CCP uses many bullying methods to force unregistered believers to join the official Three-Self Church: from direct threats to extorting landlords who rent to them.
by Yang Guang’an
Landlords intimidated with fines
Authorities throughout China are pressuring people who rent their properties to house churches to terminate lease agreements with them and leave these places of worship with nowhere to congregate so that they are forced to join the state-run Three-Self Church. To further intimidate these landlords, steep fines – up to 200,000 RMB (about $ 29,000) – are imposed on those who dare to disobey the regime.
Dao’en Presbyterian Church, founded in 1992 in Xuzhou, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, has been subjected to constant crackdowns throughout the past few years for refusing to be governed by the state.
On June 9, 2019, the police raided one of its places of worship – the Zhongxin Church – and registered the ID information of all congregation members present at the time. The church deacon was taken away for interrogation. Pressured by the district’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, the landlord of the property sent the church a tenancy termination notice, asking to vacate the premises within three days.
The same day, officials from the local Civil Affairs Bureau, accompanied by the police, came to the South Church, another of Dao’en Presbyterian Church’s venues. Two days later, the Bureau sent the church a notice, ordering to close it down, and on June 26, issued the landlord of the building a 100,000 RMB (about $ 14,000) fine.
Believers of the other three Dao’en Presbyterian Church’s venues suffered the same fate: the landlords were pressured to terminate rental agreements. “The government prohibits landlords from renting properties to believers. If they disobey, their properties could be confiscated, and heavy fines imposed,” an insider revealed to Bitter Winter.
Suppressed as “evil forces”
The CCP government often designates house churches as “evil forces” to close them down using the nationwide campaign to “clean up gang crime and eliminate evil.” In early November last year, the government of Zhenqiao, a town administered by Leping city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, convened an emergency meeting to discuss the campaign, demanding to list all unlicensed churches under the town’s jurisdiction as “evil forces” and shut them down.
In the following two days, five meeting venues of the old Local Church were shut down, and all furniture, crosses, and other religious symbols were removed.
“If the central religion supervision team, which is coming for an inspection, finds any functioning house churches, local officials in charge could be dismissed from their offices,” a local government official explained to Bitter Winter. The CCP is making officials personally responsible for closing down unlicensed religious venues, which has become one of the regime’s religious suppression tools, especially in rural areas.
“The CCP’s claims that there is freedom of religion in China is a deception!” a person in charge of a house church told Bitter Winter. “They aim to eliminate religious belief eventually. The government has never processed my repeated applications for a religious activity permit. They use these applications to shut down churches.”
Congregations intimidated to give up their faith
On November 23, the local government sent two grid administrators to guard the Qianxiang Church, located in the Wenjiang district of Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan. While they were turning away congregation members who tried to get inside the church, police officers, together with personnel from the sub-district office, monitored the situation from across the street.
Since October 26, this was the fifth time that officials and police officers came to the church to keep believers outside, preventing them from worshiping in the church. The authorities use this intimidation technique to pressure them into joining the Three-Self Church. An elderly congregation member told Bitter Winter that he had been coming to the church all this time, hoping to get inside. “Once again, we are prevented from entering the church,” he said with grief.
In January 2019, a house church in Kunming city in the southwestern province of Yunnan, which was founded over a decade ago and had over 100 members, was shut down for refusing to join the Three-Self Church. Officially, though, officials claimed that “the church was on too high a floor,” which, according to them, was “dangerous.”
A church member revealed to Bitter Winter that officials from the local Religious Affairs Bureau and the community committee had repeatedly summoned the church pastor “for conversations” to harass him. Under the unyielding pressure, the pastor started fearing for his life; he even wrote a farewell letter to his family in case he is arrested and never comes back.