Fearing that the spread of Christianity will pose a threat to the CCP’s rule, authorities around Jiangxi Province increasingly suppress private religious venues.
by Tang Zhe
“You’re not allowed to believe in God. If you want to believe in something, then believe in the Communist Party,” is the proverbial phrase CCP officials utter while shutting down house churches.
In March, the United Front Work Department of a county committee in the southeastern province of Jiangxi issued a document requesting to strengthen the ideological work to stop the expansion of private Christian meeting venues in rural areas by vying for “ideological territory and people’s hearts.” The document calls for sweeping investigations of and crackdowns on private Christian meeting venues, with particular attention given to churches that are expanding. The document forewarns that higher levels of government will be conducting random inspections, and grassroots-level officials who lack behind in shutting down private meeting venues will be held accountable.
Similar documents have also been issued in other parts of Jiangxi Province. From March to April alone, 12 Christian meeting venues were shut down in Yongxiu county under the jurisdiction of Jiangxi’s Jiujiang city.
“House of Christ” house church meeting venue was among the closed down places of worship in Yongxiu county:
Among them was a “Light of Life” house church meeting venue, located a floor below the Party secretary’s office in a village in the county’s Yunshanbei district. When a visiting county inspection team discovered the site, officials deemed it a “religious organization competing against the Party for ideological territory.” Town and village officials were rebuked for not paying enough attention to Christian activities within the jurisdiction. Soon after, the venue was shut down, the “Light of Life” signboard and the cross were removed. The officials also ordered the leader of the venue to sign a statement promising to cease religious activities.
The person in charge of a house church meeting venue in Wannian county, under the jurisdiction of Shangrao city in Jiangxi, told Bitter Winter that in May, the local police took him in for interrogation, during which they threatened to arrest and imprison him if his place of worship doesn’t join the state-run Three-Self Church and continues holding gatherings. “You believe in the God of foreigners,” the officers claimed. “The state is in dispute with foreign countries now, so we’re afraid that you will coordinate with outside elements and rebel, which would be disadvantageous to the Communist Party.”
Unwilling to submit to the regime’s control, the person in charge refused to register with the official church. As a result, his meeting venue was forcibly shut down soon after.
Along with church leaders and preachers, landlords of religious venues have become victims of the government’s campaign to “rectify” house churches, i.e., to make them join the Three-Self Church. If the “rectification” is unsatisfactory, the venue will be shut down “according to law,” “illegal” religious activity materials will be confiscated, and relevant government departments will decide the punishment of landlords, preachers, and others involved.
Under the pressure of this policy, the government has intimidated the landlords of many house church meeting venues, threatening to arrest them if they continue renting their properties to believers. Some churchgoers who host gatherings at their homes were threatened to have their wages or minimum living subsidies revoked. All such venues were forced to close down as a result.
Not only unofficial churches are harassed, but Three-Self churches continue to be persecuted as well. At least 14 Three-Self church meeting venues were forcibly shut down in Yuanzhou district of Yichun, a prefecture-level city in Jiangxi, between March and April.
Among them, a Three-Self church meeting venue in Jinyuan sub-district of Yuanzhou was shut down because local officials claimed it had not been approved. The person in charge of the church was forced to write a statement of guarantee, which includes statements like, “I’ll do as the Party requires, do whatever the Party says; I will obey the Party. From now on, I’ll no longer hold gatherings, praise God or pray to God.”
With nowhere else to congregate, believers had to gather under the eaves of a house in secret. When officials discovered them, they threatened to demolish the house if any more gatherings were held, forcing believers to look for another secret location.