The CCP deploys all possible means to reduce the number of Three-Self churches, forcing congregations to sign handover agreements and manipulating them otherwise.
by Li Guang
The existence of government-approved churches in China creates an illusion that people of faith may easily enjoy the freedom of belief, as stipulated in China’s Constitution. Unfortunately, it is not true. Official Three-Self churches across the country are demolished, closed down, and their congregations are suppressed.
Church repurposed, its buildings demolished
Zhaozhai Church in Zhoukou city in the central province of Henan was built with funds raised by the congregation and started functioning in 1998, after the Civil Affairs Bureau and the Religious Affairs Bureau approved it, issuing all the required certificates. In 2014, the government approved the church’s request for a new building to accommodate the growing congregation.
The new church was soon built next door. But in August last year, local officials ordered the congregation to merge with another church in the area and banned all religious activities in the church. A congregation member told Bitter Winter that the church’s cross was soon removed, and both church buildings were converted into an activity center for the elderly.
Although the buildings were no longer used for religious activities, they didn’t manage to escape demolition. In the first half of 2019, on orders from higher-ups, the local Religious Affairs Bureau started pressuring the person in charge of the newly-built Zhaozhai Church to tear it down. As he was reluctant to comply with the orders, the government decided to take forceful actions, and both church buildings were dismantled on June 26.
Video: The newly-built Zhaozhai Church was turned into ruins.
Taking over churches with lies and threats
The congregation of Liandong Church in Youdunjie town, administered by Poyang county in the eastern province of Jiangxi, suffered a similar fate. Registered and approved by the state, the Three-Self church was finishing the construction of a new building while holding gatherings in an old church. But in early March, when the new building was nearly done, local officials ordered the church’s manager to dismantle it because it was “built without approval” and, therefore, was an “illegal building.”
When the congregation refused to obey, officials decided to change their tactics and pressured the person in charge of the church to sign an agreement transferring the church to the village committee at a low price. If he refused, the officials threatened, the nearly-finished church would be demolished.
At the time of signing the agreement, officials promised to give the congregation a plot of land for a new church but retracted their word as soon as the church was handed over, saying that they had not intended to give them the land.
Services were also banned at the old church, officials claiming that “it was too close to the school.” They took down the church’s cross and sealed its front door.
“This is totally inappropriate,” congregation members were angered by the government’s actions. “What they want is to eliminate religions.” A believer told Bitter Winter that the person in charge of the church had prepared materials for a petition. In his opinion, however, they have very little chance to hold the authoritarian government accountable for its deeds and may face retaliation instead.
Agreement signed under pressure, and church turned into ruins
In Xiushui county’s Hangkou town, administered by Jiujiang city in Jiangxi, the local government ordered to demolish a Three-Self church on July 27 because the land on which it stood was planned to be used for a new road. The person in charge of the church and three co-workers went to negotiate with the government, attempting to persuade them to save the church, but were taken away and held in the town hall until they signed an agreement, accepting the demolition and relocation of the church. On August 5, an excavator turned the two-story church into ruins.