Despite its best efforts, China's communist leaders cannot stunt the growth of Christianity, as a house church recently rejected a government order to stop its religious activities and remove all Christian signage from the building.
ChinaAid, an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to religious freedom violations and support persecuted Christians in China, reports that in July, the Zhecheng County Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau issued a notice to Proclaiming Christ Church ordering it to stop its religious activities and remove all religious signs by July 20. The bureau cited provincial religious affairs regulations and indicated that the church met without government approval.
In an attempt to further intimidate the church, four officials sought to persuade its members to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China's state-run church. Once churches join the TSPM, they must accept government supervision and obtain approval from the religious departments before holding any activities. In addition, the TSPM explicitly bans its members from bringing their children up in the Christian faith, labeling the practice "brainwashing."
However, the church refused to bow to the government's wishes, with hundreds signing an appeal stating their intention to continue meeting - and maintain all religious signage.
"We are still gathering," Fang Guojian, a church attendee, told ChinaAid. "We wrote a petition. After [the officials] saw it, they were afraid. In the letter, we wrote that we would go to Beijing; go to Beijing and appeal. Now, they are afraid, and they do not dare to provoke us."
Fang added that the church plans to continue to defy the authorities' orders, and if officials harass congregants, representatives of the church will travel to Beijing to legally defend their rights.
A recent report from ChinaAid notes that a total of 20,000 Chinese Christians suffered religious persecution in 2015 as the Communist government continues its campaign seeking to stunt the growth of Christianity in the country.
In the past three years, more than 1,500 churches have been demolished or had their crosses removed by Communist officials in Zhejiang, and a number of pastors and lawyers who opposed the campaign have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges.
In its annual report on international freedom released earlier this year, the U.S. State Department denounced China's continued suppression of religious liberty.
Despite China's official policy of "freedom of religious belief," the report states, in practice, "the government exercised state control over religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when these were perceived to threaten state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests."