China arrests 47 members from a posh Christian church in Beijing
Some 47 Christians from one of China’s biggest and most prestigious home churches were arrested last Sunday for holding service in a public square in Beijing, in a standoff that has gained global attention.
This is the second wave of arrests by the government against upscale Shouwang Church, with some 1,000 well-heeled members. One week before on Apr.10, Chinese officials picked up 160 of its members.
The arrests have placed the public eye on China’s ongoing crackdown on Christians, which had long managed to fall below the radar. The government also pressured employers of members of Shouwang Church to fire them from their jobs, the Baptist Press said.
Shouwang started with just 10 members in 1993, meeting in the apartment of Rev. Jin Tianming. By 2009 when government strictures eased, they rented a building for services. However, the government pressured the landlord to evict them, The New York Times said.
Last year the church raised $4 million to buy its own property. However, it was again evicted from the place that it had purchased. Rather than go back to being an underground church, Shouwang announced that it would worship in an open space, The New York Times
On April 10, as members of media watched, some 1,000 policemen swept down on the church members and arrested 160 worshippers, including Tianming and other church leaders, the Baptist Press said.
Tianming was released on the morning of Apr. 17. In a letter he had sent out earlier in the week he told churchgoers to “step out, whatever the cost This really and truly is a spiritual battle. The devil Satan has taken advantage of the authority God has granted to the national government to destroy God’s church,” the Baptist Press said.
Many house churches in China choose not to register with the government approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement church, which imposes restrictions on teachings and growth, the Baptist Press said.
It is believed that two-thirds of some 60 million Protestants in China attend house churches. The New York Times noted that most converted Christians in China are young and educated, the demographic that is normally at the head of instituting political change in this country.
Many are drawn to the spirituality, the idea of redemption and sense of community in house churches. They also compare favorably with overcrowded, propaganda-ridden government registered churches, The New York times said.
China has responded to church growth with a huge wave of arrests ranging from high-profile personalities to rights lawyers, democracy advocates and bloggers. Untold numbers have mysteriously disappeared, The New York Times said.
The clampdown has been particularly strong in the past two months in response to a series of revolts that have spread in the Arab Middle East region. The Communist Party has been in power for six decades, The New York Times said.
In the past weeks the heads of two large home churches in Guangzhou were arrested and church members were evicted from their homes. In Shanxi, a house church member was struck by the police with electric batons. There have been reports of harassment of Christians in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Last year there were 3,343 reported instances of arrests and harassment of Christians, a 15 percent increase from the previous year, The New York Times said.
Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid (a body that observes religious freedom in China) told the Baptist Press, “We urge the Chinese government to exercise restraint and refrain from using violence that would further escalate the conflict with peaceful Shouwang worshippers who ask for nothing more than simply to exercise their right to religious freedom.”