Tuesday, May 5, 2020

RLPB 548. China: unregistered worship is illegal

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 548 | Wed 06 May 2020
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and this is what implementation looks like.
By Elizabeth Kendal

On Sunday 3 May a group of believers was worshipping together in a home in Xiamen, south-east China, when suddenly dozens of state security police and officials from Xiamen's Religious Affairs Bureau kicked in the door, breaking its lock. Despite not having a warrant, the officers violently wrestled and pinned believers to the ground; one woman suffered two broken ribs while others sustained bruises to their arms and legs. The officers collected personal details and ID numbers of everyone present. Nine members of the unregistered Xingguang Church were taken away for questioning, after which they were released. The church has steadfastly refused to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) approved and controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), 'Chinese Christians also report that police raided several other unregistered churches in Xiamen on Sunday [3 May], sometimes using violence.'

Statements made by believers who were present during the raid indicate they thought their meeting was perfectly legal, primarily because it was taking place in a private residence. In reality, however, the group has fallen foul of China's new 'Administrative Measures for Religious Groups' [text], which came into force on 1 February 2020 [see RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)]. Article 3 of the Administrative Measures states very clearly: 'Without the examination and approval of the religious affairs department of the people's government, or without registration with the civil affairs department of the people's government, activities shall not be carried out in the name of religious groups.' In other words, if the group had been meeting to play chess, cards or Mahjong; or to discuss art, sport or business, then yes, it would have been perfectly legal. When it comes to religion however, the rules are different. What we are witnessing is the implementation of Chinese law. This is the new reality for the Church in China.

As CSW notes, 'Leaders who refuse to register their churches can face arrest.' On 2 April state security police arrested Pastor Zhao Huaiguo of Bethel Church in Hunan Province, accusing him of 'inciting subversion of state power', a serious charge which is often used against human rights defenders and other dissidents. Having already raided the family home on 14 March, the police returned on 15 April and confiscated large quantities of church materials. Bethel Church has also steadfastly refused to register with the state-sanctioned TSPM, an act which would require they submit to the CCP's highly restrictive and repressive rules and surrender to CCP direction and oversight. Zhao's wife, Zhang Xinghong, told Radio Free Asia that the authorities have vowed to fast-track her husband's case. Pastor Zhao's condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

On 26 March June Cheng of WORLD magazine published an image on her twitter account of Pastor Wang Yi. Wang, the pastor of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church, was arrested on 9 December 2018 and sentenced on 30 Dec 2019 to nine years in prison for 'inciting subversion of state power' and 'illegal business operations' [RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)]. The image, taken secretly in March, was leaked by an unnamed source and posted to Facebook by Wang's appointed lawyer. It shows a much thinner Wang in a cell wearing handcuffs. Meanwhile, Early Rain Covenant Church continues to face harassment, including a government order that it cease online worship services.

Pastor Wang Yi at home before his arrest (left),
and in prison in March 2020.


* the Holy Spirit will draw China's pastors into their Heavenly Father's presence where they might ask for and receive (Matthew 7:7-11) the light and wisdom they will need to navigate the dark and challenging path ahead.

'Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant [Jesus]? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God' (Isaiah 50:10 ESV).

* the ever-present and irrepressible Holy Spirit will sustain, comfort, protect and encourage China's imprisoned pastors, evangelists, human rights advocates (in particular the faithful Christian human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared since August 2017), and other humble, faithful believers. May the Lord Jesus Christ 'sustain with a word him who is weary' (Isaiah 50:4).

* the Almighty Sovereign God, ruler of heaven and earth, will intervene in China so the Church will be free to worship, free to train believers and free to 'send out labourers into [the Lord's] harvest' (Matthew 9:35-38), even 'to the ends of the earth' (from Isaiah 49:1-7).

Today we pray especially for:
Pastor Zhao Huaiguo of Bethel Church (in Cili county, Hunan)
Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church (in Chengdu, Sichuan)
and also for the fellowships they lead ... Lord have mercy.


On Sunday 3 May police and officials raided a worship service in a private home in Xiamen, south-east China. New measures in force since 1 February mandate that religious groups must register with the government (Chinese Communist Party) and all religious activities must be approved by the religious affairs department. The Xingguang Church is unregistered and their worship was not approved, making it illegal. The raid was violent, leaving believers shaken and bruised. One woman suffered two broken ribs and nine believers were taken away and questioned. Meanwhile, in south-central Hunan Province, Pastor Zhao Huaiguo of Bethel Church - which also refuses to register - was arrested on 2 April and charged with 'inciting subversion of state power'. Pastor Zhao's condition and whereabouts remain unknown; his trial is pending. Please pray.

RAMADAN 24 April – 23 May
RLPB recommends: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com