To ensure that congregations have no means to reopen closed down places of worship, CCP is confiscating their assets and burning Bibles and religious symbols.
by Xin Lu
Despite the intense and ruthless crackdown against Christian house churches, some manage to continue functioning even after they are forcibly closed. The trend appears to cause a severe headache for the CCP. To prevent house churches from re-emerging, provincial and municipal authorities across China are implementing a variety of strict measures: “return-visit” inspections, repurposing of meeting venues, imposing personal responsibility on the officials dealing with forced closures and demolitions, as well as ubiquitous surveillance and monitoring of believers.
In this spirit, the “leading group on ethnic and religious work” of a locality in China’s central Henan Province issued in March a document detailing the requirements for increased management of Christian religious venues. On top of many other measures, officials in charge of religious suppression are instructed to remove all religious symbols and clear out all belongings after churches are closed down, to make sure that they do not reopen.
Similarly, in April, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenyang city, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, demanded each community to intensify investigations of non-official religious venues within their jurisdiction: “You must clear out all the religious items inside private meeting venues and stop the phenomenon of resurgence.”
The campaign to loot and empty house church meeting venues continues to escalate nationwide.
Hunan: 50 officials loot a church
On April 1, approximately 50 personnel from the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, the National Security Brigade and other departments in Cili county, under the jurisdiction of Zhangjiajie city, in the south-central province of Hunan, arrived at Bethel Church, a Protestant place of worship not approved by the state. They ordered the church’s director to open the door, but she refused, and the officials forced it down. The personnel went on to tear down all symbols of faith and confiscated 100 copies of the Bible and more than 70 hymnbooks. A piano, benches, audio equipment and other items worth about 50,000 RMB (about $ 7,5oo) were looted in the raid.
A believer from the church revealed that the church was repeatedly harassed by government personnel in late-March. The church’s preacher was taken to the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau for interrogation. Since the preacher isn’t from the local area, Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau officials prohibited him from preaching anymore on the grounds that he had engaged in “cross-regional preaching.” They also forced him to sign a “statement of commitment” that he will not preach anymore.
The church’s director was also made to sign a statement, promising not to hold religious gatherings, when she was summoned by government officials and ordered to hand over the personal information of the congregation members. The director was questioned about the whereabouts of the church’s money, but she refused to answer.
Anhui: Bibles burned, church threatened to be demolished
On April 23, more than a dozen government officials stormed into a house church in Huaining county, under the jurisdiction of Anqing city in the eastern province of Anhui. The believers were ordered to cease the gathering because they didn’t have all appropriate documentation for the building of the church, officials claimed.
The church’s computer, projector, audio equipment, donation box, and other items worth about 10,000 RMB (about $ 1,450) were confiscated on the grounds that they “constituted illegal promotional tools and materials.”
The confiscated Bibles, hymnbooks, and paintings of crosses were burned. The officials also cut off the electricity supply, tore down the meeting venue’s air conditioner. “If you hold any more gatherings, the building will be demolished!” believers were threatened.
“For the sake of this church, all our elderly brothers and sisters lived frugally to raise enough money to build it. The Communist Party is unreasonable. Just like bandits, they removed everything from the church,” a believer said with grief and anger.
Henan: Church ransacked less than six months after opening
On May 26, a house church meeting venue in Lushan county, under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Pingdingshan city, was raided less than six months after its founding. Five local police officers stormed into the meeting venue, tore down and destroyed the picture of the cross on the wall; and confiscated Bibles, hymnbooks, audio equipment, a donation box, and other items.
Shortly afterward, the officers escorted the owner of the meeting venue to the police station and interrogated her. They warned her that she is not allowed to believe in God anymore and is prohibited from hosting gatherings; otherwise, she will be arrested and sentenced. They then forced her to sign and affix her fingerprints on a “statement of guarantee.”
“The government wants us to go to a Three-Self church to attend gatherings. We won’t go, the government controls it. It conveys the government’s policies on one occasion, talks about patriotism on another, and even makes churchgoers study ‘Xi Jinping Thought.’ It isn’t a place to worship the Lord at all,” said one of the congregation members.
“The state persecutes people who believe in God. It’s like the approach of the Egyptian pharaoh. He feared that the Israelites would multiply and flourish, so he killed them to protect his throne,” the church’s preacher remarked. “Now, the government is doing the same thing. The CCP is afraid that if many people believe in God, it will lose its power.”