Tuesday, May 12, 2020

RLPB 549. China: Government Wants Fewer Churches

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 549 | Wed 13 May 2020
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By Elizabeth Kendal


On 18 April Hong Kong authorities arrested 15 of the region's most high profile senior pro-democracy leaders 'on suspicion of organising, publicising or taking part in several unauthorised assemblies'. In recent years, the Hong Kong democracy movement has split. On one side there is the old guard of pan-democrats who have long worked with Beijing to advance peacefully the 'One Country, Two Systems' agreement. Beijing had long been happy to work with these pro-democracy leaders, but as veteran journalist and commentator Lee Yee explains, 'Following the rise of Xi Jinping in late 2012 ... all of that changed.' Under Xi, Beijing started exercising more and more control over Hong Kong. In 2016 a new youth-led movement emerged advocating 'localism' (a separate identity for Hong Kong). It seems this faction has also now split between those who steadfastly reject violence and those who believe violence may be necessary to force change. Seasoned with realism, the old-guard pan-democrats have persistently sought to establish an acceptable middle ground. Yet this is the group Beijing targeted in the 18 April sweep. Today, Beijing is boasting of having nabbed 'Hong Kong independence gang leaders'. But, as Lee explains, in arresting men and women who 'have consistently been the most mild advocates of democratic norms in the territory', the Communist authorities 'have, in effect, wiped out what remained a middle ground. Now the only choices open to Hong Kong people are: align yourself with a totalitarian regime or rise up to resist and oppose it. There simply is no Third Way.'

See: The End of the Third Way, by Lee Yee, 21 April 2020.

Reading Lee Yee's analysis of Beijing's actions in Hong Kong makes one wonder if the same policy might one day be rolled out across the mainland with regards to China's churches; or indeed if it has already begun!


- state-sanctioned churches being closed, merged and re-purposed

Inside the TSPM's Chongyi Church, Hangzhou (2015)
Under President Xi, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) repression and persecution of CCP-approved churches has commenced and is escalating rapidly. For the Protestant, state-sanctioned (i.e. legal) Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the persecution commenced with the forced removal of TSPM pastors who criticised the regime's acts of aggression, in particular the CCP's campaign against the Cross in Zhejiang [see RLPB 255, The CCP and the Cross over Zhejiang (9 April 2014)]. The Zhejiang campaign led to the arrest (on false embezzlement charges) and on-going persecution of  Pastor Joseph Gu (Gu Yuese), pastor of one of the largest TSPM churches in the country: Chongyi Church in Zhejiang's capital, Hangzhou (pictured) [see RLPB 343, A New Cultural Revolution is Upon Us (10 Feb 2016)]. In the years since then, TSPM churches across the country have faced increasing levels of CCP interference and harassment; many have been forced to remove crosses and Bible texts and replace them with images of President Xi and pro-CCP slogans.

Having registered with the Chinese government (i.e. the CCP), TSPM member churches are obliged to operate under its oversight and submit to its restrictive rules, most salient of which is to never criticise the CCP. As in all denominations, pastors in TSPM churches are diverse: from faithless CCP stooges eager to advance themselves at any cost, through to evangelicals who submit through gritted teeth so the gospel might be preached in an open, accessible and essentially protected TSPM property. To varying degrees, most are just trying to find the middle ground in an exceedingly complex, difficult and fluid environment. If the CCP wipes out the middle ground, Christians will be left with two stark choices: total absorption into CCP structures, or high-risk secret meetings in illegal 'underground' fellowships amidst Cultural Revolution-style violent persecution. There will be no Third Way.

TSPM church in Nie village:
cross and words “Christian Church” removed;
repurposed as “Integrated Cultural Service Center
of Nie village, Yangmiao town,
Gaoxin district, Jiaozuo city.”
(Bitter Winter 4 Jan 2020)
Bitter Winter reports (2 May 2020) that, at a conference in Fujian Province in September 2019, directors of TSPM churches were informed that, in order to stem the rapid growth of Christianity, Beijing had decided to reduce the number of places of worship. Over 200 of Fujian's TSPM meeting venues were selected to be closed, merged and re-purposed. In the firing line are secondary venues affiliated with large TSPM churches. Despite being affiliated with the registered parent TSPM church, these venues are being deemed unregistered and illegal. TSPM churches that are deemed too close to other TSPM churches are similarly being shut down and merged with other TSPM churches. Redundant church properties are confiscated, 'de-Christianised' and 'repurposed' for use by the CCP.

Bitter Winter also reported (4 Jan 2020) that a major take-over of some 150 churches took place across two cities in the central province of Henan in September 2019 and that TSPM churches did not escape. In Jiaozuo, a prefecture-level city in northern Henan, three TSPM churches were forcibly acquired and re-purposed. Pastors who resisted were threatened with re-education; most acquiesce out of fear. Bitter Winter reports concerning one TSPM church forcibly acquired in Jiabu village, Wuzhi County, north-west Henan: 'After the church was emptied, government employees put up a signboard that read "Joy Charity Institute of Group 3, Jiabu, Dafeng town, Wuzhi County" on the church's eastern gate. On its western gate, they put up another signboard that read: "Dafeng Town CCP Committee Base-Level Party School".' My thoughts (E.Kendal) on this: at least they got the signs right! For just as the sun rises in the east every dawn, joy and charity will rise over China. Likewise, just as the sun sets in the west every dusk, so too will the sun set on the CCP ... by the grace of God, in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11). Until that 'day' comes, the Church in China needs our prayers.


* fill the Chinese Church, especially her pastors and leaders, 'with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy' (from Colossians 1:9-12 ESV). May the Church receive all the wisdom she will need to navigate the increasingly treacherous path ahead.

* protect, sustain, supply and encourage Chinese believers who are this day in prison or facing increased persecution and hardship simply because of their faithfulness (Luke 12:4-7).

'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).

* grant the Church (in China and the world) patience and persistence in prayer, along with endurance and faithfulness in glorious hope as the Lord works out his eternal purposes concerning President Xi Jinping, the nation of China, and the Chinese Church that will one day be free!

'Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! ... For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (from Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV, emphasis mine).


Under President Xi, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) repression and persecution of legal, CCP-approved churches has escalated. For the Protestant, Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) it started with the removal of pastors who criticised CCP policies. Since then, the CCP interference and harassment has only escalated. Multitudes of TSPM churches have been forced to remove crosses and Bible texts and replace them with pictures of Xi and pro-CCP slogans. In mid-2019, Beijing determined that, to stem the rapid growth of Christianity, it had to reduce the number of churches. Multitudes of TSPM churches are now being closed, merged and re-purposed. As the CCP wipes out the middle ground, Christians will have to choose between total absorption into CCP structures, or illegal, high-risk secret meetings amidst Cultural Revolution-style persecution. 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