Unapproved Protestant churches are bracing for more crackdowns, as local officials are planning a new round of suppression in the second half of the year.
by Tang Wanming
According to a co-worker from a Three-Self church in Taizhou city of the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau held a meeting in April to discuss the implementation of the central government’s policy on religion. The participants were informed that during the second half of the year, a comprehensive crackdown on every denomination would be carried out in the area. “Even the Three-Self Church will face persecution. To put it bluntly, people can only believe in the Communist Party. If the Communist Party says you’re illegal, then you’re illegal; if it says you’re a xie jiao, then you’re a xie jiao!” said the co-worker.
“The president of the Two National Christian Councils stated in a meeting that if a house church is discovered holding gatherings, a fine of 50,000 to 200,000 RMB will be imposed,” the leader of a house church in the city explained to Bitter Winter. “The government is imposing fines to ruin us financially. Not only the people who rent out meeting venues will be fined, but the person in charge will be fined as well, starting at 50,000 RMB [about $ 7,300]. Can ordinary people withstand that? Such methods are even worse than violence and forced closures!”
On April 8, a house church meeting venue in Luqiao district of the city was sealed off after a tip-off to authorities. The place continued to be monitored after the closure, local churchgoers reported.
In the county-level city of Yuhuan under the jurisdiction of Taizhou, two Sola Fide meeting venues were shut down. In March, the person in charge of one of the sites received a phone call from a government official who asserted that if their gatherings didn’t cease, his house – where the congregation met – would be torn down.
The other meeting venue was sealed off on the grounds that its “fire control measures were substandard.” Without presenting any documents or notifying anyone at the church, local government officials sealed off its doors and electricity meter.
Two house churches were closed down in Taizhou’s Xianju county in March. One of the venues, Innovation Church, was shut down after government personnel put pressure on the landlord of the premises to terminate the lease.
In April, three house church meeting venues in Taizhou’s Tiantai county were also shut down in succession, and all of the believers’ personal information was registered.
“At the time, the person in charge of the meeting venue pleaded with government officials, saying that only a few elderly Christians come to the venue, some are almost 90 years old and cannot go to a Three-Self church to attend gatherings because walking is difficult for them,” a churchgoer recounted to Bitter Winter. “He also explained that we just read the Bible and sing hymns, but the government officials sternly rejected his pleas, saying that there is only one path – to shut down the venue! The Communist Party is truly vicious!”
The leader of another house church was gravely concerned about the government’s practice of compiling believers’ personal information. “The government has obtained a list of our names, which is more conducive to controlling and persecuting us. In particular, if a list of young Christians falls into their hands, it would be a serious loss for the church!” explained the leader.
Two house churches in Taizhou’s Huangyan district were shut down in March: one of them on the 14th, and Mingdao Reformed Evangelical Church some days prior. A co-worker in the church said that the congregation would seek to find a way to continue holding gatherings; some believers are prepared to be arrested to keep their faith.