“China tolerates Christian church services,” writes former Time magazine correspondent David Aikman, “but only within the narrow boundaries of theology and church life dictated by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which oversees two church umbrella groups, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and, for Protestants, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).”
Aikman, who spent decades covering China — and who speaks fluent Chinese — worries in an article for American Roundtable about the fate of China’s millions of Christians. Some say China has more Christians than any other nation.
“Estimates of the number of Christians in China vary widely, ranging from the Three-Self figure of about 20 million for its own churches to that of outside observers who say the total is as high as 130 million. The reason? Most Chinese Christians belong to unofficial house churches like Shouwang, which reject Communist Party-controlled Three-Self theology and consider God — not the Communist Party — the head of the church. The number of house-church Christians, while hard to estimate, is likely more than 60 million.”
Other estimates put the number as high was 150 million. Aikman writes:
The recent crackdown on house-church Christians is the outgrowth of a Communist Party initiative launched last December, called “Operation Deterrence,” to force all house-church Christians to be incorporated with the TSPM (Three-Self) or suffer persecution. In light of the savage treatment of practitioners of Falun Gong, a meditation group brutally repressed since 1999, the implications of “Operation Deterrence” are alarming.
Shouwang Church was founded in 1993 by Jin Tianming, a graduate of Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. Its steady growth is partly due to the increase in recent years of Christian converts among urban professionals, but it’s also due to skillful self-administration. Its literary quarterly “Almond Flowers” recently published a detailed explanation of why Shouwang refused to join the TSPM.
Evangelical churches around the world, of course, have always stressed the need for Christians to share their faith. The TSPM, however, forbids its members to evangelize.
The crackdown on Christians is part of a rising tide of repression against dissent that’s often accompanied by interrogations and torture. Recently, the wife of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng said that she and her husband were beaten and tortured for several hours by a gang of plainclothes thugs led by the village Communist Party secretary.
Worryingly, some of the Shouwang church detainees found TSPM representatives taking part in the police interrogations, “educating” and “rebuking” the Shouwang Christians. Incredibly, TSPM Chairman Fu Xianyou denies that house churches even exist.