A house church in China's southern Guangdong province that refused to join China's government-operated Protestant church was forced to shut down after continued harassment from authorities.
According to persecution watchdog China Aid, in May, authorities approached a house church leader in Dongguan, asking them to join the Three-Self Church (TSPM). 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."
When the pastor refused, authorities launched an investigation into the church's funding sources and ran background checks on its members.
Later, local public security bureau, fire department, industrial and commercial sectors of government, and state-run cultural departments claimed the church was not following safety regulations and asked the landlords to terminate their six-year contract.
In December, the pastor of the church received repeated calls from the church's landlord, who had been harassed by the government, asking the church to relocate. The church leader, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, claims local authorities ordered the move. Currently, the church is still looking for a building and hopes to stay in their old one until the Spring Festival, or the Chinese New Year.
While China officially guarantees freedom of religion, ruling Communist Party officials are sometimes suspicious of religious groups, fearing that opposition to its rule could be spread by groups outside its control. Last year, President Xi Jinping called for religions to adapt to Chinese society, which he termed the "sinicization of religion."
In October, official documents leaked from Lu'an, Anhui described the Chinese government's organized plan to control and disband house churches in a "Development Zone" of Yuan District.
China Aid reported that the plan outlined four steps in order to manage the "batches" of house churches in the area: Officials were ordered to officially register churches before combining groups, placing smaller groups under temporary supervision, and banning groups who refuse to cooperate.
"The end goal of the plan is to fold underground churches into the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), or, if the group is too small to be a Three-Self church and there are none in the area, ensure that their activities are closely monitored by authorities," read the report.
Since 2014, hundreds of Christian activists and human rights lawyers have been detained, and over 1,200 crosses demolished in a 'beautification campaign' launched by the government. In addition, church congregations are constantly under surveillance and often forced to close.
China Aid notes there has been a 4.74 increase in persecution in 2016 compared to last year, making it one of the most "tyrannical years since the Cultural Revolution."