Nearly 950 miles away, the government also shut down Beijing’s Shouwang Church in March. Shouwang’s former pastor Jin Tianming penned a letter of solidarity after Wang’s arrest, stating, “What Pastor Wang Yi declared as his stance on the relationship between the church and the state is also where I stand!”
Shouwang is no stranger to government persecution: In 2011, Beijing officials evicted members of the church from the church’s meeting space and forbade a property manager to hand over the keys to a $4 million building the church had purchased. Police placed Jin under house arrest and arrested parishioners as they tried to meet outdoors at a park. Since then, most church members gather in homes for Sunday worship, while others have joined other churches.
In March, police raided two meeting spaces that Shouwang rented for Bible classes, prayer meetings, and baptisms, and officially banned the church.
Shouwang and Early Rain are two high-profile examples of China’s renewed crackdown on unregistered churches, just one part of the Chinese government’s campaign to “sinicize” religion, which means to reshape religion so that it supports the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The most severe case of this sinicization is in Xinjiang, where Chinese officials are trying to erase Muslim Uighurs’ cultural and religious beliefs by sending more than 1 million to reeducation camps and transforming the region into a surveillance state.
Christians in China are also facing a bitter winter, beginning in February 2018 with the implementation of revised religious regulations. Areas with large concentrations of Christians such as Henan have been hit the hardest, with thousands of churches closed and crosses torn off rooftops. Prominent unregistered churches like Shouwang, Early Rain, Beijing’s Zion Church, and Guangzhou’s Rongguili Church have experienced targeted raids, sending a clear message to churches in China: No matter your size, your prestige, or your connections, we can destroy you.
Yet even as the Chinese government flexes its muscles and tries to shape Christianity into its own image, history shows that the greater the persecution, the greater the growth of the church. Given the Chinese church’s own history, many Christians hope that the fire will refine and strengthen the church.