Even members of government-approved churches find it hard to practice their faith, as authorities throughout China exert increasingly harsh suppression measures.
by Li Guang
The persecution of state-run Three-Self churches is reaching unprecedented levels, as numerous venues are demolished on various trumped-up excuses.
The Holy Grace Church in Henan Province’s Luoyang city was leveled to the ground on September 19 in the name of “expanding a flood control channel.” It is one of several state-run churches demolish in the city this year: Bitter Winter has reported about the devastated Tianmen Church, Bethel Church, and Tianfeng Church.
The Holy Grace Church, occupying about 1,100 square meters, could accommodate over 600 believers. According to a congregation member, the government’s plan to expand the flood channel didn’t require the church destruction. “The church director repeatedly met with authorities, hoping to preserve the church, but was refused each time,” the believer said. “Officials revealed privately that the church was leveled to implement national policy.”
“So many churches have been demolished in China over the past two years,” another church member commented. “As even state-run venues are destroyed, we will have to go worship in house churches. But the government regards them illegal. The life of believers is becoming more and more challenging.”
The True Jesus Church in the Daqing sub-strict in Puyang city’s Hualong district in Henan was demolished on June 25. It was a Three-Self church approved by the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau.
“When an excavator demolished the main church entrance, believers burst into cries, and many got on their knees, praying. But officials dispersed them,” an eyewitness told Bitter Winter. The church was bulldozed to the ground ten days later.
A congregation member said that the church suffered continuous government harassment ever since the new Regulations on Religious Affairs came into force on February 1, 2018. In October that year, the local authorities ordered to remove the Chinese characters for “True Jesus Church” from its exterior. A year later, the church was forced to take down its cross and raise the national flag.
Another believer lamented that the church was demolished despite its cooperation with the government, agreeing to raise the flag and sing the national anthem during services. “Over nearly two years, the government made it extremely difficult for us, aiming to force us into giving up our belief,” the churchgoer added.
In July, the Lusigang township government in Yugan county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Shangrao in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, demolished a Three-Self church on the pretext of building a high-speed railway.
“The Communist Party restricts the development of churches in the name of ‘preventing religious infiltration,’ but our faith has nothing to do with politics,” the church director said helplessly.
“The public toilet next to the church was not demolished, although it was dilapidated,” a township resident commented. “Only the church was destroyed. The government is evil.”
In March, the Yutai county government in Jining, a prefecture-level city in the eastern province of Shandong, ordered to demolish a Three-Self church in the area.
“We were packing church items when government personnel broke in and tore up Bibles and religious images posted on walls,” a congregant recalled. “An excavator then demolished the building, burying in the ruins chairs, benches, electric fans, and other items.”
The churchgoer added that village officials had harassed the church for some time before the demolition, telling churchgoers “to believe in the Communist Party and not gather in the church.”
“Not many people dare practice their faith in the current situation,” an elderly congregation member said. She added that her husband, a CCP member, recently replaced an image of Jesus with a portrait of President Xi Jinping at home, for fear that her faith would implicate him, and he would be punished.
Churches that manage to evade demolition are often repurposed by the government for other use.
A church in Xuezhuang town in the Xincheng district of Henan’s Pingdingshan city, built 36 years ago, was closed on orders by the district management committee in September 2018. On July 30 this year, it was converted into a school for massage therapists.
“Congregation members worked hard to build the church, but they are not allowed to worship in it,” an elderly church member said angrily. “It is now used for business, not praising the Lord. Such actions offend God!”