BEIJING (BP)–At least 13 members of a Beijing church were arrested Sunday, May 8, in the fifth straight week of its defiance of the Chinese government, which continued to force people out of their homes in an effort to pressure the congregation.
One family learned they were being kicked out of their home at 6:40 Sunday morning, before the service even began.
The high-profile clash between the government and Shouwang Church — one of the largest unregistered illegal churches in Beijing — has led to hundreds of house arrests or detentions. More than 500 church members were placed under arrest on Easter weekend alone, prevented from leaving their houses or apartments.
ChinaAid, a U.S.-based organization that monitors religious freedom in the country, said the government, as in previous weeks, continued “rendering church members homeless by pressuring their landlords to evict them.”
Shouwang Church itself is homeless, having lost its meeting space when the government pressured the owners of a restaurant — its last home — to kick out the church. The church also has tried to rent space, only to see various landlords pressured not to cooperate.
Each week during the past month, the church has tried to worship at a public site in Zhongguancun in northwest Beijing.
Churches in China are legal only if they register with the government and join what is known as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. But ChinaAid founder Bob Fu, in an interview with Baptist Press, said churches have a solid, biblical reason for refusing to register with the government.
“Fundamentally,” Fu said, “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 differences.”
More than 160 were arrested the first week Shouwang tried to meet outdoors, about 50 were arrested the second week, approximately 40 on the third week and about 30 on the fourth week. 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.
Included in the latest round of arrests was a woman who is a member of another illegal church, New Tree House Church. She showed up at the outdoor site to show solidarity with her fellow believers, ChinaAid reported.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.