China: Police shutter house churches nationwide, order Christians to stop believing in God
House churches across China have experienced intensified persecution in recent months, with Communist officials telling Christians they are not permitted to believe in God in the atheist country.
Bitter Winter, a publication produced by the Center for Studies on New Religion which covers human rights issues in China, documented numerous instances where Christians were threatened and harassed by Chinese Communist Party officials.
In June, a group of officials in the county-level city of Leiyang, in the central province of Hunan, raided a house church. They confiscated the church’s donation box and destroyed 10 Bible verses on the walls, telling the Christians their actions were “the result of their disobedience” and that it was “illegal to hold religious gatherings without a permit or joining the Three-Self Church.”
In May, the Religious Affairs Bureau in the province’s Yongzhou city shut down a house church for “holding illegal gatherings without permits” and confiscated all valuables in the venue, including a computer, a photocopier, and Bibles.
In April, police in Dengzhou city in the central province of Henan raided a house church, confiscated its Bibles and hymnbooks, and took eight congregation members to a police station for interrogation.
One Christian later revealed that a police officer said to him that they could "not believe in God in China.”
The believer also revealed that half a month later, police visited the eight arrested members at home to ask if they had continued to attend religious gatherings. Officers warned them that they would be sentenced to three to five years in prison if they gather again.
“We don’t break any law by believing in God, but the government treats us this way,” the believer said. “The government wants to eliminate all religions and threatens us with the future of our family members, forcing us to give up our belief. It’s really shameless.”
Protestant Christianity is one of five approved religions alongside Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholicism in China. Religious organizations must register with one of five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations, which are supervised by the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
Christian churches that refuse to register with the government, known as “house churches,” are illegal. However, even Three-Self churches — those registered with the government — have experienced an uptick in persecution in recent months.
Numerous reports have revealed the persecution Christians have endured at the hands of the CCP, including arrests, detentions, imprisonments, and church attacks. Such persecution is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to abolish religion and enforce greater control over people's lives.
In Yugan county, authorities shut down at least 48 Three-Self churches and meeting venues between April 18-30, according to Bitter Winter.
The magazine reported that “countless number of churches” were also ordered to remove their crosses in Jiujiang, Fuzhou, Fengcheng, Shangrao, and a few other cities in the province in April.
Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks China as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.
According to some estimates, there are more Christians in China than Communist Party members.