Last July 6 about 300 officers of China's Public Security Bureau (PSB) disrupted Christians at worship in the village of Hengpeng and demolished their church building. A week later, police raided a house church in Xiaoshan city while Christians were meeting at 4 A.M. for Sunday prayer and worship. Both were churches of the "Little Flock" network, founded by Watchman Nee. Nee died for his faith in a Chinese labor camp in 1973.
Authorities arrested at least three leaders in the Xiaoshan church. At the beginning of 2003, Christian leaders in China said they had learned from "inside sources" that the government was planning to systematically crush the house church movement. The SARS epidemic evidently stalled those plans, and now the campaign has begun, they believe.
Chinese authorities consider unregistered congregations political subversives. Protestant churches are allowed to register only through the China Christian Council and its related Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Most house churches balk at registering through the Council and TSPM because of their close cooperation with the government.
New regulations prepared in late 2001 allowing house churches and other congregations to register apart from TSPM "were never rolled out," says Carol Hamrin, a consultant on China.
The Chinese constitution protects religious freedom. Recently, some unregistered churches have successfully appealed to the constitution to obtain reparations for harm done to their leaders or facilities. But the Communist regime forbids worship outside state-backed "patriotic" religious bodies. Evangelism outside church buildings also is forbidden, though both officially recognized and unregistered churches are growing rapidly.
The Communist government finds this growth politically threatening. On August 28 agents of the PSB—the central government's intelligence agency—arrested 170 worshipers at a house church in Nanyang County, Henan province. At press time all but seven church leaders were released.
During a two-month period beginning in mid-August, authorities closed or bulldozed more than 100 churches in the town of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, said Bob Fu of China Aid Association. The government has intensified its campaign to force churches to register, then declares illegal those who refuse, he said.
"The new government is at least continuing the implementation of the former government's policy in a more formal way," Fu said.
On September 26 PSB agents arrested a lawyer for the imprisoned leader of the South China Church, Gong Shengliang. Xiao Biguang, who had notified foreign media that prison authorities had beaten Gong nearly to death, was released following worldwide protests.
China sentenced Gong and four other church leaders to death last year, in part under "anti-cult" laws. Chinese authorities also mistook his statements about expanding his movement nationally, thinking he had political ambitions. After U.S. officials and Christian activists protested, authorities reduced the sentences to long prison terms.
Rights organizations urge supporters to pray for pastor Gong and to write to the Chinese ambassador to the United States on behalf of him and others (a suggested protest letter can be found at www.csw.org.uk/campaign%20sheets/gongcampaign.htm):
Ambassador Yang Jiechi
You can also provide financial help to the families of imprisoned Christians through Asia Harvest's "Living Martyrs Fund" (www.asiaharvest.org/projects2.htm).
Write local congressional representatives about your concern for Christians in China. Also contact the office of Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Pa.) for information on how to advocate for prisoners in China (call 202.225.2411, or visit www.house.gov/pitts).
It is also helpful to write President Bush about the priority that religious freedom should have in bilateral talks with the new Chinese regime: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20500.—Jeff M. Sellers
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Bearing the Cross featured China in 2001.
More information is available on our persecution page.
Christianity Today coverage of China includes:
About-Face on Charities | Communist leaders invite even Christians to help the poor. (Oct. 21, 2003)
'Dangerous' Chinese Bill Is Thwarted | Article 23 would have automatically banned Hong Kong groups now outlawed on the mainland. (Aug. 21, 2003)
Breakthrough Dancing | A look at the one of the most creative youth ministries in Hong Kong—if not the world. (July 23, 2003)
Hit by the SARS Tornado | Breakthrough reacted quickly when the disease hit Hong Kong. (July 23, 2003)
Inside CT: Chinese Puzzle | Things are changing for China's church. (March 07, 2003)
Under Suspicion | Hong Kong's Christians fear antisedition measures will curb religious liberty. (Feb. 21, 2003)
Did Apostles Go to China? | Evidence suggests Christianity reached China in the first century. (Oct. 21, 2002)
Working with the Communists | Some evangelicals minister happily within China's state-supervised Three Self church. (Oct. 18, 2002)
Bush: 'I'm One of Them' | Religious persecution allegations set the stage for George Bush's visit to China. (Feb. 27, 2002)
'New' China: Same Old Tricks | Top communists, despite their denials, endorse arrest and torture of Chinese Christians by the thousands. (Feb. 15, 2002)\
The Unlikely Activist | How a bitter atheist helped besieged Christians—and became a believer. (02/15/2002)
Previous Bearing the Cross articles include:
North Korea—July 2003
Saudi Arabia—April 2002
North Korea—Aug. 2001
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