On Sunday, Chinese authorities officially banned one of the country’s largest unregistered house churches, Beijing’s Zion Church. Two days later, authorities detained senior pastor Ezra Jin and other Zion leaders, the latest move in the government’s recent crackdown on Christianity.
Claiming the church had broken rules forbidding mass gatherings, more than 100 government workers burst into the church after its last service ended at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, forcing everyone except Jin to leave the premises. They confiscated “illegal promotional material,” smashed Zion’s sign in the main foyer as well as its vision statement on the wall, and sealed off the church property, according to a church statement.
Police detained inside a bus about a dozen church members who had tried to get back into the building, and handed them flyers for government-sanctioned Three-self churches they could attend instead: Each congregant refused. After four hours, authorities released all the Christians, including Jin.
Since its inception in 2007, Zion has become one of the most well-known house churches in China for its size (about 1,600 parishioners), for Jin’s leadership in the Chinese missions movement, and for the church’s public visibility—for instance, the church address can easily be found online. The church itself looks nothing like what the term “house church” might suggest: It hosts a roomy auditorium with rows of plush seats, state-of-the-art lighting and multimedia, and a large LED screen behind the pulpit.
Government pressure against Zion mounted in April, after Jin refused to let the church’s landlord set up surveillance cameras inside the sanctuary. In response, the landlord—under pressure from the government—shut off the church’s water and electricity and announced he would cancel the church’s lease. The congregation had until September to vacate the premises. Authorities also harassed about 100 church members, offering bribes and making threats in order to persuade them to stop attending.
Over the summer, authorities shut down Zion’s WeChat accounts, its Youku video account (China’s version of YouTube), and six of Zion’s satellite campuses. Then on Sunday, they targeted Zion’s main church campus, housed on the third floor of an office building in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. Police vans, buses, fire engines, and ambulances surrounded the building, according to a Facebook post by Franklin Wang, a pastor at Zion.