New regulations governing online religious content came into effect on March 1 of this year. If strictly enforced, the regulations could severely restrict the use of online tools for ministry and outreach by Christians in China. This article from China Christian Daily provides a brief update on how churches are responding.
TSPM Churches Attempt to Obtain Internet Religious Information Service License
Since March 1 when the Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services came into force, various provinces in China have given notices on procedures and requirements for applying for a license, without which no entity can legally provide any internet religious-related information services.
As a legally registered religious organization, TSPM (Three-Self Patriotic Movement) churches are entitled to operate online after receiving their licenses. According to China Christian Daily (CCD) sources, the Christian Council (CC) and the TSPM and its churches in major cities are actively preparing to apply. Communications with local religious authorities have been generally smooth.
Specific policies vary in different provinces as some places provide training for religious bodies and some require exams to obtain the license.
Dated on February 18, 2022, an unverified picture circulated on the internet said, “XX City CC&TSPM is a legally registered religious organization, which according to relevant laws and regulations is allowed to provide internet religious information service.”
Not all churches are moving forward with their license. It is said that some churches that have been listed on the official blacklist will never get approved to obtain the license to share religious information online.
It is understood by CCD sources that churches in rural areas or smaller towns and counties are generally less optimistic about the application process, especially those lacking personnel serving in online ministry. Many churches still struggle to figure out their goals and directions for online pastoral ministry.
Registered churches in some parts of northwestern China have not yet made any progress towards more online services known to the sources.
“In the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, basically all online activities were stopped. Even church WeChat groups have been disbanded twice,” said an anonymous pastor.
A church in Ningxia used to live-stream their services before Chinese New Year 2022, until they were reported to the police and the pastor had to sign a guarantee. Now one-to-one pastoral visits are their main ministry while studying the Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services has become part of church life.
When asked whether the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs authorities in Ningxia have helped with the certificates required for applying for the license, the source said that at the moment the local authorities did not encourage applications or commit to issuing licenses.
According to sources, Xinjiang churches face a similar situation. Jianghe, the WeChat official account of Christ’s Church (Mingde Church) in Urumqi has stopped updating since June 2021, and their Sunday services are mainly conducted by joining the live stream of a TSPM seminary.
Original article: “TSPM Churches Attempt to Obtain Internet Religious Information Service License,” China Christian Daily.
Edited and reposted with permission.
For thoughts on how the implementation of the new Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services might affect the use of the internet for evangelism and mission by Chinese Christians, see “Can China’s New Regulations Really Stop Evangelism on the Internet?” at Christianity Today. Chinese language versions of the article are also available.
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