Yet another prominent “underground” Chinese church has been shut down by government authorities, as President Xi Jinping continues his brutal crackdown on the nation’s hard-pressed Christian community. Shouwang Church is an unregistered congregation that attracts more than 1,000 weekly attendees — it is the fourth significant underground church to be closed down in recent months.
On Saturday, government officials stormed the church buildings and ordered those in attendance to cease their Bible study immediately. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), officials then proceeded to read aloud a document that ordered all ministry activities to end with immediate effect.
The police then instructed the church’s current pastor, Zhang Xiaofeng, to sign a document that confirmed he had “conducted activities as a social organization without registration, which is in violation of Regulations of Religious Affairs and Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations.”
Those taking part in the Bible study were then marched off to a local school, where they were interrogated by officials. All those detained were asked to sign a letter of guarantee promising to immediately abandon Shouwang and no longer be associated with its ministry — every single one of them refused.
The official government notice reads:
“Per Article 32 of the Regulations for Registration and Management of Social Organizations and the Interim Measures for Banning Illegal Non-governmental Organizations, it is decided that “Beijing Shouwang Church” and its subsidiary organizations should be shut down and its illegal possessions confiscated.”
Another meeting place, located in the Changyuan Tiandi Building in Beijing’s Haidian District, was also shuttered — with a simple, bleak notice hanging from the doors explaining that the church was engaging in illegal activity. According to China Aid, the sign cited the illegality of a “cross hanging on one of the interior walls, a podium placed within the venue, a prayer request box, numerous folding chairs, a piano, Bibles, hymnals, microphones, and sound equipment.”
“It is an illegal place to conduct religious activities,” the notice concluded.
As well as shutting down the church’s physical presence, by switching out the locks on all its locations, the Chinese government has also taken Shouwang’s website offline.
What has been the church’s response?
Shouwang Church is no stranger to the rampant persecution perpetrated by President Jinping’s government. When the congregation refused to join up with the official, state-sanctioned church in 2011, Shouwang’s pastor, Jin Tian-ming, was placed under house arrest along with several other staff members — Tian-ming has remained in this place of legal limbo ever since.
Since the government renewed its crackdown against his church, Tian-ming’s house arrest restrictions have been tightened to an extreme level. According to China Aid, the faithful pastor is now not even allowed to walk downstairs to a portion of his own apartment complex.
With Shouwang’s courage evident in the face of such hardship, it is no surprise that the church has denounced the recent government actions taken against its faithful people. According to ICC, the church “will continue to meet and operate while adjusting its meeting venues and methods,” despite the persecution.
A source close to the church told China Aid that members will not be cowed by the intimidation tactics, and is prepared to enter into a legal fight if that’s what is required for their freedom of religion to be granted.
“The [Chinese] Constitution stipulates that citizens have the right to religious belief. This action by the government department’s personnel is totally inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution,” the source said. “It’s way beyond boundaries for the government to take this action … The church is considering hiring lawyers.”
ICC’s regional manager, Gina Goh, described China’s blatant violation of religious freedom as “deplorable.”
“Christians outside of the state-sanctioned churches can no longer worship without fearing of harassment, detention, or even imprisonment,” she said. “Even official churches face increasing pressure to exalt the Communist Party over God. The international community should continue to press China over its human rights abuses until it is willing to make positive change.”
Pompeo condemns mass detention of Muslims
Christianity is not the only religion that the Chinese government has in its sights. Horrific reports of mass internment of Muslim minority groups has caused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to speak out.
“We’ve been very vocal about that publicly, and had long conversations with them privately, as well,” Pompeo said at a press conference Tuesday,. as reported by VOA News. “The numbers are in the, certainly, hundreds of thousands. This is, I think we use the word, or words, historic human rights abuse, and we’re working to convince the Chinese that this practice is abhorrent and ought to be stopped.”
“We call on the Chinese government to release immediately these individuals’ family members and all others arbitrarily detained in the camps,” Pompeo demanded, according to The Guardian.
Despite widespread condemnation, China has continued to insist that the mass internment camps are used to run anti-radicalization programs and are equipped to offer vocational training to teach people about the law and the Mandarin language.
The most heavily persecuted Muslim group is a minority called the “Uighurs.” Critics of the Chinese government believe that mass detainment is being used as a tool to cleanse China of Muslim culture.
State Department official Michael Kozak has said that the detention of the Uighurs is “one of the most serious human rights problems in the world today.”