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Do Not Politicize a Church that is Focused Only on Matters of Faith- Beijing Shouwang house churches’s Response to Global Times’ Commentary

Posted by Author on April 28, 2011

Translated by China Aid Association-

Do Not Politicize a Church that is Focused Only on Matters of Faith

The Global Times newspaper (hereafter, the Times) on April 26 ran a commentary with the headline “Some Churches Should Avoid Becoming Politicized” (hereafter, the text), in which it comments on the recent events in Beijing related to Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship, and just as the title says, it was a well-intentioned reminder to Shouwang. This is the only formal Chinese reporting we have seen in the domestic media of Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship. Therefore, it is necessary that we, as the party involved, provide some clarifications and explanations regarding some of the issues raised in this commentary, so that readers can have a more comprehensive and detailed understanding of this incident.
The “house churches” that the text refers to repeatedly are called “house churches” not because they are made up of only members of one family (and some of their friends and relatives), and also not because the church only meets in the home of a believer. House churches began in the 1950s when a large number of believers from across the ranks of Christian believers who would not compromise on matters of faith and who refused to join the Christian “Three Self Patriotic Movement Committee” (hereafter, the “Three Self”) had no choice but to retreat to worshipping in their homes in order to hold fast to their faith and to worship God. Because in those days, joining the “Three Self” or not was not a question of religious faith but rather a serious political question; not joining the “Three Self” was counter-revolutionary, and many people were put into prison for it. Those who refused to compromise could only worship secretly at home. With the reform and opening of the late 1970s, the ultra-leftist religious policies of the past underwent changes, and these so-called “house churches” that originally met secretly in homes slowly started to worship publicly and, as their numbers grew and the environment improved, the church meetings slowly moved from an individual’s “home (house)” into office buildings and other spacious and public spaces. In some areas, house churches started to build their own church buildings. The house churches have existed for 50 long years, and they differ from place to place, so “the situation of the ‘house churches’” does indeed “vary greatly,” but the nature of the house churches has never changed: The true house church is one that is unwilling to compromise on matters of faith and refuses to join the “Three Self.” Therefore, it is a misunderstanding to say, as the text does, that “It is already different in certain ways from a true ‘house churches’ that can fit in a house.” What the church regards as most important is not the place where it meets, and it has never used that to define or constrain itself, because the Bible says “for wherever two or more are gathered in my name (referring to Christ), there am I with them.”

Although Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship is an incident involving “a specific church,” what it reflects is the growing conspicuousness in our times of the historical legacy of “the long-standing problem in the religious affairs of China.” We acknowledge that the religious environment today is far more tolerant than in the past, but we must also see that the current tension in church-state relations is directly the result of “the current religious administrative system” lagging far behind the development of the house churches in these new circumstances. Shouwang Church has in the two-plus years of 2005 to 2007 pro-actively taken the initiative in submitting to the government departments its registration application as well as presented to the State Administration of Religious Affairs “Beijing Shouwang Church’s Recommendations Regarding Church Registration” (hereafter, the “Recommendations”). By contrast, what was the response from the concerned departments to Shouwang Church? The concerned departments not only clung to the religious policy of the previous century, of the 1950s and 1960s, which is that lawful worship service is not possible without joining the “Three Self” and furthermore, when believers met in a home, beat police from time to time interfered on the excuse (that the meetings were) “harassing the people,” forcing the church to move dozens of times. Later, in order not to harass the people, the church leased space in office buildings, but the concerned departments burst into the meeting sites, on the pretext of having received reports of “holding illegal meetings,” with demands to stop the worship services in progress. In 2009, some [government] departments (religious affairs, domestic security, taxation, criminal police, etc.) jointly exerted great pressure on the landlord to get it to forcibly cancel the lease agreement (which forced the church to worship outdoors that time too). In order to have a stable worship site free from interference, the congregation of the church worked together and contributed a large sum of money to buy a stable and suitable meeting site that was large enough to accommodate the entire congregation. However, even though the church has long since paid the full sum in cash, due to the involvement of concerned [government] departments, the developer has dragged its feet, not daring to hand over the keys to us (this has been the situation for more than a year already). The church had no choice to but pay a lot more money to lease space, [but again] because of the involvement of concerned [government] departments, the lease agreements have been forcibly nullified. Therefore, it is not the case that Shouwang Church is trying to “use ‘freedom of religion’ to win easy points,” even less is it the case that Shouwang Church is taking advantage of the opportunity of outdoor worship to purposely “have confrontations with the [government’s] system for maintaining social order”; rather it is that the relevant departments in the Beijing (or the Haidian district) government have, through its actions (or non-actions), forced Shouwang Church into choosing the “no other choice” option.

Furthermore, the text also referred to “politics [being] a big taboo for churches,” with which we totally agree. Political movements and the politicization of the church are directly responsible for the other important reason for the unwillingness of house churches to join the “Three Self.” Regardless of whether in times past or now, house churches have always held firm to the principle of separation of church and state, resolutely opposing the politicization of the church. With regard to this, in our [March 27] “Report to the Congregation” about outdoor worship and in our “A Further Statement on Outdoor Worship” [April 14], we clearly stated that outdoor worship is purely an act of worship as a last resort and is not politicization in the name of religion. Whether it was the November 2009 outdoor worship or the outdoor worship this time, the so-called “sensitive times” were not the choosing of the church; both times the church had no choice but to make the decision due to the situation created by the concerned [government] departments that caused the church to lose its indoor meeting venue. The direct attacks against Shouwang Church in May 2008 in the run-up to the Olympic Games, forcing the landlord to back out of the lease agreement and causing the church to lose its meeting site in 2009 in the run-up to the 60th National Day celebrations, as well as the abrogation in the “current politically sensitive time” referred to in the text of the lease agreement Shouwang Church has signed for its indoor worship venue … these things happen every time it’s a sensitive time, so is it an accident, a coincidence, or a certainty?

We again make clear, Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship is not a political issue; it is purely a religious worship issue, a religion issue that has resulted from the tensions caused by the swift growth of the house churches and the inability of “the existing religious administrative system” to keep up. Therefore, we hope that the relevant departments won’t politicize Shouwang’s outdoor worship activities. Politicizing it can perhaps reduce the responsibilities of the relevant departments, but it is not an appropriate way to resolve religion issues. We hope that the government departments can truly regard it as a religion issue in resolving it, and furthermore, only when it is regarded as a problem that is religious in nature can this problem be appropriately resolved. Actually what Shouwang Church hopes for is nothing more than a guarantee that it can have stable meetings indoors; this is not at all an extreme request; for a church, nothing could be more ordinary. Shouwang Church in its “A Further Statement on Outdoor Worship” already clearly stated, “The government departments will see that as long as the church has a guaranteed worship space, especially if it is the premises already purchased, the church will immediately return to worshipping indoors just as it did in November 2009; this will put to rest any speculation of any political motivations on the part of the church.” We understand the situation facing the relevant departments of “a problem that is not easy to completely resolve, with no ready across-the-board solution.” Therefore, if producing a written guarantee that Shouwang Church can return to indoor worship is impossible, then allowing Shouwang Church to take possession of the venue it has already purchased is the most natural, the most logical and the simplest possible resolution. Of course, afterwards, we can establish a platform for communicating with each other, and to seek a long-term solution together, which is a way to build up experience in resolving the house church problem and is also a way to jointly contribute to the stability and harmony of society.

Lastly, we again ask, please don’t politicize a church that is focused only on matters of faith.

Shouwang Church April 27, 2011

China Aid Association

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