By Joseph DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– Chinese police have detained 16 more members of Beijing’s largest ‘house’ church and placed others under house arrest, Christians said Tuesday, June 21. Two were reportedly held in protective custody while the rest were sent to 10 different police stations; most were released by Sunday morning.
The crackdown is the latest setback for the Shouwang House Church, which has been trying to hold outdoor services after authorities forced it to abandon the building it had been renting.
Members of the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement also visited these police stations to both “educate” and “admonish” the detained Shouwang congregants by urging them to join TSPM, Christians said.
Following a series of evictions from rented facilities, Shouwang House Church decided to meet outdoors to protest against the government’s restrictions to their right to worship; its first attempt at public protest in a Zhongguancun plaza was met by uniformed and plainclothes police who herded church members into waiting buses that took them to a nearby school for fingerprinting. Similar confrontations occurred every Sunday until all its key leaders, including four pastors and three elders, were put under house arrest.
The number of Shouwang church members attending the outdoor protest declined as they lost jobs, homes or both, church officials said.
While some house churches disagreed with Shouwang’s protests claiming confrontation with the government can only bring harm for house churches, others chose to stand in solidarity with it. ‘House churches’ are named this way as they are often organized in homes of individual believers or in buildings outside the official denominations allowed by the Communist government.
In May, 17 pastors from 20 house churches in several cities delivered a petition to the National Peoples’ Congress, China’s top legislature, asking for the keys to Shouwang’s property and that the National Regulations on Religious Affairs be replaced with more favorable laws governing religious freedom.
In a recent program monitored by BosNewsLife, Radio Free Asia interviewed several petitioners, including Wang Wenfeng of the Wenzhou China Theology Forum.
“I hope the government can see that the Shouwang incident is not an isolated case; rather, many churches in China want the same thing,” said Wang. “The most basic request is, ‘Let us meet in public, and let us register. We Christians have nothing to hide. At the same time, our faith itself requires us to be open with non-Christians, society and the state.”
Founded in 1993 as a small Bible study in the home of Senior Pastor Jin, Shouwang House Church soon grew to 10 separate fellowships throughout Beijing. In 2005, after an application for registration was rejected by Chineese officials, Shouwang formed an integrated church with a vision to be like a “city on a hill” shining forth the light of the gospel.
Church evictions, however, don’t only happen in Beijing; several large house churches, including the All-Nations Alliance Church in Shanghai and Liangren Church in Guangzhou, began outdoor worship protests after being removed from their rented facilities.
“The ‘outdoor’ in the outdoor worship is not a means to an end, but a stand,” wrote Shouwang’s Senior Pastor in a letter to church members in April. “It is a stand when we face our Lord of glory and the authorities … in this period of time it is a worship that is more precious than any hymn or sermon.”