Government-controlled Protestant churches suffer brutal crackdowns, often resulting in closures that leave large numbers of believers without a place to worship.
by Tang Zhe
On July 3, the Shangrao city government in the southeastern province of Jiangxi forcibly demolished a Three-Self church. According to an eyewitness, that day, more than 30 officials were supervising the demolition work, carried out by two excavators. Believers cried aloud in pain, seeing their church being turned into ruins. No one dared to step forward to stop the demolition, knowing that any disobedience would be punished with arrests and persecution.
The pressure on the church started at the end of March, when local government officials repeatedly harassed the person in charge of the church, ordering him to demolish the church because they claimed that it occupied fertile farmland. In reality, according to one of the church’s co-workers, the land on which the church has been built was originally a graveyard, and it was not suitable for farming.
The officials kept repeating to the congregation that they must “obey the Party, follow the Party, and believe in Xi Jinping.” They also threatened to revoke the social guarantees and minimum living subsidies, if the person in charge disobeyed the orders for demolition.
In March, the authorities ordered the demolition of another Three-Self church in Shangrao. This time, they claimed that the church was “close to roads and occupied too much land.” The officials soon changed their minds and started forcing the person in charge of the church to sell it to the government at a low price. “You have to sell it because the state demands it! If you don’t, the church will be demolished,” the officials threatened.
Left without any choice, the person in charge reluctantly agreed. The church was soon converted into a “cultural auditorium,” and the congregation left with nowhere to worship.
The merger of churches is yet another means for the government to reduce the number of religious venues and hinder the spread of Christianity. In February, in a village under the jurisdiction of Xinyu city, a Three-Self church was ordered to merge with another church because, according to local officials, “it is not allowed to have two churches in one area” – one of many CCP’s “inventions” to shut down religious venues. Members of the congregation tried to reason with the officials: “We paid to build the church ourselves, and the state approved this. We don’t agree with the merger.”
An elderly believer explained to the officials that the church with which they are forced to merge is too far away for the seniors to walk. “If you can’t walk that far, then abandon your faith,” the village secretary shouted at him. “This policy comes from above, and the church has to be merged.” He then threatened the person in charge of the church to demolish his house if he didn’t agree with the merger. In April, the church ceased to exist.
In May, one more Three-Self church in Xinyu was forcibly merged, and its building rented out. “The government has adopted a step by step approach now: First, they dismantled our cross, and now the church has been forced to merge with another one. Every week, they send people to take photos. Their aim is to prevent us from believing in God,” the person in charge of the church said.
Authorities in Jiangxi continue shutting down state-controlled churches under a variety of pretexts. In early May, a Three-Self church in Shangrao was shut down on the grounds that the church was too close to the village committee office and a school. In March, a Three-Self church meeting venue in Yichun city was closed, officials claiming that it was not allowed to establish Three-Self church meeting venues in the village.