A church in Guangzhou’s calm response to an intimidating mealtime raid by armed police and government agents last month is drawing praise from persecution advocates. They say the incident reveals that churches in China are standing strong despite growing hostility toward Christianity by Communist Party authorities.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea and its US partner China Aid are reporting that on January 7, members of Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church’s Dashi branch were seated around several tables praying over their meal in the dining room of a farm in the Shunde district of Guangzhou’s Foshan City. They were interrupted by dozens of police officers and government officials armed with real guns. Those officers, claiming to be investigating illegal religious activities, demanded that each attendee show their identification. Witnesses say that officers then proceeded to interrogate and search the event organizers.
But according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, church members remained calm and insisted that the officers respect their legal rights.
“The authorities continued to act in an intimidating manner, but the church members did not become frightened,” says Representative Foley. “The government had guns, but the church had the Holy Spirit.”
Representative Foley says that witnesses report that when the police entered and made their demands, a participant in the gathering gestured for everyone to be quiet and said, “Only actions defined as illegal by the law are truly illegal. We have not violated any laws. Please be seated, and we need to video record everything.”
Representative Foley says that witnesses report that a young Christian then attempted to take photos but was stopped by plainclothes police officers who attempted to seize his phone.
“According to witnesses, another church member then announced, ‘We have the right to record videos; we have the right to oversee the exercise of power’, and then that person was immediately surrounded by five plainclothes police officers who moved to take him away,” says Representative Foley. “The man then asked why they wanted to take him away, questioning what crime he had committed. Witnesses say the police responded, ‘We need to inspect you now.’ But the man refused to be intimated, saying, ‘Isn’t this behavior akin to that of bandits? We can take photos, and you can too, showing that you are enforcing the law fairly.’”
Representative Foley says that the officers also raised concerns about children being present at a religious event. “One church member responded that the children were his, asking, ‘What’s the problem with that?’ The officers accused the man of organizing an illegal religious activity and asked if he was a pastor or elder. The Christian clarified that he was neither but was just there to pray,” says Representative Foley.
According to Representative Foley, a man who had been leading prayer from a podium in the room when the police entered was taken out for separate questioning. “Witnesses say that his wife wanted to accompany him but was stopped by the police. They requested her to go back inside and even mentioned taking her to the police car,” says Representative Foley. “The wife questioned, ‘What authority do you have to restrict my personal freedom? Have I committed any crime? That’s my husband; you took him away. Can’t I go out to have a look?’”
Representative Foley says another man from the church reminded police of Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religious belief for citizens.
“Witnesses report that the man said, ‘Why did you take him away? He was cooperating with your inquiries and had not broken any law, so you cannot take him out. We are familiar with the law; this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered such so-called religious law enforcement. We didn’t break any law. We came here to have a meal, and as Christians, we pray. Whether we violated religious laws or not should be determined by the religious affairs bureau. Only when it is determined as illegal can the police enforce it. To protect the law, us, the police, and the religious affairs bureau, we will cooperate. Our brother has been taken away, and we need to see him, ensuring everyone’s safety; everyone is equal before the law.’”
Police raided Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church, searching the location where they were having a meal.
Representative Foley says that the raid is the latest event in an ongoing government crackdown against Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church, a house church that refuses to join the government’s Three-Self Church organization. “Since the implementation of the government’s new Regulations on Religious Affairs in 2018, Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church’s Sunday services have been raided by the police multiple times, and Pastor Huang Xiaoning has been repeatedly ‘invited for tea’ and detained,” says Representative Foley. She says that the church has six branches, all of which were simultaneously raided by local government authorities in May 2023, with elders, preachers, and co-workers taken away by the police.
“In June 2023, a special task force targeting Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church was established by local authorities,” says Representative Foley. “They tried to persuade Pastor Huang Xiaoning to join the Three-Self Church, but his stance remained firm. He says, ‘Know what you should believe; act on what should be done; live life as usual until something extreme happens.’”
On August 24, 2023, Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church was officially banned by authorities and the church was deemed an illegal social organization. Representative Foley says that the group that was raided last month is one of the gathering venues affiliated with the church.
“The persecution of Christianity in Foshan region has intensified over the past two years,” says Representative Foley.
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