China’s crackdown on its thriving house-church movement is surging just months after it was reported attacks on Christians had subsided, according to a report from the human rights group China Aid.
China Aid said its research shows a 42-percent increase in persecution against house churches in the communist nation over the past 12 months.
China Aid founder Bob Fu says the Communist Party in China “has long felt threatened by any movement that galvanizes a large sector of the population, fearing it could wield political clout.”
Now, he said, the government “has become more systematically hostile to worshipers.”
China Aid spokesman Mark Shan told WND the government is engaged in “a major effort now to wipe out the house churches by any means.”
“The government will shut down the church,” Shan said. “Or, they will force the house church members to join an official church.”
The officially sanctioned churches are controlled by the government, critics have explained.
Shan said that the government’s approach to house churches varies according to regional and local authorities and the size of the church.
“Sometimes they will raid the house church meeting and try to intimidate the people into leaving and not coming back,” Shan said. “Other times they will impose fines on the people or give them short-term jail sentences. Or, sometimes if they feel especially threatened by a house church, they’ll send some of the people to a labor camp.”
In one situation, China Aid reported, police raided a Bible study held by members of the Chinese House Church Alliance and banned the alliance from ordaining new clergy. The officers were from the Nanyang Public Security Bureau, the Baihe township police station and the religious affairs bureau. The police officers and government officials ordered the Bible study attendees to register their names.
China Aid’s report comes on the heels of Open Doors USA’s “World Watch List” that showed China had dropped down the list of persecutors.
“China has made a sharp drop on Open Doors’ World Watch List. The country fell from the 21st slot to the 37th position in 2013; partly because other countries surpassed it, partly a reward for the growing freedoms of the local church,” the Open Doors report said at the time.
Open Doors cited a Chinese pastor.
“The government still sees the church as a political movement, and they want to know what Christians are up to,” said the pastor, whose named was withheld for security reasons. “However, their methods have changed. No longer do the police put us in jail. We get invited for tea. Often. Too often. Sometimes every few days, especially when we speak out about something that the government doesn’t like. What if I refuse? I can’t refuse.
“They will push me harder to meet up with them,” the pastor said. “The meetings themselves are unpleasant. The agents always have an agenda. They want me to do something or tell something. I have no problem to tell them what is happening in my church. That is no secret. As long as I give this information they are happy and I don’t mind if they know what we preach or what kind of activities we organize.”
International Christian Concern’s Asia analyst Ryan Morgan confirmed the the China Aid report of a new anti-Christian offensive in China.
“What we are hearing from our own sources does confirm that there seems to be a widespread, government-backed effort to crack down on house churches going on across China right now,” Morgan said.
Morgan reported Chinese authorities in Shandong Province raided a house church meeting and arrested a Chinese-American and two South Korean missionaries.
He said the raid and others show that Chinese authorities have increased their anti-house church activities.
“We definitely saw a spike in pressure on house church Christians around the country last year, especially as the once- in-a-decade leadership change at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party approached in November,” Morgan said.
“From what I understand the Communist Party spent considerable resources collecting information on house churches during the first six months of last year before unleashing the crackdown that is going on right now,” Morgan said.
“In the most common scenario the police raid the house church during a service and attempt to intimidate the members into disbanding and staying away. Sometimes these are relatively peaceful, but too often they turn violent and members are beaten or arrested,” Morgan said.
“The crackdown isn’t limited to just house churches either. On Sunday police raided a Presbyterian church in the far Northeastern province of Heilongjiang and beat the female pastor of the church, who subsequently had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital,” Morgan said.
Morgan said Christians are left with few options in terms of addressing their grievances.
“They can’t call the authorities who attacked them in the first place and any family or friends who attempt to intervene are likely to face harassment themselves,” Morgan said. “There are several Christian human rights lawyers brave enough to take on these cases in the courts, but they sometimes face even more severe persecution for speaking up.”
But Morgan said the government will never eliminate all of the house churches.
“The house churches are attended by tens of millions of Chinese Christians. If anything, history has shown that persecution has actually ended up fanning the flames of revival. The estimated 120 million Christians now living in China are a testament to this,” Morgan said.