On Saturday 23 March, more than twenty police officers and other government officials raided a Bible school class run by Shouwang Church, one of the largest unregistered churches in Beijing. They questioned the Christians, confiscated church possessions and banned the church for refusing to register with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-approved Protestant organisation. Shouwang has undergone heavy persecution over the past ten years.
On the day of the closure, between twenty and thirty Christians arrived for a Bible class at 1.00 pm, whereupon the authorities took them away to a nearby school where they interrogated them, recorded information from their ID cards and told them that the church had been shut down. (The image shows the authorities monitoring and interrogating some of the Christians.)
The officials demanded that Shouwang cease its activities immediately and read out a document formally banning the church. They also demanded that Pastor Zhang Xiaofeng sign and keep a document stating that the church “has conducted activities as a social organisation without registration, which is in violation of Regulations of Religious Affairs and Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organisations”.
Shouwang Church did submit a registration application to the Haidian District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in 2006, but officials rejected it on the grounds that the Senior Pastor at the time, Jin Tianming (pictured) had not been officially ordained by the state. In China, clergy who do not receive credentials from the government are not allowed to minister, although many do serve in unregistered churches.
As well as raiding the Bible class, officials also detained several Christians from another location affiliated with Shouwang and brought them to the school for interrogation. All those detained were asked to sign a letter of guarantee that they would no longer attend Shouwang, which they refused to do. The Christians were held for several hours before they were sent home. In the meantime, the officials changed the locks at the locations of both raids in order to prevent Shouwang members from returning.
In response to the raids, Shouwang Church issued a statement to its members saying that it does not accept the authorities’ ban and telling members that the legality of the church is not determined by any religious or administrative agencies. The church will continue to meet in alternative venues.
Crackdown following new regulations
Shouwang’s ban comes just months after Chinese authorities shut down another large unregistered Beijing church, Zion Church, on 9 September 2018. These and many other closures around the country are part of a crackdown that has followed the implementation of the government’s revised Regulations for Religious Affairs on 1 February 2018. The regulations are intended to “Sinicize” religion by bringing it in line with Chinese government ideals.
In July 2018, 116 pastors from across China issued a joint statement protesting against the sharp increase in religious freedom violations by the authorities since the introduction of the revised Regulations for Religious Affairs. Signatories included Pastors Zhang Xiaofeng of Shouwang Church, Jin Mingri of Zion Church, Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church and Yang Hua of Guiyang’s Living Stone Church.
Dr Bob Fu, President of China Aid, told International Christian Concern, “China’s oppression against house churches will not be loosened. A systematic, in-the-name-of-law crackdown will continue to take place.”
Shouwang Church background
Shouwang Church is one of Beijing’s largest unregistered house churches, with more than 1,000 members, and has endured severe government harassment over the past ten years.
The church was begun in the 1990s by Jin Tianming and his wife. Members met in homes at first, but police accused them of disturbing the neighbours, so the church moved to rented space in an office building. Government officials banned worship there because it was an “illegal gathering”. By the end of 2009, the congregation had raised enough money to buy a large premises, but the government forbade the seller to hand over the key.
The church had to hold services outdoors on several occasions from 2009, but was forced outdoors permanently in April 2011, following a series of evictions from rented premises. Services were held at a plaza every Sunday, whatever the weather, and every Sunday the authorities took many members away and detained them in police stations for periods of up to 48 hours. Others were placed under temporary house arrest at weekends to stop them attending Sunday services. Some members lost jobs and homes, and six pastors and elders were placed under house arrest.
The church eventually moved from the plaza to a park, but after constant official harassment the members discontinued the main Sunday service and began meeting in home groups. The property bought by the church remains under government confiscation and Pastor Tianming is still under house arrest in his Beijing apartment.
Solidarity with Early Rain Church
On 13 December 2018, Pastor Tianming wrote a statement of solidarity with Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan state, after he learned that Pastor Wang Yi and over one hundred members of the church had been detained.
In his statement, Pastor Tianming wrote: “On the night of December 9, I learned that Pastor Wang Yi has been out of contact and over a hundred members of Early Rain Covenant Church, including elders, deacons, ministry staff, and brothers and sisters were taken away by Chengdu police…
“Pastor Wang Yi is our dear brother, a servant whom God has been using for his special purpose within the Chinese church for the last ten years. During his current criminal detention under the charge of ‘inciting to subvert state power’, many dear brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church are being persecuted. As a pastor who has received the same call of the Lord and called to serve in the same land, I declare: What pastor Wang Yi declared as his stance on the relationship between the church and the state is also where I stand… I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely.”
(China Aid/China Partnership/International Christian Concern)