Under the CCP’s totalitarian rule, even state-licensed churches become “illegal” after well-organized campaigns of threats and manipulations are implemented.
by Xin Lu
On May 19, chaos broke out outside a Niuwangmiao village’s Three-Self church in Dianzhuang town, under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city in the central province of Henan, as government personnel came to take over the place of worship, and the congregation began protesting.
Even though it had all necessary permits and documentation, the church in the tradition of the True Jesus Church was sealed off already in August 2018, after the local government decided to consolidate it with another state-run religious venue. The merging of churches is yet another means by which the CCP is suppressing religion.
According to a local government source, the closure was predetermined by two main factors. First, there were too many churches in the area under the jurisdiction of Dianzhuang. And second – located at a roadside, very close to a public square, the church had a “bad impact” on the population. As a result, the church has become the first Three-Self venue to be shut down in the area.
A resident of the village revealed to Bitter Winter more details about the process leading up to the closure of the church. The local Religious Affairs Bureau first took away the church’s religious activity venue registration certificate, pledging to return it after it was renewed. The promise was never kept, and the congregation of the legal Three-Self church suddenly became “unregistered,” holding “illegal gatherings.”
On February 3, to stop believers from returning to the church, the town government sent personnel to block off the church’s main entrance with two truckloads of gravel. Since that day, members of the congregation were unable to enter the church.
On that memorable May 19, the town government hired personnel to forcibly put up the sign “Elderly Activity Center” above the church’s entrance. Nearly 40 people surrounded the church, blocking believers from approaching. During the ensuing altercations with the officials, the person in charge of the church and a believer in her seventies fainted, and an ambulance took them to a nearby hospital. However, government personnel were unmoved and proceeded with converting the church into a center for the elderly.
The sign “Elderly Activity Center” was soon hung above the entrance, and the gravel that was dumped outside the church in February was hauled away.
When believers entered the church that evening, they saw numerous CCP propaganda posters inside. “Obey the Party, follow the Party,” the list of core socialist values, and other communist slogans have replaced Christian symbols and texts. The angry congregation tore up the posters, which resulted in the arrest of the person in charge of the church. She was released later the same day.
To “legalize” the forceful takeover, the local government demanded village officials and Party members to pressure the congregation into signing a “church transfer agreement.” Documents obtained by Bitter Winter and the texts of similar “agreements” from Three-Self churches in Henan confirm that the forced donation of churches, free-of-charge, is widely implemented by the CCP.
To speed up the process, one bureaucrat was assigned to work on a group of six believers. They used all possible threats and intimidations to persuade congregation members sign the agreement, such as suspension of pensions or subsidies, denial of residence registration (hukou) for newly-born babies or marriage certificates for members of their families, and alike.
On May 27, village officials posted a notice stating that three believers hadn’t signed the agreement; they are therefore deprived of their pensions, government subsidies, minimum subsistence allowance, and all other welfare appropriations and benefits.
The full text of the notice is as follows: “Considering that three households in our village have not complied with the government’s requirement to transform the church, and have refused to sign the agreement for the church’s transformation, the village’s Two Committees [the Party branch committee and the village committee] have made the following decision regarding these three households and their family members in accordance with the spirit of the higher level of government: First, they will no longer enjoy the government’s minimum subsistence allowance or “five guarantees” benefits [a welfare support payment for low income households]. Second, they will no longer enjoy government subsidies for residential gas; for example, they must pay the full fee of 4,100 RMB [about $ 580] for having gas installed at their house. Third, they will no longer enjoy benefits issued collectively by the village [government]. Fourth, the village committee will no longer issue various certificates to their family members. Issued by the Village Committee of Niuwangmiao village on May 27, 2019.
The same evening as the notice was issued, the daughter-in-law of one of the believers who refused to sign was stripped of her eligibility to receive a government subsidy for gas expenses.
Feeling increasing pressure from the officials and their families, believers were forced to sign the agreement.
The person in charge of the church refused, despite repeated threats and ultimatums. Regardless, the church is now under full control by the state.