Jiangsu and Liaoning provinces continue reducing the number of places for believers to assemble, barring state-run and house churches alike.
by Yang Guang’an
In the second half of 2019, at least 140 Protestant churches, both state-approved Three-Self and house churches, were shut down in Huai’an and Yancheng, two prefecture-level cities in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The 84 of the closed Three-Self churches were merged—one of the CCP’s go-to tools to reduce the number of places of worship and increase control over them.
A Three-Self church manager from Huai’an told Bitter Winter that the government of the city’s Huaiyin district took away religious activity venue registration certificates from many Three-Self churches on the excuse that they needed to be renewed. The new permits were never issued, and officials threatened to blacklist the congregations that continue assembling and implicate believers’ families.
Officials from the Yancheng government informed the congregations of the closed down Three-Self churches that they had been instructed by the central government to reduce the number of places of worship, regardless if they had been approved or not. Even having a valid certificate doesn’t matter. During the closure process, crosses and religious symbols, as well as all other belongings have been removed from churches.
After a Three-Self church in Yancheng was merged with another church, its 15 elderly members had to travel 15 kilometers to attend services. A month later, on July 30, that church was also sealed off.
“There is no place for people of faith in this large country,” a churchgoer from Huai’an in her 50s lamented. “If we don’t have a church, we will gather in the fields. No matter what, we can’t give up our faith.”
According to received information, from last October to January, about 200 Protestant venues were eliminated in three cities of the northeastern province of Liaoning: 79 in Tieling, 57 in Shenyang, and over 60 in Dalian. Most of them belonged to the Three-Self Church.
A government official from the Qinghe district in Tieling told Bitter Winter that about 700 Three-Self Church venues with no valid religious activity certificates would be sealed off. He explained that in the past, the government allowed venues without these licenses to be administered by a Three-Self church that had a valid certificate. Assemblies in these venues were not considered illegal. However, since the new Regulations on Religious Affairs came into force in February 2018, places worship without certificates are deemed unlawful and must be closed down.
In November, 32 venues subordinate to two Three-Self churches in Tieling’s Qinghe and Yinzhou districts were shut down. All religious symbols were ordered to be removed from them. The government threatened to fine the congregations from 10,000 to 20,000 RMB (about $ 1,400 to $ 2,800) if they continued gatherings and demanded to hand over to the two churches all donations. The manager of one of the venues told Bitter Winter that by controlling the churches’ money, the government aims to contain the spread of Christianity.
The same month, the government notified a Three-Self church in the Hunnan district of Shenyang that if its over 40 subordinate meeting venues were found to hold gatherings without permission, the directors and hosts of these venues would be detained for 15 days and fined 50,000 RMB (about $ 7,000). All the sites were disbanded.
“The CCP seems to be in a crisis, so it fights with the church for a place in people’s hearts,” a preacher from Tieling commented on the government’s religious policies. “If all people believe in God, they won’t listen to the CCP. Therefore, it wants to suppress religious beliefs. Christian churches don’t belong to Xi Jinping. He’ll end up like the Pharaoh in the Bible who opposed God, and no one can change that.”
In mid-October, the Daweijia Christian Church and the Grace Gospel Church, Three-Self churches in Dalian city’s Jinpu New Area, were sealed off. A Three-Self church deacon told Bitter Winter that the Grace Gospel Church handed to the Religious Affairs Bureau several years ago all required paperwork to obtain the religious activity venue certificate, but has never been issued one. The CCP often uses this tactic to reduce the number of functioning places of worship.
“China is an atheist and dark country,” a preacher from a Three-Self church in Dalian said. “Don’t expect this government to protect its people.”