Christianity Today has received a first-hand update on the continued standoff between Beijing authorities and one of China's largest house churches.
More than 14 weeks after Shouwang Church in Beijing moved its worship services outdoors in April after being evicted by its landlord due to government pressure, worshipers continue to gather on Sundays in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing even as local authorities make more arrests.
Promise Hsu reports that while most arrests have resulted in jail stints no longer than 48 hours, two churchgoers have been forcibly sent back to their hometowns by Beijing officials.
Hsu writes: "On June 27, Wang Chuanliang, a Shouwang member, was sent back to his hometown in the eastern province of Shandong by Haidian's Dongsheng Police Station and the Shandong provincial office in Beijing. It was the second repatriation since Shouwang began the outdoor worship on April 10th. It was the same Dongsheng Police Station that sent back Hu Jian, another Shouwang parishioner, to his hometown in the central Hubei Province in May. Hu Jian returned to Beijing almost a month later and continued to attend outdoor worship and thus was detained every Sunday since then."
In addition to arrests and repatriation by local authorities, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China's state-sanctioned Protestant denomination, has increased efforts to admonish and convert Shouwang detainees.
Hsu writes that in early June, "Some Three-Self Church people were sent to police stations asking the detained parishioners to leave Shouwang Church and join them or put an end to the outdoor worship." He adds that Shouwang officials responded to these coercive measures with a quote from Romans 14 in the church's weekly bulletin: "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."
Resilience has not come without division, however. Toward the end of May, Shouwang pastor Song Jun, minister Jian Lijin, and deacons Ji Cheng and Yuan Yansong left the church amid disagreements over the continued outdoor worship protests, according to Compass Direct News.
Despite internal conflicts, Shouwang has found support from nearly 20 other Chinese house churches that submitted a bold petition to the National People's Congress on May 11 requesting an amendment to China's religious freedom law as well as an end to the renting ban placed on Shouwang. But on May 31, police confirmed that pastor Shi Enhao, deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, who filed the petition, was detained on suspicion of "using superstition to undermine national law enforcement" and held for 12 days. He was later detained indefinitely on June 21, this time as a criminal, and currently awaits government sentencing.
Hsu says that worshipers will continue gathering on Sundays until Christmas 2011, when they will reassess the situation if permanent space has not yet been allocated to the church.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Shi Enhao's situation with the Chinese government.
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Promise Hsu also sent Christianity Today a report in late April.
Earlier coverage includes:
Why Beijing's Largest House Church Refuses to Stop Meeting Outdoors | Shouwang vows to continue showdown until Christmas in hopes of ending Achilles' heel of unregistered churches: government pressure on landlords. (Apr. 26, 2011)
Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park | Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air. (Apr. 8, 2011)