Wednesday, April 13, 2011

103. China: Beijing church seeks right to worship freely. (plus Ivory Coast)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 103 | Wed 13 Apr 2011

CHINA: BEIJING CHURCH SEEKS RIGHT TO WORSHIP FREELY
(plus Ivory Coast)
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insists on controlling all aspects of society, including religion. Christians are free to meet and worship, but only under the auspices of the CCP registering authority and only within the confines of a CCP-registered facility. For a church to be registered with the CCP-controlled 'Three Self Patriotic Movement' or the 'Catholic Patriotic Association', the church must accept a CCP-appointed pastor and submit to CCP restrictions that severely curtail religious freedom. Whilst around 37.5 million Chinese believers worship in CCP-registered Protestant and Catholic churches (classified as 'normal' by the CCP), some 66 million worship in unregistered churches (classified as 'abnormal' and fanatical). Every time these believers gather they risk police brutality and legal recrimination of up to 15 days in administrative police detention. Their sentence may also include up to three years in China's Mao-era 'gulag' (Chinese 'laogai'): a network of some 1000 state-run 're-education through [slave] labour' camps. This sentence may be without charge or trial because 're-education' is regarded as a preventative measure. Conditions are brutal. These labour camps are not merely prisons, but farms and factories where the CCP produces everything from tea to textiles, chemicals, concrete to Christmas decorations. They are a critical element of the Chinese economy.

Most unregistered fellowships choose to operate as 'cell churches': numerous small 'underground' or 'house' fellowships under one banner. However, Beijing's 1000-strong Shouwang (watchtower) Church has elected to follow the 'city on a hill' model (Matthew 5:14-16) and be visible. Its membership is almost all young professionals, most of whom have worked or studied overseas. 'Most members are well educated,' says China Aid Association's Bob Fu, 'and they include China's top religious scholars and even former government officials.' While the Shouwang Church would actually be content to register with the authorities, they cannot accept the CCP's terms. The church's visibility, combined with its significance, presents the regime with a challenging dilemma.

In 2008 the authorities forced the church out of its rented premises. So in 2009 the church purchased a full floor of office space in the Daheng New Epoch Technology building in Beijing's Haidian district. Though they paid 27.5 million renminbi (US$4.2 million) for the property, under pressure from the authorities the owner would not hand over the keys. For more than a year now the church has been leasing a restaurant. Now this landlord, under pressure from the authorities, will not renew the lease. With no other landowners willing to lease to the church, they made plans to start meeting in the open air at the third-floor outdoor meeting area adjacent to their property in Haidian district, commencing Sunday 10 April. During his final sermon at the restaurant, Rev. Jin Tianming warned parishioners they would likely meet resistance.

When 10 April dawned, Jin Tianming and more than 20 other senior church leaders found themselves under house arrest or being whisked off to police stations. As members of the Shouwang Church arrived for worship they were met by hundreds of police. Some 170 believers were forced onto buses and taken away to be questioned and photographed. Because the Christians had arrived with hymn sheets most spent their time in detention singing hymns. All but three of those detained have been released: Pastor Li Xiaobai, his wife and one other woman believer. In a vain attempt to contain the news, the authorities took down the church's website. Though many members are now under tight surveillance, the church remains committed to meeting in the open until officials grant them legal, written permission to worship in an approved location. For updates, watch China Aid Association.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to bless the sacrificial courage of the Shouwang Church as they risk their bodies and liberty to pursue the simple right of churches to gather for worship.

* every Chinese believer serving time in the laogai slave labour camps, that the ever-present Holy Spirit may restore their souls, encourage their hearts and heal their bodies; may God meet all their needs, along with those of their families and churches. 'Remember those who are in prison, as if you were in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and the Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, Mr Wang Zuo'an, that the Lord might open their hearts to receive the gospel (Acts 16:14).

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA CHURCH SEEKS RIGHT TO WORSHIP FREELY

Christians in China are free to meet, but only under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) registering authority in CCP-registered premises. Whilst some 37 million Christians worship in official CCP-registered churches, some 66 million do not. Churches remain unofficial generally because CCP conditions for registration severely curtail religious freedom. Christians who meet in 'abnormal, fanatical' (i.e. unregistered) churches risk police brutality and up to 15 days in detention or up to three years in the 'laogai': some 1000 CCP 're-education through [slave] labour' camps. Authorities have hounded Beijing's 1000-strong Shouwang Church from various premises since 2008 and the church is now battling to meet even in the open until officials grant them their right to worship in an approved location. Please pray for the Church in China.

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IVORY COAST UPDATE: FRANCE GETS REGIME CHANGE

-- securing not only a win for the French treasury but for Islam

On Monday 11 April Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo surrendered to French and northern Muslim rebel forces at his residence in Abidjan. These rebel forces could never have seized control of the predominantly Christian south without French military assistance. Despite Alassane Ouattara's public appeal for restraint, there is a high risk that pro-Ouattara forces might seek to eliminate as many Gbagbo supporters (southerners, Christians) as possible. The Church in Ivory Coast desperately needs our prayers. For background see Religious Liberty Monitoring.