools, summer camps, and educational institutions run by places of worship. Despite these heavy restrictions, religious people still attempt to raise their children in the spirit of their faith but are increasingly faced with persecution.
During a gathering in August of nearly 60 children in a Life Church venue in Henan Province’s Zhumadian city, several police officers stormed inside this house church. According to a congregation member, the children, all under ten, immediately started crying with fright.
“Officers were slamming a table to make us stop crying and dragged outside one boy who wouldn’t,” one of the children recalled.
The police confiscated all Bibles and other religious books and arrested four preachers and several deacons for hosting a gathering for minors. They then phoned the children’s parents to come to the church with their household registrations and ID cards. At the venue, they were told to write statements renouncing their faith and promising not to allow their children into churches anymore. They then were photographed holding their IDs. Parents who receive social benefits were threatened that their aid would be revoked if they continued practicing their faith.
During a raid in an unregistered Catholic church in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in April last year, authorities confiscated a list of congregation members whose children received their First Communion and interrogated the church’s clergy about the family’s whereabouts. Religious Affairs Bureau officials even went through local schools to find these children and raided their homes once their identities had been verified.
Minors of banned religious groups are subjected to even more severe persecution. A 14-year-old member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) from the eastern province of Zhejiang lived with her grandmother after her parents’ divorce. In March 2017, both of them were arrested for their faith. After rounds of gruesome interrogations, the girl was sent to a remote mountainous location for a 10-day atheist indoctrination. She was repeatedly pressured to stop living with her religious grandmother and was threatened that she would be unable to go to college and find good jobs if she continued practicing her faith. She was also told that her grandmother could be sentenced to prison or even executed for being a member of the CAG.
The girl wanted to stay with her grandmother after her release but was forced to live in a boarding school 500 meters away from her home, rarely seeing her grandmother. The police questioned her every month to identify CAG members from a collection of photos.
Any mention of children in sermons is also not allowed. A Three-Self preacher from the eastern province of Shandong told Bitter Winter that a fellow preacher was summoned by the Religious Affairs Bureau three times after being reported for reading a verse from the Bible, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). Bureau officials criticized him for calling “little children” to “come to me” and ordered him to stick to the sermons reviewed and approved by authorities.
A Three-Self church member from Shandong’s Dezhou city recalled how a pastor mentioned during a sermon that a pastor he knows was baptized at the age of nine. He was immediately stopped by a church preacher, who explained that children should not be mentioned in religious contexts because the government rigorously investigates places of worship, looking for pretexts to close them down.