China: Government installs facial recognition cameras in church

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By Mark Ellis —

Pastor Xiang En

Many believers in China are facing a bitter winter of persecution, with the government going so far as to install facial recognition cameras in at least one church, according to a report by Open Doors.

“The government wanted to install facial recognition cameras in our sanctuary,” Pastor Xiang En told Open Doors. “Of course we refused that unreasonable demand.”

Government authorities refused to take no for an answer. “They installed cameras in the lobby of our church building,” he says. “That camera can gather the private data of our church members and then they can target our church members to intimidate them.

Facial recognition surveillance camera (screenshot Open Doors)

“They will intimidate them with their jobs, their housing, and their children’s education to prevent them from going to church.”

In 2018, new regulations governing religious affairs took effect, which increased pressure on Christian churches. “Several prominent house churches in China were shut down,” Pastor Xiang said. “Hundreds of policemen raided our church, smashed our building, put the pastors on surveillance, and shut down the church.”

“The level of persecution in China is at its worst level since the cultural revolution in the 1960’s and 70’s,” he observed.

But like other attempts to muzzle the church through the ages, persecution has had the unintended consequence of fueling growth in the church. “We are so united together, like never before. We have a revival in our church. A lot of our brothers and sisters are so encouraged by this experience, even in severe persecution,” Pastor Xiang said.

In his early life, Pastor Xiang was a loyal communist. “I called myself a red kid,” he recounted to Open Doors. “I used to be a communist, atheist, and Marxist.

But God grabbed his heart with a single verse: Isaiah 1:18. “Even though your sin is as red as scarlet, I will make it as white as snow.”

“That color, red, has double meaning for me personally. My life used to be dominated by that red authority communist regime.”

The red, royal blood of Jesus washed and cleansed his heart and he became a new creature in Christ.

After his church was shut down by the government, the first sermon Pastor Xiang preached was from Revelation 3:7-8: “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

Pastor Xiang remains hopeful, despite the opposition his congregation faces. “Even though the persecution is intensifying, there are a lot of brothers and sisters being very faithful, very brave to testify to the glory of Jesus Christ.”

 

Pastor Xiang En’s story is the personal account of a Chinese Christian from a large house church in China. Persecution in China differs by region and church context.  Learn more about Open Doors’ work on behalf of persecuted believers here