China Detains Members of Church at Easter Services
posted at 1:59 pm on April 24, 2011 by Howard Portnoy
Recently, President Obama, during a rare (!) moment of self pity, expressed his belief that it would be “so much easier to be the president of China.” Paraphrasing his views, one White House official explained that “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.”
Indeed. Xinhua, China’s official news agency, has breathed not so much as a word of criticism over the government’s detention yesterday of hundreds of congregants belonging to a church in Beijing. Their crime, which also prompted authorities to take three dozen people into custody, was attempting to hold Easter services in a public square.
As the New York Times reports, the Chinese Communist Party keeps tight control over religious activity in the country. The “faithful” are required to join state-run churches, mosques, or Buddhist temples. This dictate puts “unregistered” churches like Shouwang, or Lighthouse, an evangelical Protestant congregation, in a precarious spot.
About three weeks ago, the government began a crackdown on churches like Shouwang, which was ordered earlier this month to disband or limit its prayer services to private homes. The 1,000-member congregation, one of the largest and most prominent in the capital, was evicted from quarters it had been renting.
Most of the congregants seized on Sunday Monday were taken away in buses after they showed up at the public venue where the service was to be conducted. On Sunday night the church’s website was shut down.
Shouwang, which was founded 18 years ago in a private home, insists it has no political agenda and only seeks the government’s blessing to pursue its prayerful ends. The Chinese government, however, has made it clear it has no intention of capitulating to the church’s request and has demanded that church leaders hand over the keys the $4 million space the congregation bought in 2009.
The church’s head pastor, Jin Tianming, circulated an e-mail circulated last week noting the Easter holiday was upcoming and urging congregants to:
pray especially for those brothers and sisters who in the past week or two have already been forced to move or leave their jobs. We ask God to remember the price they have paid for holding on to their faith and ask him to take care of their families and their daily life needs.