Amid a reversion to the Mao-era crackdown on religion, China shut down two prominent Protestant churches that have functioned outside the communist government’s authority.
A Sunday service at the 5,000-member Rongguili Church in Guangzhou founded in the 1970s by the late pastor Samuel Lamb was interrupted by 60 police officers and religious-affairs officials, Asia News reported.
Authorities closed the church after seizing Bibles, other materials and cell phones from attendees.
Any congregation that does not belong to the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement and submit to its curbs on church practice is illegal under the communist regime.
The previous Sunday, Dec. 9, the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu was shut down, and more than a dozen Christians were arrested, including pastor Wang Yi.
In September, Beijing’s largest unregistered church, the 1,500-member Zion Church, was closed, Christianity Today reported, after refusing a government order to install security cameras in the sanctuary.
Christianity Today reported pastor Wang Li of Early Rain church released a statement after his release defending his nonviolent resistance to China’s “evil” and “wicked” rulers.
“I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church,” he said.
“This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.”
Wang declared prior to his arrest that the church would continue to gather in the event of a government shutdown. World magazine reported 50 to 60 people gathered for worship outdoors this week and were arrested.
At least 10 leaders of the Early Rain church remain in custody. Leaders who have been released said they were shackled, starved and tortured while in detention.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent entity created by Congress, recommended in a report last week putting China on the State Department’s Countries of Particular Concern list of the world’s worst religious freedom violators.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said at the time of the report’s release that the Chinese government under President Xi Jingping is reverting to its old ways.
“China isn’t backing away from the religious persecution; it seems to be expanding,” he said.