On May 3, dozens of local security guards and officers raided Xingguang Church, a Protestant church not registered with the Chinese government. The small group of Christians was singing hymns in a private home in China’s Fujian province when they were interrupted by authorities from the local Ethnic and Religious Bureau. These officers pushed their way into the house without warning and without proper legal documents.
Authorities insisted that the gathering was illegal. When church members started recording the raiding incident on their phones, the officers yelled at them to stop. When the officers saw that neighbors were also filming the incident, they removed the family for recording the raid.
Pastor Yang Xibo told Radio Free Asia, “The state security police came banging at the door, then they kicked it down and dragged those in the way outside the doorway, dragging them to the ground.”
This was not Xingguang Church’s first chaotic raid. Authorities previously raided the church on April 12, and accused the pastor of “violating several articles of the religious regulations.”
China’s regulations for churches are strict. Chinese President Xi Jinping has instituted efforts to “sinicize” Christianity. This means in order to get state approval, churches must amend their teachings to appeal to the values of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One element of this long-term plan is “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find its similarities with socialism and to discover the “correct understanding” of scripture.
To submit a church to the authority of the state-sanctioned church associations is to submit to the influence of the CCP. Churches that refuse to do so, like Xingguang Church, often face harassment from the government.
Last week’s report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that China raided or closed down hundreds of house churches in 2019. Catholic Bishops who refuse to join the state-affiliated Catholic association faced harassment and detention.
The status of religious freedom is not improving in China. At the end of December, Pastor Wang Yi, who had founded one of China’s largest house churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison—a harsh sentence and a clear indication that China’s assault on religious freedom continues.
Worshiping in an unsanctioned house church can expose Christians to abuse by the Chinese government. Yet, millions of believers persist in gathering every week. All because they want to worship God as they see fit, even with the risks involved.
To learn more about the status of religious freedom in China, see FRC’s publication, Religious Freedom in China: The History, Current Challenges, and the Proper Response to a Human Rights Crisis.