Police in China's Shanxi Detain Nine Protestant House Church Members

The authorities continue to target the Golden Lamp church because it refuses to join a state-back Protestant association.
By Qiao Long
2021.08.09
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Police in China's Shanxi Detain Nine Protestant House Church Members Preacher Yang Rongli, of the Golden Lamp Protestant church, stands near the sign of a prison in in the northern province of Shanxi upon her release from a previous jail sentence, in an undated photo.
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Authorities in the northern province of Shanxi have detained nine members of the Golden Lamp Protestant church in the provincial capital, Taiyuan, after it refused to join the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-backed Three-Self Association of churches.

Police in Shanxi's Linfen county detained nine church leaders and members on Aug. 7, including pastor Wang Xiaoguang and preacher Yang Rongli, who have previously been jailed for religious activities.

An unknown number of members of other house churches in the Golden Lamp network were taken to their local police stations for questioning, church members told RFA.

The detentions come amid a series of raids on unofficial Protestant "house" churches in Linfen county, they said.

"They detained Wang Xiaoguang and eight other people," a Golden Lamp church member said. "It was probably because they were carrying out a house church baptism."

Yang has already served a seven-year jail term from November 2009 for preaching the gospel and pastoral activities.

Soon afterwards, local authorities demolished a Golden Lamp megachurch in Taiyuan with dynamite.

Yang was released in October 2016 and pressured by religious affairs bureau officials to bring Golden Lamp -- which boasts a membership of tens of thousands -- under the aegis of the Three-Self Patriotic Association.

Yang refused, and the church has been targeted by the authorities ever since, who have cut off pensions and other state benefits previously paid to Yang and colleagues.

"We won't change our beliefs, nor will we join the Three-Self Patriotic Association," the church member said.

"Last time we met with them, they told us that the management of the church has been transferred to the religious affairs department of central government [in Beijing], and is no longer under the control of Shanxi province," the church member said.

The Golden Lamp Church, a giant unregistered Protestant "house" church in Shanxi Province's Linfen Prefecture built by Yang Rongli and her husband Pastor Wang Xiaoguang, seen in a December 2009 file photo. Credit: AFP
The Golden Lamp Church, a giant unregistered Protestant "house" church in Shanxi Province's Linfen Prefecture built by Yang Rongli and her husband Pastor Wang Xiaoguang, seen in a December 2009 file photo. Credit: AFP
Dangerous foreign import

A legal professional familiar with the Linfen church case, who gave only a surname Li, said Shanxi is among the key areas in China being targeted for a crackdown on Protestant house churches, along with Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui and Henan.

"It has been more than a decade now, since the persecution of the Linfen Golden Lamp church in Shanxi began," Li said.

"Some of the church members were sentenced back then ... this shows that the church has been resisting persecution, and that its Christians are keeping their faith," he said.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under general secretary Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with party documents warning against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion.

Authorities in China are detaining Christians in secretive, mobile "transformation" facilities in a bid to make them renounce their faith, a former inmate of a secret facility told RFA in April 2021.

The man said he was held in a facility run by the CCP's United Front Work Department, working in tandem with the state security police, for 10 months after a raid on his church in 2018.

Another Christian who asked to remain anonymous said that similar facilities are being used across China, not just for Protestants, but also for members of the underground Catholic church, and of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, a target of authorities since 1999.

Scenes from the demolition of Golden Lamp Church, a Protestant "house" church in Shanxi Province's Linfen Prefecture. in January 2018. Credit: Golden Lamp Church
Scenes from the demolition of Golden Lamp Church, a Protestant "house" church in Shanxi Province's Linfen Prefecture. in January 2018. Credit: Golden Lamp Church
The Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, exercises tight controls over any form of religious practice among its citizens.

State security police and religious affairs bureau officials frequently raid unofficial "house churches" that aren't members of the CCP-backed Three-Self Patriotic Association, although member churches have also been targeted at times.

China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches under the aegis of the Three-Self Patriotic Association, and some nine million Catholics, the majority of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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