The world has changed a lot since the height of global communism. Yet, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still clings on to power and has adapted over time to reinforce its brutal rule in a digital age. One new repressive innovation is forcing residents of China’s Henan province to fill out an online form via an app created by the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of Henan Province and gain approval before attending a religious service.
The app, called “Smart Religion,” requires citizens to inform the government of the church, mosque, or Buddhist temple they wish to attend. The application asks for each person’s name, address, contact information, date of birth, occupation, and government ID number. The app marks a major step in the CCP’s implementation of its totalitarian approach to managing its citizens’ religious practice.
The CCP is known for experimenting with social policies in a limited geographical area before applying them nationwide. The area in which the CCP is choosing to do these experiments is strategic. Henan has been called the “Jerusalem of China” due to its historic revival among Chinese house churches. Most of the major house church networks in China were started there.
Even today, it is also known as the single province with the largest number of protestant Christians residing among 31 provinces in China. According to Paul Hattaway’s 2009 book, “Henan: The Galilee of China” (Volume 2 of the “Fire & Blood” series), at the time of publication there were about 5,226,714 who attended the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches. Combined with estimates of house church attendees, Hattaway believed there were a total of 14,082,942 protestant Christians in Henan. Given the rapid spread of Christianity in the last 20 years in China, that number could be doubled.
It’s no accident that the “Smart Religion” app was first introduced in Henan — and unfortunately, it is likely to soon be utilized in other parts of China as well.
Making religious adherents register to attend worship services is inherently intimidating. It forces Christians and others to hand over evidence of their faith directly to repressive atheist authorities. That requirement alone, even when Christians are not prevented from attending church, will make believers think twice before attending a service. Some may opt out entirely.
Former Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CBN News, “We’re just seeing the continuation of the Xi Jinping regime becoming a full Mao regime. … And he’s doing what Mao did in the Cultural Revolution. It’s just tightening down the whole situation, going after faith communities in particular and he’s using it and doing it in a high-tech fashion.”
The international community — and U.S. leaders in particular — must demand that the CCP stop inventing new ways to intimidate, harass, and persecute religious believers. The CCP officials responsible for this app and the companies that work with them should be held accountable for their human rights violations. History has shown this kind of suppression will ultimately prove to be futile in suppressing the growth of Christianity. But for now, Chinese Christians are facing serious new challenges as advanced technology is utilized to control religious belief.
Rev. Bob Fu, Ph.D. is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of “Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution.”