After years of repression, Chinese authorities has finally shut down the Shouwang Church, one of Beijing’s largest Protestant congregations for failing to register as a “social organisation”.
The Church is accused of failing to register as a “social organisation”. In reality, its request for registration was rejected in 2006 because its main pastor was not ordained by the state. The Church has been targeted by the authorities since it was founded in 1993. Starting on 10 April 2011, Church members have met in outdoor locations, such as streets and parks.
Government officials also closed down all of the Church’s subsidiary organisations, seized its assets and questioned more than 20 of its members. Due to government pressure, some Church members have fled China or given in to government demands.
On the day of the closure, members attending Bible classes affiliated with the Church had planned to meet at 1:00 pm, but authorities took between 20 to 30 of them to a nearby school to question them, took down information from their ID cards, and informed them that the church had been shut down.
Officials also ordered the pastor, Zhang Xiaofeng, to sign a document claiming the Church “conducted activities as a social organisation without registration, which is in violation of Regulations of Religious Affairs and Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organisations.”
Despite these claims, Shouwang Church had submitted an application to the Haidian District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in 2006, but it was rejected on the grounds that its pastor, Jin Tianming (pictured), had not been officially ordained by the state.
In China, clergy who do not receive their credentials from the government are not allowed to serve in churches, but many still do in unregistered Churches.
Shouwang, which draws more than 1,000 attendees, is the fourth major underground congregation shut down by the Communist government over the past several months, as party leaders and heads of the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement intensify efforts to rid religious groups of Western influence and exert control to make them more Chinese.
Similar to earlier incidents at Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan, Zion Church in Beijing, and Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, officials interrupted Bible study gatherings at two Shouwang Church locations on Saturday, putting the activities to a halt, interrogating and briefly detaining dozens of attendees, and switching the locks of their buildings to keep them from returning, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).
Shouwang members refused to sign a document pledging to never attend the church again, and leaders said the church will continue to worship by adjusting meeting times and locations.
Throughout its 26-year history, Shouwang members have refused to come under Communist authority and persevered despite persecution, with their “underground” services forced outside when evicted from their buildings in 2009 and with their founding pastor Jin Tianming under house arrest since 2011.
Thousands of Christian villagers in China have been told to take down displays of Jesus, crosses, and gospel passages from their homes as part of a government propaganda effort to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”
“China’s oppression against house churches will not be loosened,” Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, told ICC. “A systematic, in-the-name-of-law crackdown will continue to take place.”
Fu’s organization noted that religious restrictions adopted by China last year “narrow the margin in which unregistered churches previously thrived.”
Early Rain’s pastor Wang Yi remains detained with a dozen church leaders after a raid in December. In a statement Wang prepared in the event of his arrest, he defended nonviolent resistance against the “evil” of Chinese efforts to halt the spread of the gospel.
“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.”
China ranks 27th on Christian support organization Open Doors 2019 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.