They came hoping to sing hymns, read Scripture and worship together, but 25 members of Shouwang Church in Beijing were arrested May 22 during the seventh consecutive week that the congregation has bucked the Chinese government and refused to stop meeting.
Few other details of the latest round of arrests were available, but ChinaAid — which monitors religious freedom in China — reported that 18 of the church members had been freed by the end of the day.
In one possible sign that the confrontation is not nearing an end, the last two weeks have seen an increase in the number of church members attending the illegal service. After 13 members were arrested in the fifth week, 20 were arrested last week, and now 25.
The confrontation between the church and the government began in April, when Shouwang — one of Beijing’s largest illegal churches — said it would meet at a public square in Beijing, despite warnings from the government not to do so. Each week it has tried to meet at the same spot, only to be stopped by police. The church has been forced to try to meet outdoors because the Chinese government forced it out of its indoor facilities.
Hundreds of church members have been placed under weekend house arrest during the seven-week stretch, prevented from even leaving their homes. The church has nearly 1,000 members.
In China, only churches registered with the government who are members of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement are considered legal. But registration brings heavy restrictions, including prohibitions on evangelism, Sunday School and baptizing children and teens, said Bob Fu, president and founder of ChinaAid. But those aren’t the only reasons.
“The number one reason,” Fu told Baptist Press, “is focused on who is the head of the church? Is it the Communist Party, the Chinese government or Jesus Christ alone? The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is nothing but a political organization with a religious uniform. All the leaders are appointed by the Communist Party, the United Front Work Department, and the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and they are salaried. And many of the leaders are also Communist Party members.”
More than 160 were arrested the first week Shouwang tried to meet outdoors, about 50 were arrested the second week, approximately 40 on the third week, and about 30 on the fourth week. –Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.