China; Defying government bans, but at a cost
The powerful propaganda department of China’s Communist Party handed Beijing’s prominent underground churches a testing Easter present, banning any reporting about the Protestant Shouwang Church’s outdoor services.
While Shouwang has been a target of the government for many years, the latest move against underground churches is part of a broader crackdown on dissent since the regime of leader Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012. The new government is targeting any organization perceived as a threat to Chinese Communist Party policy.
“There are thousands of family churches in Beijing, with congregations ranging from several members to thousands,” said Xu Yonghai, a Christian activist in Beijing.
Shouwang is one of the city’s largest and most prominent unregistered or “family” churches — generally small groups of worshippers who gather in private to hold services. There are “official churches” — Catholic and Protestant — that operate under the auspices of the government but the numbers of people in underground churches are believed to be far greater.
In the capital particularly, underground church members are often agitators for political change in China. More recently reports have emerged that members of a number of these communities have recently been harassed and members detained.
It’s not just underground churches but members of state sanctioned churches that are now being targeted by the government.
“Religion is spreading rapidly in China. People need beliefs and the official ideology has become bankrupt, even [Communist Party] members themselves do not believe in Communism,” Xu said.