After several hours, police from the districts where each parishioner lived came to pick them up from the school. They took some parishioners home, but brought others to local police stations for questioning. According to a statement by the church, police asked some parishioners to sign a document promising to stop attending Shouwang Church and threatened to track down their parents in order to pressure them. Most were released by 9:00 that night.
Police also confiscated church materials and changed the locks on the doors of the two meeting places, which Shouwang used for prayer meetings, classes, choir rehearsal, small groups, and as a library. But church leaders said that even if the government took away their meeting spaces, they would continue their activities in other locations.
“The basic position of the church is to not accept the decision to ban the church,” Shouwang Church leaders wrote in a statement. “From a spiritual perspective, the legitimacy of the Christian church is not based on the ruling of the worldly powers, but on the church’s spiritual nature.”
The raid didn’t come as a surprise to members of Shouwang. The local government has been warning members to stop attending the church since late last year, and officials even showed up during a communion service in February to question Zhang. In a newsletter from January, the church urged parishioners to pray, to watch out for each other, and to prepare for an upcoming battle.
Pastor Jin Tianming and his wife founded Shouwang Church in their home in 1993. It grew to 1,000 people, attracting many intellectuals in Beijing. In 2006, the church applied for legal recognition with the local religious bureau, but the government denied its request because Jin was not trained in a state-sanctioned seminary. Yet the church continued to meet openly in a rented space in an office building.
The government began harassing the church. Police showed up to Sunday services, took down parishioners’ ID numbers, and pressured employers to give parishioners an ultimatum: leave Shouwang and join a state-sanctioned church or lose your job. In 2009, authorities pressured the church’s landlord to refuse to renew its lease. In response, church members worshipped outdoors in a snowstorm, an event that attracted foreign media. Concerned about negative press, the government agreed to help the congregation find a new space.
Members of Shouwang raised $4 million to buy the second floor of another office building. Yet authorities persuaded the landlord not to hand over the keys even after Shouwang had paid and signed the contract. At the same time, a restaurant parishioners were renting from evicted them, and they found themselves blacklisted from renting most other spaces. In April 2011, the congregation began to meet outside in a park even as police came to arrest worshippers. Police placed the church leaders, including Jin, under house arrest.