WASHINGTON — Leaders from dozens of Chinese house churches
are petitioning the Chinese government for more religious freedom in an act
that observers call unprecedented.
The text of the petition is not yet public, but ChinaAid — a U.S.-based group
that monitors freedom in the country — said the petition, which could endanger
the leaders, would be the “first such move in 60 years of communist rule of
China.” Interest in the petition was sparked by the government’s ongoing
high-profile crackdown against Shouwang Church, an unregistered Beijing
congregation that has seen hundreds of its members placed either under house or
detained by police since April.
Churches in China must register with the government to be legal, but such
registration results in restrictions on their religious freedom — including
limits on evangelism and Sunday Schools. The Chinese government has prevented
Shouwang from meeting in recent weeks, blocking all congregational attempts to
gather either indoors or outdoors. The clash between the government and
Shouwang has drawn international attention, including segments on CNN and the
Most estimates say the Chinese house church movement is significantly larger
than the registered church membership.
Baptist Press spoke with Bob Fu, ChinaAid founder and president, about
Shouwang, the recent house church crackdown, and the desire for churches to go
underground. Following is a partial transcript:
BP: Shouwang has been meeting for many years. Why is China just now cracking
down on the church?
Fu: The church has been targeted since 2008. Ironically, they had been trying
to register with the government, and of course the government wants them to
join the government-sanctioned church organization, the Three-Self Patriotic Church.
But the government denied their registration attempt. They were tolerated until
2008. In December 2010, there was a government operation, Operation Deterrence —
it was a special operation targeting independent house churches. Of course,
Shouwang church had purchased a building for about $4 million in December 2009
but has not been able to get the key to the building; the government had been
trying every way to sabotage their rental arrangements in different facilities.
Their last rental facility was a restaurant that was pressured to not continue
working with the church. So Shouwang Church has really been forced to move
There are two circumstances that made the government take the radical action
like they did in April this year. Number one, Shouwang played an instrumental
role in organizing the 200 delegates to the Lausanne (Congress on Global
Evangelization in South Africa). I think, for the first time, the government
really saw the independent house churches trying to be on the international
stage. That really made the government extremely nervous. Number two was the
Jasmine Revolution (in North Africa/the Middle East).
BP: So you think the Chinese government is afraid that what happened in Egypt
and other countries could happen to China?
Fu: They’re very, very afraid. The Chinese security forces have been on
high alert because of what’s happening in Tunisia, Egypt. They are really in
panic and in a paranoid mood.
BP: How is the Chinese government’s mindset different from a Western mindset?
Why are they so suspicious of Christianity?
Fu: Historically, Christianity has always been suspected as a Western
force, as a Western religion. In the Chinese government’s propaganda, it’s
always been associated with the free world. Of course, the most rapid-growing
religion in China is Christianity, especially in the past 60 years. The growth
is really astonishing. Some estimate there are 70 to 130 million Christians.
Since the Tiananmen massacre 22 years ago, there has been a major revival of
the house churches in the cities, especially among the Chinese intellectuals.
The Christian worldview and values really, I think, made the Chinese government
afraid. The Christian worldview is contradictory to the materialistic
worldview. Also, the (house church’s) enormous manifestation of care, love to
the society, to the needy — you would think these are the things that the
Chinese government also wanted. Almost half of the volunteers and the rescue
workers to the 2008 earthquake were Chinese house church members. That became a
scary thing to the Chinese leadership. They actually started a campaign to keep
out these volunteers from the earthquake area. Some were even put in prison.
BP: They were put in prison?
Fu: Yes, for doing good. Of course, when the house churches were helping,
they also spread the gospel. So the government was very scared. Some Christians
BP: Help our readers understand another key issue: Why would a church not want
to be a government-recognized registered church?
Fu: Fundamentally, the number one reason is focused on who is the head of
the church? Is it the Communist Party, the Chinese government or Jesus Christ
alone? The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is nothing but a political
organization with a religious uniform. All the leaders are appointed by the
Communist Party, the United Front Work Department, and the State Administration
for Religious Affairs, and they are salaried. And many of the leaders are also
Communist Party members. Secondly, once you join the government-sanctioned
church, you lose pretty much all the freedom of evangelism. There are lots of
limitations and rules that will forbid you to do any evangelism outside of the
four walls of the church building. You can’t baptize anybody under 18 years
old, you’re forbidden to have a Sunday School. There are fundamental
BP: Why would the Chinese government restrict Sunday Schools?
Fu: This is part of the clash with the Communist Party, because they view
those under 18 years old as the successors of socialism…. For children,
Sunday School is certainly a forbidden policy.
BP: So in a registered church, a Sunday morning worship service would just be a
Fu: Yes, just a worship service.
BP: ChinaAid says the Chinese government may take new measures against the
church. What would those measures be?
Fu: We heard form a reliable internal government source, and it
collaborated with other sources — apparently the government is planning to take
a radical escalation to make some formal arrests on these Shouwang Church
BP: And we are talking about possible prison time?
BP: Is this the most high-profile church-state confrontation you can remember?
Fu: In the city setting, it is the most visible. There have been major
clashes between house church groups — most of them in rural areas.
BP: A lot of these members have been placed under house arrest. What does that
mean, and is it only on Sunday mornings?
Fu: For the five church leaders — two pastors and three elders — they have
been under house arrest since April 9, which means they don’t have any freedom
of movement to get out of the house. There was one occasion two weeks ago (involving
a church family) when one little baby fell from the seventh floor of a building
and died, so (Senior) Pastor Jin Tianming begged the guards outside his house,
and he was escorted by two guards to pray for the baby’s parents in the
hospital. For the rest of the members, most of them are not allowed to get out
of their homes from Saturday night until Monday morning, and some are prevented
from going home from Friday to Monday or Tuesday.
BP: And people are having their jobs threatened for their participation?
Fu: Yes, some lost their jobs, some lost their apartments.
BP: Is this serving to educate the public around the world about the lack of
religious freedom in China?
Fu: Absolutely. This case basically highlights a very moderate church. When
Shouwang Church wanted to register, they received lots of criticism, because
some house churches do not want to have anything to do with the government. So
Shouwang walked an extra mile to register, and now they are being targeted. It
will help the free world to see how little religious freedom China has.
BP: What else would you want our readers to know?
Fu: I think we should urge the churches in the free world, especially the
American churches, to really speak up for this church. We need more churches to
speak up, because this church is facing danger. If we are silent, that will be
a real mistake. I really do want to make that appeal.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is associate editor of BP.)
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