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Local Government in Sichuan Bans House Church; Christians Respond With Well-Argued Petition

Friday, September 23, 2011

China Aid Association(Guangyuan, Sichuan – Sept. 23, 2011) As ChinaAid reported on Sept. 19, local officials have banned a house church in the city of Guangyuan, in southwest China’s Sichuan province, and the congregation has responded with a lengthy and well-argued petition showing that their church is in compliance with the law.  Below is a translation of the June 24 government notice banning the church and the church’s Sept. 13 petition.
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(Pictures: Scanned files of the government notice banning the church. Click to view the original size.)
Lizhou District Bureau for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of Guangyuan Municipality
Guang Li Min Zong Han (2011) No. 8
Bureau for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of Lizhou District, Guangyuan Municipality Notice Banning Shangxi Church

Ma Xiaofei, Wang Shunrong and He Kunjin:
An investigation has revealed that last year you bought a housing unit of 390 square meters located at 377 North Jinlun Road, Shangxi.  You also bought four floor standing air-conditioners and a large number of chairs, and turned the housing unit into a church that can seat around 150 people for gatherings.  In addition, the symbols for “The Cross” have been affixed to the exterior wall, and you called it the “Shangxi Church.”  Beginning in September of last year, 30 to 40 people came here to pray every Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and every Friday morning from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. more than 80 people – sometimes more than 100 – came to sing hymns and listen to sermons.
Given that none of the three of you is a clergyman and that the site of your religious activities is not a site designated for religious activities, this bureau on April 8, 2011 and April 10, 2011 issued the “Notice of Correction Order” pursuant to the provisions of Article 12 of the “Regulations on Religious Affairs” ordering you to immediately stop the prayers, hymn singing and other religious activities and to remove of your own initiative the characters “The Cross” and other signs on the interior and exterior inner walls.  After the “Notice of Correction Order” was issued, you three refused to sign it, and to date you have not stopped praying and engaging in other religious activities at the housing unit you purchased at 377 North Jinlun Road, Shangxi.  Therefore, pursuant to the provisions in Clause 1, Article 43 of the “Regulations on Religious Affairs,” we are banning “Shangxi Church” in accordance with law.  Should you fail to comply within the designated timeframe, we along with the Public Security and other agencies will forcibly enforce the order.
June 24, 2011
Seal: Lizhou District Bureau for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of Guangyuan Municipality
Keywords: Ban, Shangxi Church, Notice
Cc: Public Security Bureau District Branch , Shangxi Office
Lizhou District Office, Bureau for Ethnic and Religious Affairs, Guangyuan Municipality
Printed: June 24, 2011

