On Sunday 7 May police simultaneously raided five branches of Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church, Guangdong province, interrupting services and taking away church elders, preachers and co-workers. Police attempted to detain Pastor Huang Xiaoning (pictured) but he rejected their illegal action.
Pastor Huang was preaching in the Yuexiu branch when police arrived and asked him and the other Christians to stop worship. The pastor responded, “We leased this venue for Sunday Service. You have no right to break into this place. Your power should be confined by the rule of law.”
A staff member from the local Religious Affairs Bureau held up a copy of the Regulation on Religious Affairs and said, “I am enforcing the law. I have the right to inspect this place. This is joint law enforcement with the Public Security Bureau.”
Pastor Huang (pictured) said it was an unlawful intrusion, referencing Articles 37 and 38 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. He also pointed out that according to Article 36 of the Constitution, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy the freedom of religious belief” and thus the Religious Affairs regulations violate the Constitution.
Officer Lin of the Religious Affairs Bureau refuted this, saying: “The Constitution ruled that citizens enjoy the freedom of religious belief but did not rule that those citizens enjoy the freedom of religious activities.”
While Lin and Pastor Huang continued debating the law regarding religious freedom in China, officials tried to force churchgoers to leave. “All of you must leave immediately,” Lin reportedly said. “Stop the gathering.”
One of the Christians asked police, “Why don’t you go after criminals? Why do you go after us? We are all law-abiding citizens.” A Religious Affairs Bureau official said, “We don’t interfere with your religious beliefs,” to which the Christian responded, “You are interfering with our religious beliefs right now.”
Members of the congregation had begun recording the officials with their phones and police told them they were not allowed to film. However, the Christians said the purpose of the videos was for law enforcement oversight so officers allowed them to record.
The landlord for the venue was not sure if the church had broken any laws but did not feel comfortable with the church staying so Pastor Huang paid for the hour they had spent at the venue and asked for a refund for the previously agreed four hours. After recording everyone’s information, police took some elders, preachers and co-workers to the police station for interrogation. Most were released by early evening.
Following the raid, Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church sent out a prayer request asking fellow Christians to pray that God would protect the church and continue to use it to glorify and testify for him.
Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church was banned in July 2018 because it refused to join China’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the official state-run Protestant church organisation. The majority of Chinese Christians prefer to attend independent house churches than to attend registered churches, which are very tightly controlled by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, a sub-department of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.
The congregation of Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church lost its church building but continued to meet, changing venue every week, holding Sunday services at different restaurants and seeing the number of Christians increase.
In November 2018, Pastor Huang spent five days in detention, explaining after his release: “[The police] said that we still had a Sunday service on August 19 even though we were banned from it on July 30. That is, they asked me to stop the services, but I didn’t, so I was charged with obstructing law enforcement.”
Photos: China Aid