Chinese Christians continue 'house church' gatherings despite intensified religious crackdown

A group of Christians in Beijing, China, still gather for "house church" services every Friday despite being questioned by police amidst the government's intensified crackdown on religious freedom, a pastor has revealed.

(REUTERS / Claro Cortes IV)A Chinese Catholic prays on Easter Sunday at the state-sanctioned Saint Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai in this 2005 file photo.

Pastor Xu Yonghai and his wife has allowed their apartment to be used for a clandestine gathering of a dozen Christians every Friday. Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a more intense crackdown on unregistered "house churches," but Xu's group continues to gather regularly to pray, worship, and read the Bible, SBS detailed.

"We've been questioned by the police before. Friday is a less obvious day for us to meet," Pastor Xu shared. "A few decades ago there was no such thing as a 'house church.' We had never even heard of Christianity. Now I believe there are thousands in this city alone."

Bob Fu of the non-government organization China Aid said the Chinese government has taken notice of the growth of house churches. The country only recognizes the state-aligned "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" church, so unregistered churches such as Xu's congregation are seen as a threat to the government as they are beyond the control of the Communist Party.

A human rights lawyer in Xinjiang said one of his clients was charged with "disturbing public order" for conducting a Bible study with four people at home. He said this charge was supposedly for large public gatherings such as protests, but now, those who are caught reading the Bible or praying at home are detained for two weeks and sentenced to years in jail.

Last month in eastern Zhejiang, officials issued orders prohibiting children from attending Christian summer camps and Sunday schools. The latest crackdown came after the Henan Provincial Three-Self Patriotic Committee and the Henan Provincial China Christian Council banned churches from organizing such activities for minors, citing possible health risks associated with high temperatures, China Aid reported.

A local Christian surnamed Zhang said the government was simply attempting to control ideology. He observed that Xi's regime has tightened its hold on religion, while previous administrations were tolerant to Christian activities.

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