Places of worship, set up by Three-Self churches to facilitate believers with disabilities or in far-away regions, are facing increasing suppression by the state.
by Zhou Xiaolu
Since the number and geographical distribution of state-controlled Three-Self churches in China is far from sufficient to meet believers’ needs, meeting venues established by Three-Self churches have emerged to fill the void. Most of the state-run Protestant churches have set up several or even dozens of sites for worshiping, most of which are located in rural areas, far away from the main churches. Such meeting venues are mainly intended to facilitate believers’ gatherings and reduce their travel expenses. They are especially crucial for physically-challenged elderly believers, for whom it is the only option to practice their faith in places of worship that are allowed by the state. But now, such venues are being shut down in large numbers.
36 meeting venues shut down
In April, 36 meeting venues established by Trinity Church, a Three-Self church in Xi’an, the capital of the northwestern province of Shaanxi, were closed down.
Reportedly, the number of congregants at these places of worship ranges from a dozen to 60 people; some have been set up to facilitate elderly believers with mobility issues who now have nowhere to congregate.
“I cannot leave God,” an 80-year-old Christian said upon learning the news, anxiously tapping the ground with her cane.
A 75-year-old woman who is unable to move around freely because of a health condition has been hosting religious gatherings for Three-Self Church believers at her home for five years. Since her venue was shut down, she has been unable to attend meetings for worship.
“If we continue holding gatherings in small groups at meeting venues, I’m afraid that we’ll even lose the church,” a member of the church said helplessly.
Meeting venues closed in the name of “anti-infiltration”
Although government-appointed pastors deliver sermons at most of Three-Self meeting venues, the sites are not as much under the government’s direct control as the main churches. Because they are mostly set up in private homes or far-away regions, they do not face the same political and financial scrutiny by the state.
In March, 14 meeting venues established by a Three-Self church were shut down in Tieling county’s Xiongguantun town, administered by Tieling city in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
The government proclaimed that it had to be done to “prevent external infiltration” and because “too many meeting venues cause trouble for management” – the two most-cited pretexts by the government for closing Three-Self meeting venues.
A pastor and 36 believers were even arrested after the police raided a Three-Self church venue in Shiyan city’s Yunyang district in the central province of Hubei on June 26. They were released only after midnight.
Believers from Jilin, Siping, and Liaoyuan – cities in the northeastern province of Jilin – also reported that numerous Three-Self meeting venues had been closed down.
“The CCP won’t allow the existence of any form of worship that is not under its strict control; it wants to eliminate them all!” said a believer from a Three-Self meeting venue in the central province of Henan.