Members of state-run Protestant churches suffer unmatched harassment at the hands of authorities, as their worship places are demolished on trumped-up pretexts.
by Tang Feng
In April, the Luoyang city government in the central province of Henan demolished the Tianfeng Church (translated as Sky Wind Church) on the pretext of “expanding a railway line.” The state-run Three-Self church, which occupied a 1,000-plus square meter building in the city center’s busy area, had all necessary permits and certificates.
The congregation has repeatedly contacted local authorities, attempting to save the church. After numerous meetings, it was agreed that the church would be demolished, and a new one would be built nearby.
As it turned out, this was part of the government’s stalling tactics. Months into the new church’s construction, the Religious Affairs Bureau director, accompanied by urban management officers and workers, came to the construction site on July 30 and ordered to destroy 12 newly built pillars. When a believer stepped forward to stop the demolition, a falling post injured the man, knocking him to the ground.
On the morning of August 1, workers were sent to demolish the new church’s perimeter wall. At 9 p.m., five government officials came to the site and announced that the church construction had been stopped.
Having learned the news, more than 100 believers rushed to the site to protect the church but were meat by a similar amount of police officers, dispatched by the local government.
“They threatened to arrest every congregation member, so we had to climb over a wall to escape them. It was raining cats and dogs that day,” a churchgoer recalled.
Subsequently, one of the church’s pastors was arrested for opposing the demolition and was detained for ten days on charges of “disrupting public service.” Eight young believers were also taken into custody that evening and were only released the next morning. Three members of the church’s management committee, which consists of clergy members and believers, were ordered to report to the Religious Affairs Bureau four days in the row and be accessible on their cellphones 24 hours a day.
The suppression did not end there. On August 10, the deputy director of the Religious Affairs Bureau convened the church management committee for a meeting, announcing that the arrested pastor was disqualified from preaching and therefore dismissed from all his posts in the church. The church’s official seal was confiscated ahead of this announcement.
“The government broke its promise to build a new church,” a congregation member lamented. “It wants to eradicate all churches. Just like during the Cultural Revolution.”
A Three-Self church in Yinzhang village, administered by Luoyang’s Yichuan county, was demolished on July 31 on the grounds that it occupied the land intended for a school. Village officials repeatedly attempted last year to convert the church into an activity center for the elderly but failed.