September 13, 2011
Guangyuan Municipal People’s Government:
Guangyuan Municipal Bureau for Ethnic and Religious Affairs:
An account of the Christians of Guangyuan City’s urban areas attending house church meetings in Shangxi:
In 2000, some of us elderly believers attended meetings at the Dongjie Gospel House in Dongjie, but later, when a fight over the pastor split the church, we were forced to leave the church. After that, because Zhao Chunrong joined the cult of Eastern Lightning, we went back to Dongjie, but Sun Lianggang wouldn’t accept us. Therefore, we had no place to meet.
Later, several of us began to hold meetings at Zhengxin Building in Nanhe. Because people were attracted by the great love of Jesus on the cross, the numbers attending the meetings slowly began to grow from the initial handful. During that time, we applied to register our religious activities site with some government departments in charge of religious affairs and we reported to the authorities on many occasions the reasons for our gathering. We also reported all of our activities, whether large or small, to the Nanhe Police Station. The relevant government departments said we did not meet the requirements to register and did not fall into the registration category.
During that time, we went to Dongjie on many occasions to see Sun Lianggang and invited him to come to Nanhe to see how we were doing and show some concern, but he refused every time. Since he wouldn’t permit us to attend the Dongjie meetings and also showed no concern for our meetings, we could only meet as a house church.
Also during that time, the religious affairs and public security departments sent people to check on us many times, both openly and secretly, and took photos on many occasions. Also on many occasions, they praised our preachers for their excellent sermons. On many occasions, we also took the initiative to go and talk with the government leaders in charge of religious affairs.
After that, because the landlord wanted the venue back for some other use, we moved to Zhengnan’s residence for our meetings. During this time, Sun Lianggang notified us to go to the Bureau for Religious Affairs for a discussion at which they clearly said that we should bring the believers to the meetings at Dongjie. The head of the Bureau for Religious Affairs said we would have two months to think this over. We said that we were a house church meeting and that none of the believers wanted to go [to Dongjie]. As a result, that afternoon, a group of people showed up when we were not there, forced the lock of the front door and stole all the desks, tables and chairs. Later we found out that they were led there by Section Chief Wang and Director Zhao of the Municipal Transportation Bureau. We just can’t figure this out: what jurisdiction does the Transportation Bureau have over religious faith? We immediately reported the crime to the Nanhe Police Station, but to date, they still have not returned the items to us.
After that, the believers had no place to meet. At a time when heresies and cults were rampant, the believers strongly demanded that we meet together as a group. Most of us are elderly people. In our retirement, we neither smoke nor drink nor gamble. Having no place to meet but wanting to prevent the believers from being influenced by heretics, which would bring harm to society, and in response to the Party Central Committee’s call to “build a harmonious society and promote social stability,” we the elderly people went to Sister Ma and started to hold meetings at her home. Before doing so, we filed a formal notification with the local police station that we were holding meetings there.
Just as the believers were starting to feel settled, who would have thought that in April a dozen of people from the religious affairs and public security departments would suddenly start showing up at the door of our meeting site. They blocked access to the door and forced the believers to register their names, government ID numbers, residential addresses and phone numbers. Several times, they forcibly took believers to the Public Security department for interrogation. Furthermore, a policewoman threatened them, saying the police have the right to detain them for two months…
This abuse of power has seriously affected the normal life, work and faith of the believers and has caused them great emotional harm. For no reason at all, they [the officials] have harmed us and repeatedly interrogated us at the Public Security Bureau, where they threatened us, persecuted us and, saying that we were meeting illegally, tried to force us to attend the TSPM meetings. They threatened to treat us like a Falun Gong group and just get rid of us. Wang Bing of the Religious Affairs Bureau coaxed us by saying: “As long as you go and attend meetings at Dongjie, we’ll give you minimum subsistence allowances and buy you insurance.” We said that we are engaged in acts of compassion activities everywhere and had helped a family who couldn’t afford a coffin. But they actually said that that should be handled by the Women's Federation and that what we had done out of compassion was illegal…. They are government officials and the venerated leaders of the common people, how can they speak and act this way?
Though they have made things difficult for us for no good reason, we, out of the great love of Jesus, forgive them and quietly tolerate all this. We advise each other and encourage each other. We believe the central government will not discriminate against us and that’s why we have never made any trouble for the government.
Our question to the leaders of the Municipal Bureau:
If as a group of believers we have broken laws and violated disciplines and harmed the country and the people, you’d be justified in attacking and banning us. Please tell us exactly how we have provoked you that you so discriminate against us and hate us so much? At the worst, it’s simply that we won’t join the TSPM. Is it really necessary to mobilize all your resources in a rush to eradicate us?
Since we began holding meetings at Zhengxin in Nanhe in 2004, we have always persisted in using the truth of the Bible as our criterion, strictly following Biblical principles in teaching others and in living our lives. Many lost souls have been rescued, broken families restored, broken marriages healed and wounded souls comforted. Furthermore, we have long been active in acts of compassion at social welfare institutions and organized “compassionate assistance” activities in various communities and neighborhoods, which have helped many poor families. After the May 12 earthquake, though we also were disaster victims ourselves, nonetheless, we spontaneously volunteered, providing nursing care at various hospitals and public areas to disaster-stricken people and distributing free mineral water to the victims. The police also came to help us maintain order and praised us endlessly. Many media outlets wanted to report what we were doing there, but we declined. We just said, “This is simply the love of Jesus and we are just doing our part as Christians.” After the earthquake, we organized the “One-on-One Family Assistance Program,” which helped more 30 children from poor families by giving them 150 yuan a month. Even now, some extremely poor students are being helped by this program. Inspired by the great love of Christ on the Cross, we believe self-less love is legal!
The interpretation of Article 12 of the “Regulations for Religious Affairs” (Page 75) says a traditional Christian house church does not need to be registered.
Some clauses in “State Council’s Regulations on Management of Sites for Religious Activities” interpret Article 2 as: “Living a religious life at home according to the customs of traditional Christianity in which the participants are mainly one’s own family and sometimes a few relatives and neighbors, and where the form and substance of these activities are relatively simple – in most cases simply reading the scriptures and praying – these types of house church meetings do not fall within the scope of the ‘other fixed sites’ referred to in the ‘Regulations.’”
