Authorities in China’s southwestern province of Sichuan have requested a large family-based Christian church to halt its activities, the church’s pastor told RFA on Tuesday.
The move came as Chinese authorities intensified their harassment of Christians and cracked down on unofficial churches, called “house churches,” across several Chinese provinces.
“The authorities have asked us to end our family church congregations, calling our gatherings ‘illegal,” said Pastor Li, leader of the 1,500-member house church based in the Qili township of Sichuan’s Langzhong city.
“They…still haven’t taken direct action against us, but this has worried churchgoers,” Li added.
Li said the government warning arrived on May 18 in a notice delivered to the home of a church member, and was not sent to their meeting place.
“Our prayer meeting of that day had about 20 believers,” Li said, adding that because of the large size of his congregation, church meetings are held in small groups in area villages.
Chinese authorities have recently moved to increase restrictions on the activities of China’s house churches, whose members are estimated to number about 40 million according to government figures.
On May 5, a family church gathering in Shijiazhuang in China’s northeastern Hebei province was broken up by police who declared the gathering illegal. Officers took worshippers’ names and told them to pray instead at government-approved churches.
And on Tuesday, a family church staff member in Nanyang in the central province of Henan said that authorities had ordered local house church members to join official churches.
“But we categorically refused to do so,” the man, surnamed Xi, said. “They want to control us.”
“The severity of the crackdown on family churches varies in different places,” said Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese Association of Christian Family Churches and active in preaching in central China’s Anhui province.
“In places where there are many family churches, the local government may have a better understanding of them, and officials will be more prudent,” he said.
“But in places where you have only a few believers, local authorities will treat them as an ‘evil cult.’”
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.