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Banned in Beijing

Chinese authorities shut down a church they’ve spent years harassing

Beijing authorities question Christians from Shouwang Church on Saturday, March 23, 2019. China Aid

Banned in Beijing
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Last weekend, Chinese Communist authorities formally shut down Shouwang Church. The influential house church in Beijing made international headlines in 2011 when officials kicked the Christian believers out of their building and arrested them as they worshipped outdoors.

This time, more than 20 police officers barged into a Bible class on Saturday afternoon while church members were worshipping and demanded that they stop the meeting. Officials from Beijing’s Haidian district read aloud an official document banning the church for refusing to register with the government as a “social organization.” They also deemed their rented meeting space an “illegal religious activity venue.”

The government has shut down other influential Chinese house churches in recent months, including Beijing’s Zion Church, Chengdu’s Early Rain Covenant Church, and Guangzhou’s Rongguili Church.

During last week’s Shouwang raid, police took Pastor Zhang Xiaofeng into another room to sign the bans and to interrogate him. Other officers rounded up 19 students and held them at a nearby school. Authorities also interrupted a meeting at another one of the church’s rented spaces and brought those church members to the same school. As word spread about the raid, other church members showed up to the meeting place only to be detained at the school as well.

Pray for Beijing Shouwang Church/Facebook

After several hours, police from the districts where each parishioner lived came to pick them up from the school. They took some parishioners home, but brought others to local police stations for questioning. According to a statement by the church, police asked some parishioners to sign a document promising to stop attending Shouwang Church and threatened to track down their parents in order to pressure them. Most were released by 9:00 that night.

Police also confiscated church materials and changed the locks on the doors of the two meeting places, which Shouwang used for prayer meetings, classes, choir rehearsal, small groups, and as a library. But church leaders said that even if the government took away their meeting spaces, they would continue their activities in other locations.

“The basic position of the church is to not accept the decision to ban the church,” Shouwang Church leaders wrote in a statement. “From a spiritual perspective, the legitimacy of the Christian church is not based on the ruling of the worldly powers, but on the church’s spiritual nature.”

The raid didn’t come as a surprise to members of Shouwang. The local government has been warning members to stop attending the church since late last year, and officials even showed up during a communion service in February to question Zhang. In a newsletter from January, the church urged parishioners to pray, to watch out for each other, and to prepare for an upcoming battle.

Pastor Jin Tianming and his wife founded Shouwang Church in their home in 1993. It grew to 1,000 people, attracting many intellectuals in Beijing. In 2006, the church applied for legal recognition with the local religious bureau, but the government denied its request because Jin was not trained in a state-sanctioned seminary. Yet the church continued to meet openly in a rented space in an office building.

The government began harassing the church. Police showed up to Sunday services, took down parishioners’ ID numbers, and pressured employers to give parishioners an ultimatum: leave Shouwang and join a state-sanctioned church or lose your job. In 2009, authorities pressured the church’s landlord to refuse to renew its lease. In response, church members worshipped outdoors in a snowstorm, an event that attracted foreign media. Concerned about negative press, the government agreed to help the congregation find a new space.

Members of Shouwang raised $4 million to buy the second floor of another office building. Yet authorities persuaded the landlord not to hand over the keys even after Shouwang had paid and signed the contract. At the same time, a restaurant parishioners were renting from evicted them, and they found themselves blacklisted from renting most other spaces. In April 2011, the congregation began to meet outside in a park even as police came to arrest worshippers. Police placed the church leaders, including Jin, under house arrest.

Shouwang Church holds a worship service outside in a photo posted to Facebook in 2011.

Shouwang Church holds a worship service outside in a photo posted to Facebook in 2011. Pray for Beijing Shouwang Church/Facebook

Since then, Jin has remained under house arrest, and church members have gathered in homes for Sunday worship. The congregation has been banned from meeting in the park. Each week, the church publishes an order of worship on its website that includes recordings of hymns by the church choir, Bible passages, and audio of the pastor’s sermon. (Last year, Zhang took over as pastor after Jin stepped down to focus on missionary work.)

Early Rain Covenant Church showed its support for Shouwang in a statement: “When we heard that Shouwang Church is being persecuted again … we knelt down to pray to give thanks and praises to our God because we are delighted that the bride of Christ is closely following her husband.”

June Cheng

June is a reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and covers East Asia, including China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.



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