Originally published in China Aid
Christian house churches in China should brace themselves for “unprecedented suppression” that a change in government policy will bring about, a new report has warned.
In its latest report on the implementation of the new Regulations on Religious Affairs, China Aid expressed fears that Christian house churches will be forced to conform to the Communist Party’s agenda because of the forthcoming suppression. The report also warned that there will likely be a major shift in how Christians will be treated.
“We have good reasons to worry that the major religions in China, especially house churches and underground Catholic and Protestant churches, will suffer the most unprecedented suppression under the name of the ‘transforming into the Communist Party of China’ since the Cultural Revolution,'” China Aid said in the report.
President Xi Jinping has introduced the policy of Sinicization, which encourages religious groups to submit to the state. China Aid fears that house churches will be pressured even more to register under the state-run Three-Self church movement and that the cross removal campaign in Zhejiang province could spread across the country.
Officially, China is an atheist country, but constitutionally guarantees religious freedom. However, authorities are wary of all religious organisations, viewing them as threatening forces. Currently, the Party is believed to have around 88 million members, whereas there may be up to 100 million Christians in China today, reports The Gospel Herald.
The report concludes that “the guiding ideology decreed in 2016 that ‘religion must persistently follow the path to Sinicization’ actually alludes to the subtext that ‘all religions have to surrender to the authority and leadership of the Chinese Communist Party,'”.
The Gospel Herald informs that since the ‘Three rectification and one demolition’ campaign was launched three years ago, over 1 500 crosses have been removed from churches in the south-eastern province of Zhejiang — known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its strong Christian presence. Meanwhile, dozens churches labelled “illegal structures” have been demolished in other provinces including Hebei, Hubei and Henan. Those who have resisted have faced physical abuse, detention and criminal charges.
Demolitions and criminal charges
According to China Aid, on January 27, individuals hired by the government forcibly entered Dali Christian Church, a Three-Self congregation, carrying clubs. After locking a church elder, surnamed Ding, the church’s temporary director, and several other Christians in the reception office, the intruders confiscated their cell phones, and threw away their SIM cards. No one was allowed to enter the church, and authorities forbade pictures.
Then, intruders smashed and looted church property, before using a front loader to destroy half of the building — all while the Christians remained locked inside.
Earlier this year, a court in Guizhou province sentenced house church pastor Yang Hua, aka Li Guozhi, to more than two years in jail over alleged divulging of state secrets. Sources cited by Bos News Life note that such charges are often used against activists and dissidents.
According to China Aid, the pastor has been detained since December 2015 after he tried to prevent police from seizing a computer hard drive when authorities raided his Huoshi Church. Church members said Pastor Li’s detention is part of the government’s bid to pressure Huoshi Church into joining the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The church faces closure if it refuses to do so.