More than 150 Christians were released Tuesday by Chinese authorities, but their pastor and his wife remain under house arrest after police raided a church service scheduled to take place in a public plaza.
“Almost all of the more than 150 Christians rounded up in Beijing when they tried to pray outdoors have been released,” reports the Bangkok Post, “but church leaders remain under house arrest.”
On Sunday, Beijing police arrested at least 169 worshippers from the 1,000-member Shouwang “house church,” which is not formally recognized by the Chinese government, according to the watchdog group China Aid.
The Chinese government has frustrated the church’s efforts to find a place to meet. In 2009, church members collected and paid $4.1 million for the full floor of an office building, but the owner came under pressure from authorities and has refused to hand over the keys. Until last week, the church had been meeting in a leased restaurant. The government then pressured the owner to cancel their lease.
It was then that the church decided to meet outside in a public plaza. Church leaders made no secret of their plans to gather outdoors, announcing the service on the Internet. During his sermon last week, Pastor Jin Tianming warned his congregants they would likely meet resistance.
“At this time, the challenges we face are massive,” he said. “For everything that we have faced, we offer our thanks to God. Compared with what He faced on the cross, what we face now is truly insignificant.”
According to church members, Tianming, other church leaders and scores of worshipers were blocked by police from leaving their homes on Sunday. Others were detained as they emerged from the subway station at Zhongguangcun Plaza, where the open-air services were to be held.
By 8 a.m., hundreds of police officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, swarmed the area. They questioned passers-by and herded church members onto buses.
At one point, a group of plainclothes police kicked and beat a group of four young people. As one of the buses pulled away, the congregants pulled out prayer sheets and began to sing Christian choruses loudly.
The incidents came as the United States and the United Nations expressed concern over a growing crackdown on any kind of dissent across China. Artists, lawyers, writers, activists and intellectuals have been detained.
“Only the pastor and his wife and one woman believer are still in police custody,” China Aid director Bob Fu told the French news agency Agence France-Presse. “Surveillance vehicles remain outside the apartment buildings of many Shouwang members. We believe that their freedom of movement will remain restricted for some time to come.”
About 15 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics worship at officially recognized churches in China, according to recent official data.
However, an estimated 50 million or more others pray in “underground” or “house” churches, which refuse to submit to government regulation. Some estimates are even higher – claiming 150 million Chinese Christians make the Chinese church the largest ethnic group of Christians in the world.
“The raid on the church, which sought to pray outside after it was evicted from its building under government pressure, was part of a broad crackdown on dissent over the last seven weeks,” reported Andrew Jacobs and Sharon LaFraniere in the New York Times. ‘The campaign has led to the jailing of scores of rights lawyers, writers and activists, as well as the repression of unauthorized worship.”
“This latest incident comes at a time when the Chinese authorities appear to be putting pressure on all kinds of real and potential opposition to the government,” reported BBC News in Beijing.
To see a video of Chinese Christians telling of persecution, CLICK HERE.
CLICK HERE to read about China’s 2011 Lenten crackdown against Christians.
To read about China blocking attendance to a local bishop’s funeral, CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE to read about a 1,000-member church’s persecution by officials.