Section 6 of Document (82) No. 19 issued by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee titled “On the Basic Viewpoints and Basic Policies Regarding Religious Issues During the Socialist Period of our Nation” states: “All normal religious activities conducted at the sites for religious activities and in the homes of believers according to religious custom … such as worship services, prayers, sermons, baptism, celebration of religious festivals, memorial services, etc. shall be handled by the religious organizations and religious believers themselves, are protected by law and no one may interfere.”
In “The Truth of Religion,” page 91, Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Council’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, is quoted as saying in answer to a question from Pat Robertson, chairman of the US-based Christian Broadcasting Network: “Regardless of whether they are registered or not, they can all conduct prayers and Bible study.” “The Truth of Religion” also says (p. 148) such registration is voluntary, not compulsory, and that it is done in accordance with law and is not illegal. Whether the organization is registered or not is not the determining factor of whether a crime has been committed.”
An authoritative Chinese government mouthpiece, the China Daily, has also directly discussed the house church issue. In its article “Beijing’s Booming House Churches,” it quotes Professor Cao Zhongjian, party secretary of the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying: “The government has adopted a more liberal attitude toward the discussion of and controversy surrounding house churches.” In 2010, many house churches sensed that the climate was more relaxed. A person leading a 100-member house church said that several hundred people attended the Easter activities at his church for Easter and no one showed up to interfere with any of their activities. The government’s attitude toward house churches is becoming more and more liberal and tolerant.
Elder Fu Xianwei, chairman of China Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee said in a speech to more than 200 Hong Kong church leaders: “As for the unregistered house churches, we are willing to do our utmost to work with them, accepting them and helping them, so long as they hold orthodox beliefs and do not stray from the true faith and do not follow heresies.”
Article 33 of the Constitution of People’s Republic of China states: “All persons holding the nationality of the People's Republic of China are citizens of the People's Republic of China. All citizens of the People's Republic of China are equal before the law. The state respects and protects human rights. Every citizen enjoys the rights and at the same time must perform the duties prescribed by the Constitution and the law.” Article 36 states: “Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities.”
We are a house church and we gather in our own homes according to traditional Christian custom. Our gatherings have not affected or disturbed the normal production, life, work or study of those around us. Instead, we have quietly given to others, contributing selflessly. We are patriots and we love every compatriot. We are law-abiding and have made indelible contributions to the national effort to build harmony and promote stability. We are an effective force in building harmonious communities and a harmonious society. Our gatherings are open and upright and our faith is pure and orthodox. We are not afraid to allow the government and society in general to monitor the normal religious activities we conduct in our own homes. We won’t join the TSPM system, but we have always been willing to register directly with the government, and we have always welcomed the relevant agencies to monitor our faith.
The majority of those attending our meetings today are elderly. We don’t smoke; we don’t drink; we don’t gamble. Our only request is that we be allowed to sing hymns, pray, and worship Jesus as the pillar of our spiritual life here. We have been diligent all our lives, law-abiding, hard-working and plain-living, and have contributed as we ought to to the motherland and the people. In our old age, we have found joy, comfort and care. In Christian fellowship, we have found loving care.
Our request to the leaders of the Municipal Bureau:
If Document (82) No. 19 issued by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee is still in effect, and if we simply live a pure Christian life in our own homes and hold normal religious activities (even Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states categorically that normal religious activities are protected by the state), please don’t use your power to suppress and discriminate against us! Please don’t force us to attend meetings at Dongjie. Please don’t force us to join the TSPM!
If the China Daily declares that the government’s attitude toward house churches is increasingly liberal and tolerant, and if Elder Fu Xiaowei, chairman of the Chinese Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee says, “As for the unregistered house churches, we are willing to do our utmost to work with them, accepting them and helping them, so long as they hold orthodox beliefs …,”
Then, please respect our faith and please respect our human dignity and personal freedom!
Even relevant leaders recognize that our belief is pure and our religious activities standard, and our positive impact on various communities and surrounding areas is obvious to all and irrefutable. In all that we’ve done, we have a clear conscience toward God, the Party, the state, the people and ourselves.
If you are determined to use your power to suppress us and prohibit us from holding meetings in our own homes, and if you say everything about us is fine except that where we meet is illegal, then please tell us whether it is a problem of the quality of the house or because of some safety issue? Actually, you know very well that there is no problem. Compared with those legally registered meeting sites, in terms of security risk and facilities, we are actually superior. You use Articles 12 and 43 of the “Regulations on Religious Affairs” to forcibly prevent us from holding normal services; we hereby declare again and again that ours is house church meeting!
You say you are acting according to central government arrangements in forcibly banning house church meetings of people who are pure in faith and engaged in normal religious activities, so we ask you to show us the relevant central government document and let us have a look at it too. This isn’t too much to ask, is it? We said that in other parts of China, no one interferes in house church meetings, but you said, house church meetings are permitted in other places but Guangyuan is different. You said the number of people at our meetings had exceeded what is allowed for house church meetings. But when we asked what the maximum number allowed in a house church meeting is, you said that was difficult to determine. You said that if we join the TSPM, then our meeting place could become legal, if not, it is definitely banned.
We want to ask: Is it that the central government gave the Guangyuan area some special document or is it that you intentionally use your power to create chaos and to discriminate against religious believers? Or could it be that you have misunderstood the great efforts made by the central government with regard to religious issues? We believe the leaders of the central government. Please don’t bring shame to the Party’s policy and law!
We cannot stop meeting together. If we don’t meet together, we would be acting against our faith – Biblical truth (Hebrews 10:25 says, “Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”) We are certainly not trying set ourselves up in opposition to the government.
We want to ask the venerated leaders of the common people:
Is this how you “kindly treat” the elderly? Is this how you “kindly treat” Chinese citizens? You who do not have religious faith, is this how you “kindly treat” people of faith? Is this how your conscience leads?
We hope and ask the leaders of the Municipal Bureau to resolve this issue in a timely and appropriate manner.
We are doing this simply for our faith! We want to meet together!
All Christians

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