In both countries, the regimes are ignoring the concept of religious freedom and seeking to control their populations by force.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long had a campaign to repress Chinese Christians. Most recently this has consisted of blatant destruction of churches, crosses and religious symbols. While these measures are devastating and very demoralising, they obviously have not been enough to wipe out faith. So a new law is to come into play in May 2021 to further subjugate Christians.
'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy' will come into force on 1 May 2021. To operate legally, religious clergy – i.e., those who 'engage in religious teaching activities' - will need to registered and comply with a number of regulations:
· They require a 'clergy card' showing they are registered in the national database of authorised clergy
· This means they have to be identified by an authorised CCP approved/registered religious group, and be willing 'to support the leadership of the Communist Party of China [and] the socialist system
· They will be obliged to operate under the 'supervision and management' of the CCP's Religious Affairs Department which will 'guide', monitor and 'file records' on all registered clergy
· And they will be obliged to monitor and report on each other. As occurs with 'social credit', a system of rewards and punishments will apply
Registration will be difficult to achieve and easy to lose.
As Bitter Winter notes (11 Feb): 'Compliant clergy [are] thus transformed into apparatchiks of the CCP, lured by rewards and terrorised by punishments. They will be called to "Sinicize" their religions and preach love for the CPP to their devotees. Not much will be left of genuine religion - which is precisely the aim of these and other previous measures.'
For clergy (religious workers), as with churches, the choice is now between (1) compliance (serving the CCP), (2) open resistance (resulting in prison), or (3) secret resistance (moving ministry deep underground).
Affected people include pastors of the Protestant house churches, Catholic conscientious objectors who reject the Vatican-China deal of 2018 and refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, Jewish rabbis (as Judaism is not one of the five authorized religions), and religious personnel of new religious movements.
One evangelist destined to fall foul of the law is Brother Chen Wensheng of Hunan Province. A former drug addict, transformed by Jesus, the irrepressible Brother Chen conducts street evangelism in Hengyang city. Despite the pressure, Chen says, 'I have made up my mind to proclaim the gospel - even in prison.'
According to the Iranian regime, Iran respects religious freedom and Christians currently serving prison sentences in Iran are not in prison because of their faith. Rather, it insists, the condemned Christians have all been found to be members of 'enemy groups'.
Iranian Christians who worship in the historic churches (ethnic Armenian and Assyrian) enjoy relative freedom. The historic churches must conduct their services in the Armenian and Assyrian languages, not Farsi (Persian, the official language of Iran, which is spoken by the general populace).
The government sees house churches as a major threat as they use Farsi and are composed almost entirely of converts from Islam. Church leaders have described the phenomenal growth as “revival” and the distribution of over 1.5 million Farsi New Testaments has led to government warnings about the influence of the “red book”. Security police are constantly trying to find and close house churches; leaders are often arrested and tortured in an effort to track down all members.
When exiled Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi (34) presented himself to the prosecutor as requested, he was arrested. Now incarcerated in Chabahar prison, the long-persecuted, ever-faithful Firouzi has commenced a hunger strike. Before his arrest, he told his supporters that he was 'not afraid of being sent back to prison for telling the truth' about persecution and injustice.
'The power of Christ's love for us is such that no power can distract us from what we believe,' he said. 'They may be able to hurt us [physically], but they can't do damage to our souls.' This is brave speech from a man who knows exactly how much the regime can hurt him both physically and emotionally. The regime clearly wants to break him.
We need to pray
Lord, comfort and encourage all of China's faithful Christian leaders, teachers and evangelists; Holy Spirit guide each one personally, strengthen their faith with unshakeable assurance that 'he who promised is faithful' (Hebrews Chapter 10 verse 23).
'The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. "I know your tribulation ... Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days [i.e. a limited time] you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life".' (From Revelation chapter 2 verses 8-11 ESV)
God, sustain and encourage Brother Chen Wensheng.
May God sustain all Iran's incarcerated and suffering Christians, may the Spirit of the Lord provide comfort, faith and peace, and the 'rest' (Matthew Chapter 11 verse 28) that comes from trusting the God who is faithful. May Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) sustain them in every way.
Lord, intervene on behalf of the long-suffering and faithful Ebrahim Firouzi; may he be assured of the Lord's eternal presence and sustaining grace; may Firouzi's 'light' (Matthew chapter 5 verses 14-16) continue to shine brightly despite all efforts by the regime-of-darkness to suppress it.
And may the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church in Iran. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts' (from Zechariah Chapter 4 verse 6 ESV).
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science andtheology under her belt. Aira is a panellist and editor for PSI and indulges inreading, bushwalking and volunteering at a nature reserve. Aira is married to Billand they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html