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In a continuing crackdown on Christianity, Chinese officials on Sunday detained the pastor and about 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church, a prominent Protestant house church in Chengdu, Sichuan. By Monday afternoon, some members had been released but were placed under house arrest. Several elders reportedly remain in hiding. Ironically, Monday is international Human Rights Day.
Before the raid, church members’ social media accounts and online discussions were blocked, the church’s phone line was cut, and leaders’ homes were ransacked. According to reports, police confronted members overnight, trying to force them to sign a pledge to stop meeting.
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Early Rain has more than 500 members, with weekly gatherings in a dozen areas that attract hundreds more worshipers. In addition, the church has 100 seminary students and 40 grade-school students. Its founder, Pastor Wang Yi, had been a prominent lawyer and intellectual who converted to Christianity in 2005. He’s been an outspoken critic of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Although most of China’s Protestant house churches remain underground, Early Rain operates and evangelizes openly, even posting sermons online. In September, authorities warned the church it was violating policy by remaining unregistered.
China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but churches must be registered and submit to government control. In February, local officials received more power to act against “unauthorized religious gatherings.”
Crackdown on House Church Leaders and Members Intensifies
China Aid founder Bob Fu says religious persecution continues to increase. Last year, 3,000 Christians were detained in China, and this year the number has topped 10,000.
Fu, a friend of Pastor Wang, says Xi’s regime is “deliberately making itself the enemy of universal values, such as religious freedom for all.” Fu urges the international community to “condemn these arbitrary arrests of innocent religious believers” and to call for the Christians’ “immediate release.”
In August, police closed the 1,500-member Zion Church in Beijing. The previous month, a church that was registered with the government was demolished by police in 15 minutes.
This year, the Chinese government also banned online Bible sales, confiscated Chinese Bibles, and removed steeples and crosses from churches. Muslims face persecution too, with hundreds of thousands being sent to internment camps.
Despite Pressure, Christianity Is Spreading in China
Even with persecution on the rise, Christianity is considered the country’s fastest-growing religious group. Of China’s estimated 60 million Protestants, more than half worship at unregistered churches. In September, 344 Chinese pastors signed a faith statement, proclaiming, “For the sake of the Gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses—even the loss of our freedom and our lives.”
Shortly before the raid on Early Rain, the church said in a statement: “Lord, help us to have the Christian’s conscience and courage to resist this ‘Orwellian nonsense’ with more positive Gospel action and higher praise.”
After calling Sunday’s raid “unprecedented,” Early Rain elder Li Yingqiang said, “Even if we are down to our last five [members], worship and gatherings will still go on because our faith is real.” He adds, “Persecution is a price worth paying for the Lord. We would rather live through it than to hide our faith, and we hope more Chinese churches will speak up and stand with us.”