BEIJING (BP)–For the fourth week in a row, a Chinese “illegal” church refused Sunday to follow government orders not to meet, and this time at least 31 of its members were arrested.
Once again, reporters were blocked from the site.
The arrests of the members of Beijing’s Shouwang Church in a public square came after church leaders made clear in the preceding days that they would not buckle to pressure from the Communist Party. More than 160 were arrested the first week they tried to meet outdoors, about 50 were arrested the second week and approximately 40 on the third week, Easter Sunday. The declining number of arrests likely is due to the government placing so many other members under house arrest, which prevents them from even leaving their homes. On Easter Sunday, more than 500 church members — including every church staff member, lay leader and choir member — were under house arrest.
The church is attempting to meet outdoors because the government has blocked all attempts by the church to rent or purchase a building. Members say failing to come together and worship would be an abandonment of biblical commands.
The May 1 Shouwang Church order of worship — given to church members and printed online at ChinaAid.org — was intended to include congregational singing of “Amazing Grace,” “Because He Lives” and “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.” But the members were arrested before the services started. It is possible that smaller groups — particularly families — followed the order in worshipping in their homes.
Although a BBC camera crew recorded the arrests during the first week, the government has since tried to block media access, briefly detaining a CNN crew on Easter and preventing three Al-Jazeera reporters from accessing the site on May 1, Asia News reported.
The CNN crew was, though, able to set up an interview with one unidentified female church member away from the site, although the crew had to work to find a spot in the city where police would not interfere. At one point, authorities were following the CNN crew’s car.
“I am really afraid of torture … and I’ve heard many stories of that,” the woman told CNN, her face unseen.
CNN’s Stan Grant concluded his segment by saying, “In this spiritual war, the Communist Party has drawn its own battle lines, determined that the only worship here will be to the state.”
Churches in China must register with the government, and those that don’t are considered illegal. But registering brings restrictions on growth and evangelism — part of the reason the underground church movement has flourished in recent decades. The arrests of Shouwang members — closely watched worldwide — are part of a larger crackdown on what the government views as dissent. Communist Party members are apparently wanting to prevent an uprising in China similar to what has taken place in Egypt and elsewhere, and they see house churches as a threat.
Each week, the church has released a statement, explaining why it has chosen to confront the government. It has chosen to try to meet at the same location in the city each week.
“Some brothers and sisters have suggested that we might want to move our services to a new location so that we could gather together,” the church said in an April 29 statement. “However, at this stage of the development of the incident, it seems unlikely that we can gather together at all. Regardless of which location we choose, the result will be the same. What the relevant government agency is concerned about is not where we gather, but whether we are going to gather or not.”
Church members say they are being obedient to Christ. Some have lost their jobs and been evicted from their homes because of their stance, with the government pressuring employees and landlords.
“The Bible tells us, as Christians, we must not give up meeting together; furthermore, as the church of Jesus Christ, we should not change our mode of Sunday worship just because someone or some entity decides that we may or may not use a particular gathering place,” the church said in a statement Easter week. “Our attitude before God should be the same as Daniel’s, that is, despite the pressure and difficulties our circumstance presents, we should behave as we normally would, coming before our God weekly to worship Him and offer up our thanksgiving, praises and petitions.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.