Nineteen Chinese pastors have joined together to send a remarkable petition to the National People’s Congress on behalf of one of Beijing’s largest underground churches. The Shouwang church is the most recent target of Communist authorities’ crackdown on the unauthorized house church movement that now numbers some 50–70 million Chinese Christians.
The Shouwang church began in a home but has grown to 1,000 members in recent years, with many well-educated and affluent congregants. Forced out of rented meeting space in 2009, the church bought its own property—only to be denied access by the government. Ousted from rental space once again this spring, the congregation has sought to meet outdoors. But their worship services have been disrupted, and hundreds were detained by police on Easter Sunday. Pastor Jin Tianming and other church leaders are under house arrest to prevent them from leading services.
As The New York Times noted, the crisis is “stirring up the tens of millions of Chinese believers who have come to place more faith in Christianity than in the atheist Communist Party.” That has led to the bold petition—which the Times reports was drafted by Xie Moshan and Li Tianen, “patriarchs of the house church movement, who have each spent more than a decade in Chinese prisons.”
Their petition goes beyond calling for redress of one church’s afflictions. “We believe that the Shouwang Church incident is not an individual, isolated episode that happens to a single church but rather a typical phenomenon in respect of the conflict between state and church during the period of social transition.”
That conflict between state and church, the pastors argue, can be resolved only with official recognition of religious liberty, an essential step to ensure the freedom, stability, and prosperity of the nation:
We believe that liberty of religious faith is the first and foremost freedom in human society, is a universal value in the international community, and is also the foundation for other political and property rights. Without the universal and equitable liberty of religious faith, a multi-ethnic, multi-religion country would not be able to form a peaceful civil society, or bring about social stability, ethnic solidarity or the nation’s prosperity.
The petition argues, on the basis of the Chinese constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for robust religious liberty—including “freedoms of assembly, association, speech, education and evangelism”—for congregations outside the network of state-sanctioned churches:
[F]or the last 6 decades, the rights to liberty of religious faith granted to our country’s Christians by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China have not been put into practice. According to the current policy for religion management, unless Christians join the strongly politically-charged National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement, their various religious activities (including congregation, worship, ceremony, formation of church, construction of church buildings and evangelism) are still being restricted and suppressed by various governmental management departments.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom once again identified China as a “country of particular concern,” ranking it among the most serious violators of religious liberty worldwide.
Now the anxious Communist regime has forced the Shouwang showdown with a courageous congregation that is well-connected and whose allies have articulated a strong political philosophy, patriotism, and good will:
As both Christians and citizens who deeply love the country … we plead for God to grant the graces of peace, harmony, stability and development, let the culture of righteousness, faith, love, tolerance and goodness permeate the entire society.
How the regime reacts to this position of moral strength and sound reasoning about the path to freedom and prosperity will tell the world much about China’s future.