Authorities intimidate property owners and hotel managers who allow unregistered religious groups to hold religious gatherings.
by Tang Zhe
To ensure that house churches have no place to congregate, local authorities across China encourage residents to report on religious activities and pressure hotels and landlords not to rent their properties for religious groups.
The Shangli Church was founded in June 2012 in Fujian Province’s Xiamen city. When its 5-year rental contract was about to expire in April 2018, the venue’s landlord refused to renew it because of the local government’s continuous pressure. Having no place to meet, the congregation started gathering in hotels. But not for long.
As the congregation’s meeting at the Tianhai Garden Hotel on August 9 was about to finish, two police officers came to the hotel and ordered its manager to stop renting the venue to believers.
As a warning to other property owners, on October 16, the city’s Culture and Tourism Bureau and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau jointly fined the hotel 20,000 RMB (about $ 2,800) and confiscated 8,300 RMB (about $ 1,250) for “repeatedly providing venues for illegal religious activities.”
“The government exerts severe crackdown on religions, so we have no places for our meetings,” a church member said. “The hotel no longer dares to rent to us after the punishment. Authorities even raid the homes of believers who invite their congregations for gatherings. They disrupt the meetings and smash things. It’s so terrible!”
Bitter Winter previously reported on fines and punishments imposed on the landlords of numerous house churches in Xiamen, the Living Springs Church, the Ruijing Church, and the Chengguang Church among them.
The government of the prefecture-level city of Shangrao in the southeastern province of Jiangxi shut down nine house churches in October for “being unlicensed,” leaving numerous believers without a place to worship and no chance to find new locations to rent. All venues belong to the old Local Church.
A church venue in the city’s Yushan county had over 30 regular congregation members, most of whom are elderly. In late September, the local government asked the congregation to join the state-run Three-Self Church, raise the national flag, and hang propaganda slogans. When they refused, the church was shut down.
Unable to find a new venue, congregation members set up a makeshift shed to hold their gathering in secret at night. “On warm nights, mosquitos would bite us in the shed,” a congregation member said. “Now that the cold weather is coming, it will be too hard for us, old people, to endure.”
Regardless of all hardships, the believers are determined to practice their faith and continue refusing to join the Three-Self Church. “If we join, we’ll be controlled by the government,” another congregation member commented. “That will no longer be a belief in the Lord Jesus, but in the Communist Party. The government can only control our actions but not our souls.”
On August 9, a Sola Fide house church venue was shut down in Neixiang county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Nanyang in the central province of Henan. Another house church venue in the city’s Nanzhao county was closed on the evening of July 23. The local government assigned a person to monitor the venue every day, preventing the congregation from resuming gatherings. At least four other house church venues were raided in Nanzhao county in July.