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Chinese authorities continue to ramp up their persecution of Christian house churches, violating the rights of its citizens and reflecting an insecure communist administration under Chinese President Jinping Xi, who is deeply intolerant of religious freedom.
On August 22, police in China raided a small group of Christian members of Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province, arresting 18 adults, 9 children, and an infant less than 1 year old. The police claimed to have received a call reporting an illegal gathering.
ERCC posted about the persecution on its Facebook page, as reported by International Christian Concern (ICC), a Christian persecution watchdog. The raid took place at the home of He Shan, where the church was assembling for Sunday morning worship. The raid on ERCC lines up with other practices employed by the Chinese government, including removing Bible apps on social media, as well as enforcing highly restrictive measures upon religious leaders.
Preacher Dai asked the officers to show proper documents, but they refused and forcefully entered the home. Dai was injured, as were others who tried to help him, and authorities also confiscated his cell phone. A church member told ICC that many members were hurt or threatened by the police while in detention. Police released most of the members later that day, but Preacher Dai and his brother were put under 14 days of administrative detention, and Dai also received an administrative fine of 1,000 RMB, equal to $154.
The church was previously raided in December 2018, which saw the Chinese authorities arrest more than 100 people, and since then, ERCC members continue to be pursued and detained by the local authorities. Preacher Dai was detained for three months for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in the aftermath of the 2018 raid and was summoned by the police in November 2020 for participating in an “illegal religious gathering.” The church’s original pastor, Wang Yi, has not been able to gather in person since the 2018 raid, when he was also arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of subversion of power and illegal business operations.
Gina Goh, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, stated, “The latest raid against ERCC, though nothing novel, shows a worrying trend that house churches are frequently subjected to harassment like this in the name of ‘law enforcement,’ where legally flawed Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs have been employed by Beijing to crack down on house churches across the country.”
Goh added that the Chinese Communist Party’s fear of unregistered churches “underscores President Xi’s insecurity towards any critical mass, and there is no regard at all for religious freedom.”
Nonetheless, Goh concluded, the resiliency of the Chinese house church movement will allow it to survive the current era of persecution under President Xi, just as it survived the earlier “Cultural Revolution,” lasting from 1966 until Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976.
The CCP continues its assault on religious freedom, as its fear of the growing church is obvious. Recently some Chinese authorities began offering financial rewards to those who report on illegal religious activity. Their stated reason was to “strengthen the control of illegal religious activities in the district, prevent any COVID-19 cluster resulting from religious gatherings, mobilize the public to engage in preventing [and] suppressing illegal religious activities, and ensure a harmonious and stable religious landscape.”
This latest incident should disturb anyone who values freedom of religion. China is seeking to involve the public in attacking their religious neighbors. Part of this rationale is similar to what has been seen in the West over the past 18 months. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext, governments in the West have turned citizens into informants as a way to learn about churches holding services with too many people. Americans should take note and remember that a totalitarian government is never concerned with freedom — only control and subjugation.