A persecution watchdog is casting doubt on a recent report indicating there could be a decrease — or at least a stagnation — in the number of Christians in China.
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David Curry, CEO of Global Christian Relief, an organization that helps Christians under duress around the globe, believes a Pew Research Center report on the matter likely isn’t telling the full story.
“If you believe Pew Research’s latest report, about 23.3 million adults in China self-identified as Christian in 2010,” Curry wrote in a recent Fox News piece. “That number fell to 19.9 million by 2018. That’s a decline of nearly 3.5 million Christians in less than a decade.”
Curry, though, believes there is essential context one must acknowledge when exploring these numbers. He expanded upon the narrative in a recent interview with CBN Digital, explaining the reasons the projections are very likely not capturing the realities of what’s unfolding on the ground in China.
“The church in China, I believe, based on … some methodology of our own, is somewhere around 120 million,” Curry said, though definitive numbers are difficult to determine.
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If true, this would mean some estimates are off by almost 100 million people. One of the challenges, Curry said, is using self-identifying religious data inside a country that openly punishes Christianity and those who choose to publicly align with the faith.
“They have self-identifying as one of the factors and a number of things which make the number incredibly low,” he said. “Historically, the Chinese church has been underground.”
While the church came above ground in recent decades, the rise of Chinese President Xi Jinping has created roadblocks and problems, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) increasingly cracking down on the faithful. The government looks down upon those who attend church regularly — and children cannot be legally aligned with any faith tradition.
“[President Xi has] become more … like a dictator,” he said. “It’s gone back underground, because of the increased restrictions. So, to be self-identified as a Christian means to put yourself in the crosshairs of a lot of government surveillance and other things, because Christian behavior is punished in their social score system, and they have a very sophisticated way of monitoring this.”
Curry said the CCP is trying to “strangle” Christianity, leading some people to very likely conceal their beliefs when overtly asked. As CBN News has reported, the CCP is reportedly also attempting to rewrite the Bible in its own image, with officials in one area also testing out a new app demanding citizens pre-register before attending religious services.
“When you ask people if they’re Christian, they’re not likely to just raise their hand, wave, and jump up and down, and say, ‘Yeah, count me in your survey,’ because they know what it means,” Curry said.
Despite these challenges, Curry believes Christianity is, in all reality, increasing in China, with a healthy underground church continuing to grow.
“It’s under pressure … but the church of China is growing,” he said. “I think it’s healthy, despite a lot of the headwinds it’s facing right now.”
Curry said Chinese Christians could also help believers in the West who are “in a mode of retreat” amid the cultural changes that have suddenly made those heralding biblical values persona non grata.
“We’re in a defensive position,” he said. “And I think we need to look at the Chinese church and the church that’s under persecution in general as perhaps a model of how a church can grow in difficult times.”
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