The Shouwang Church in Beijing, China has been barred from its building and forced to worship outdoors since April 10th, 2011. Every Sunday, members show up for outdoor worship services, knowing that arrest is imminent. More than 480 pastors, leaders, and congregants from this house church of over 1,000 members have been arrested for their subversive actions against the communist regime.
This year alone, at least dozens of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors have been kidnapped, arrested, and sent to China’s prisons and labor camps where they suffer physical torture, solitary confinement, heavy labor, and political re-education.
For the past sixty years, churches who are not officially affiliated with the government-sanctioned Three-Self Church (Protestant) or the Patriotic Catholic Association have not been legally allowed to operate. But for many years now, especially in large urban centers, these illegal house churches have been allowed to gather openly despite government knowledge of their existence and usually left alone. But for Christians who choose to be a part of these churches, their decision is still a risky one. At any given time, the Chinese government can choose to actively persecute underground Christians, and attacks have been recently on the rise.
This year alone, underground pastors and priests have been arrested and sentenced to years of hard labor in China’s re-education labor camps where physical torture and solitary confinement are commonplace. Christian laypersons have been sentenced to house arrest where they are cut off from the outside world for months at a time, suffering with limited access to food and other basic necessities. Christians have been forced out of their rental homes by landlords coerced by the government to evict them, have lost their jobs with no reasonable explanation, have been detained for questioning at any given time, and have been kidnapped by the communist regime, never to be heard from again.
Despite the risks and growing incidences of attacks, underground Christians are remaining steadfast in their faith.
So why has China’s stance on the underground Church changed recently? Some believe that this year’s revolutions in the Middle East have motivated the communist regime to preemptively strike against any potential pro-democracy groups, such as the perceived Western-aligned underground churches. Others cite China’s growing economic and political prestige as the source of the nation’s blatant disregard for its citizens’ freedoms and rights, believing that as China becomes more autonomous and powerful in the world, the more it will increasingly oppress its citizens and turn a deaf ear to the world’s cries against its actions.
China may be attacking Christians out of fear that their subversive, yet peaceful allegiance to Christ will pave the way to a nationwide revolution against the abusive communist regime, or China may be attacking Christians because its leaders have gained so much power both nationally and internationally that they no longer need to succumb to pressures to act in moral and just ways, and have allowed the sins of pride to fully take over and fuel their violent attacks. Regardless of whether fear or pride are the driving forces behind the increasing persecution of Christians, we do know that out of the suffering of our Chinese brothers and sisters, the Chinese Church will continue to grow as Christ is glorified in their resilience.