Any association with overseas religionists is one of the many popular pretexts for the CCP to eliminate the places of worship refusing to join Three-Self Church.
by Zhang Feng
Campaigns to eliminate house churches are underway across China. In May, the United Front Work Department of Yanhu district in Yuncheng city in the northern province of Shanxi convened a meeting for grassroots-level officials to discuss religious affairs. One of the primary messages –to keep an eye on and prevent “foreign forces” from using rural house churches to “infiltrate” China. To ensure proper implementation of the order, each village was instructed to thoroughly investigate and register the information of believers and shut down any religious entities that hadn’t registered to join government-controlled religious organizations. If three or more people are in a meeting or strangers enter the village, they all must be arrested.
Later in May, “House of Warmth” Church (headquartered in Beijing) in Shuozhou city was shut down as a result of an organized operation. The church’s pastor, a preacher from Beijing, and more than 30 believers were arrested on the grounds that they were “suspected of having foreign ties.”
According to eyewitnesses, on the morning of the incident, more than 30 police officers stormed into the meeting venue; seized a donation box, a projector, Bibles, and hymnbooks; believers’ mobile phones were confiscated as well. The police shut down the venue and put up a notice “Illegal religious activity site” on its door. Three days later, the signboard with the church’s name was removed.
According to one of the church’s believers who requested anonymity, the police registered the information of all the arrested believers. They were released only after agreeing under pressure to sign a “statement of guarantee,” promising to cut off contact with the pastor.
Because of the pastor’s previous trips to South Korea for training, he was accused of “having contact with a foreign Christian church” and was detained for ten days on the charge of “illegally organizing religious activities.” After his release, he was stripped of his preaching qualifications and prohibited from having contact with foreign churches.
The same month, the police also raided a Sola Fide house church meeting venue in Taiyuan city.
A member of the congregation revealed that on the day of the incident, the local police barged into the meeting venue and searched it, without presenting any credentials. The officers confiscated all Bibles and hymnbooks and arrested the preacher and several believers.
The preacher and the host of the meeting venue were detained for 11 days for “holding an illegal gathering” and fined 500 RMB (about $ 75).
The members of the congregation were released the same day after their information was registered; their photos were later posted online. However, according to the believer, the police told them that the church was having contacts with churches in the United States and was an anti-CCP organization. To avoid being arrested for breaking the law again, they must join a Three-Self church. The police threatened the believers with much more severe outcomes if they disobey and are arrested again.
“We elderly people are in poor health and cannot travel far, so we want to hold gatherings and worship God at home, but the state doesn’t allow it,” complained another member of the congregation. “The government is cracking down on religious belief so strictly now. All we can do is hide the Bibles and crosses in our homes and hold gatherings secretly.”