Si Weijiang: The Church Standing by a Chimney

Friday, January 10, 2020

(Ezhou, Hubei—Jan. 10, 2020) ChinaAid note: The following is a piece written by Chinese Lawyer Si Weijiang regarding the persecution of three Christian women in China's Hubei province. One of the women, the church's pastor, Hao Zhiwei, could face more than 10 years in prison on a fraud charge for collecting offerings.


The Church Standing by a Chimney

By Si Weijiang

Is a child without a household registration not a real child? Is a church that is not part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement [Editor's note: This is one of China's two state-run Christian organizations. The other is the China Christian Council] not a real church? Real house church donations have caused a pastor to be suspected of fraud. This is probably the first case in the country. According to the indictment, Preacher Hao’s charge has a minimum sentence of ten years, which exceeds the verdict of the case in Chengdu [Editor’s note: This refers to Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan. Pastor Wang was sentenced to nine years in prison on falsified charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business operations.” Many churches and members of the international community have called for his freedom].

The church is a church that has been in Ezhou, Hubei for 18 years, and a house church inside of a legal church.

According to the logic of the police, it is suspected of fraud because it has not been approved by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or China Christian Council, features preaching without permission, and receives donations.

In 2001, Preacher Hao, who graduated from Central South Theological Seminary, was invited to preach in a Three-Self Church in Ezhou, Hubei.

Because she was a good preacher, she stayed with the believers and became a full-time clergywoman in the church.

Later, because Hao did not agree with the religious affairs bureau, she was not officially recognized [as a pastor], and the church was banned [Editor’s note: In order to legally serve as a member of the clergy in China, all, regardless of denomination, must receive their training and ordination from the government].

But she still preached in the original church, and the content was biblical.

China has few unofficial churches, but there are official churches and hundreds of believers [Editor’s note: ChinaAid does not have an official count for the number of unofficial churches in China, but there are still many of them meeting throughout the country. In addition, some experts place China’s number of Christians in the 100 millions].

There was nothing unusual. Until the church encountered demolition was encountered, it was surrounded by barbed wire, but believers still passed through to worship.

In 2007, Preacher Hao applied for official pastoral ordination but was not approved.

In 2013, according to the house church tradition, Hao was ordained as a pastor by three other pastors.

The church’s donations are managed and spent by several major of its workers. The expenses include the daily needs of the church, the support of the pastors, and support of other ministers.

According to the indictment, all the donations are now considered fraudulent because the pastor's ordination is illegal, and the church lacks official approval.

The church really exists, and its expenditures for pastoral support are also in line with the tradition of house churches.

Pastor Hao is now the principal offender and faces a minimum of 10 years in prison.

Three women [from the church] are being held without parole.

Pastor Hao’s husband, Pastor Zhang, died of liver cancer in 2018.

Now Pastor Hao’s two children are both minors. They are in early middle school and the third year of high school, respectively.

Their paternal grandparents have all died. Among their maternal grandfather and grandmother, one has passed away, and the other is sick in bed. The two children are being raised by women in the church.

In my opinion, the allegations that the donations were fraudulently obtained by the pastor of the unofficial church are totally groundless.

According to the newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, if a donation is made to a church that has not been officially approved, the punishment only consists of the forfeiture of illegal gains.

This is not the same as fraud, because there is a real church and a real purpose.

The church in Egang, Ezhou, was solitarily located next to the Wuhan Iron and Steel Corporation power plant in Egang.

It was like a surreal oil painting and symbolized strength’s contrast.

Before the [church’s] case, it was demolished.

On July 18, 2019, the local Civil Affairs Bureau issued a notice requiring Pastor Hao to "understand, support, and cooperate with the government's administrative decisions from the perspective of ensuring the safety of the lives and property of religious people."

Pastor Hao struggled because of her husband's death. She did not go to church for one year and could not communicate with the bureau in time.

It is impossible to know in the file whether the demolition and her case are related.

Pastor Hao was arrested in July 2019, and the church was demolished in August.

The church standing next to the huge chimney was finally missing on the horizon.

This church, also known as Ezhou’s Penuel Church, was the place where Israel's ancestor, Jacob, wrestled with God [Editor’s note: This is a biblical metaphor referring to when Jacob, the son of Israel, wrestled with God].

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