On Easter Sunday in Washington, D.C., thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the annual sunrise service. The freedom to gather at this public monument and for churches across America to hold outdoor sunrise services is a freedom we often take for granted.
Not so in China. The Shouwang (“Lighthouse”) Church in Beijing is one of the most well-known of “house” churches, which are not officially sanctioned by the communist government. Started in 1993, the church now has 1,000 members. As The New York Times recently reported:
Shouwang, according to China’s officially atheist Communist Party leadership, is technically illegal. … Evicted yet again from its meeting place by the authorities, Shouwang announced this month that its congregants would worship outside rather than disband or go back underground. Its demands were straightforward but bold: allow the church to take possession of the space it had legally purchased. Officials responded with a clenched fist.
After the second outdoor meeting, on Palm Sunday, almost all of the church leadership was placed in “custody or under house arrest.” But that didn’t stop the church from proceeding with plans to meet outside again to celebrate Easter.
Authorities were there to meet them on Easter Sunday. According to Voice of America, 500 members—or half the church—was put under house arrest.
The Shouwang congregation’s recent experiences are not isolated. Last year, according to China Aid, more than 3,000 house church members were beaten or detained. As The New York Times explains:
The move against Shouwang, as well as other house churches, coincides with the most expansive assault on dissent in China in years, one that has led to the arrests of high-profile critics like the artist Ai Weiwei, but also legions of little-known bloggers, rights lawyers and democracy advocates who have disappeared into the country’s opaque legal system. The crackdown, now in its second month, was prompted by government fears that the Arab revolts against autocracy could spread to China and undermine the Communist Party’s six-decade hold on power.
The friction will likely continue, in view of these facts noted by The Wall Street Journal on Monday:
According to the Pew Research Center, between 50 million and 70 million Chinese worship in house churches, and more than 25 million worship in state-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant churches. The Communist Party, by comparison, has around 60 million members.