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July 13th, 2011
09:14 PM ET

Amid growing pressure, churches in China 'are at a critical moment,' pastor says

By Eunice Yoon, CNN

Beijing, China (CNN) - The congregants were seated in rows of folding chairs, clasping their hands in prayer or studying passages in their Bibles.

The choir was sitting up front ready to sing on cue. A cross hung behind the pastor. The service looked like a Christian service you would see pretty much anywhere else in the world. But this is Beijing, and the recent Sunday service was illegal.

I couldn't stop glancing at the door and wonder - are the authorities on their way?

This must be the feeling the people in informal churches here have lived with for decades, I thought.

In China, the government allows religious activity but tightly controls it, requiring Christians to meet at state-approved churches. Many Chinese Christians prefer to worship on their own terms at "house" churches, which generally start as small prayer meetings in people's homes.

In recent years, the authorities have tolerated these underground churches. In fact, the parishioners CNN spoke to seemed unfazed by their church's illegal status.

However, Pastor Ezra Jin, the leader of Zion Church, said these churches are now under tremendous pressure - in the midst of China's crackdown on dissent here in the wake of the Arab Spring.

"We are at a critical moment," he said. "What we need is communication."

House churches, he said, cannot afford to stay silent - one of the reasons he granted CNN rare access to film in his banned church.

Jin is concerned that China's underground churches could become targets of jittery authorities like one of Beijing's biggest house churches, Shouwang. Over the past several months, Shouwang's members have been routinely detained and its leaders put under house arrest.

The government defended its actions, saying the congregants were repeatedly gathering illegally in the streets.

Jin finds the development troubling. He and over a dozen other house church leaders have filed a petition to top Communist Party officials calling for greater religious freedoms.

He fears that without dialogue, underground churchgoers could face a fate similar to practitioners of another - heavily persecuted - spiritual group.

"Shouwang's case could deteriorate into a massive crackdown if not handled properly," he said. "We are trying to send a message to remind the Communist Party leaders not to inflame this incident, not to tackle it the way they did the Falun Gong."

The government officially allows freedom of religion but has long been wary of churches, suspicious they could be a source of opposition.

Pastor Jin doesn't see himself as a threat. He hopes his decision to speak up will foster understanding - and possibly lead to legal recognition of house churches without the government controls.

"We are very aware of what we are doing," he said. "And we are ready to pay the price."

He is a man of God now emboldened despite, or perhaps because of, the Chinese government's heavy hand.

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • Belief • China • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Content Partner • TV-The Situation Room

soundoff (531 Responses)
  1. gupsphoo

    It's OK to crack down on Christians, just like Christians cracked down on non-believers during the Inquisition.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Michael

      Look at what the non believers have done to your nation!

      July 14, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • MrHanson

      Or crack down on Christians like Stalin did.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  2. Reality

    The solution:

    Post the following on all mosque, church, temple and synagogue doors everywhere including China:

    SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:

    THERE NEVER WAS AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR

    SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:

    THERE WAS AND NEVER WILL BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY

    SAVING 15.5 MILLION ORTHODOX FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:

    ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

    Added details upon request.

    Next topic!!!

    July 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Michael

      Pray Tobacco kills millions here in the use and company's are getting rich doing it , whos the devil?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • collins61

      Nobody asked for your opinion Pagan.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • superpaul3000

      ALL YOUR BASES ARE BELONG TO US!!!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • gees

      every day, the chinese witness what terrible harm organized religions do to humanity all around theworld. they are smart and honest.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • GAW

      Ugg Another evangelical atheist again. You obviously become what you hate. This is why I don't want types like you or the religious right running the country.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Samuel

      In the words of Spongebob Squarepants..."Good luck with that."

      July 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  3. bob

    awesome, crack down on relgion before its too late. If you want to believe in religion do so of your own will, don't let it become a cultural thing.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Dan

      LOL...What people are becomes part of the culture. There's no way around that.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Samuel

      You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. No wonder China is cracking down. The Borg have arrived.

      July 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  4. Brian

    Most Chinese see Christianity as part of the legacy from colonialism. The colonial powers used Christian missionaries to numb the people down to better control them. In some cases these missionaries even facilitated genocide.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • collins61

      That would explain all of the underground churches in China. NOT!

      July 14, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Dan

      Proof? Citations?

      July 14, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  5. Michael

    It is good for a government to govern to a point but when the people want change it is the then that governments become road blocks to progress! Holding on to the past is like standing in quick sand your stuck!

    July 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  6. IslandAtheist

    The Scientologists will be next.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  7. mark

    This is a story about tolarance. China will soon be the largest economy in the world, and the largest player on the world stage in every area. The western world believes they are the only country who can deal with N. Korea. They have ignored this responsibility of course. Do we want this giant to treat Christians this way? Because they will treat everyone that their government does not like this way, no matter if you are gay, ect. No matter how you feel about Christians this is not o.k..
    Do you think when your compony sends you to China in ten years you will be comfortable?

    July 13, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Michael

      Who is tolerating who! It only takes words and a stone!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  8. dadadi

    please send all those christians to the USA!

    July 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Eman

      We don't need anymore

      July 14, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  9. Michael

    These people in china are at the front lines that give you freedom! They die for your freedom!

    July 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Samuel

      A whole world is enslaved and those who took part in enslaving it are now dying for our freedoms. What did the crusades not teach you? What did the breakup of Yugoslavia not teach you? What did the inquisition not teach you? When the Mamba bites you go to sleep and do not wake up. It appears that you have been bitten.

      July 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  10. Vignesh

    Atheists need to shape up. Freedom of religion means anybody can choose to believe what they want to believe. Stop trying to impost your own beliefs on other people. Also, while science is defined logically and can be shown to be true, philosophy isn't. You can't live your life without philosophy or religion. Morality does not exist in science. Einstein never introduced any equations about morality. So everybody lives their life with some kind of philosophy. This philosophy is NOT the culmination of logic and it requires belief and varies from culture to culture and place to place. So its about as true as religion.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • News Flash

      pssstt.
      Psychology and sociology are sciences.
      You obviously never took that logic course.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Okay Flibbertygibbet

      Vignesh, obviously you know absolutely nothing about the spiritual side of Albert Einstein. Absolutely nothing.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Vignesh

      Psychology and sociology are NOT hard sciences. You obviously never took a logic course. They are "soft sciences" and not really seen as nearly as logical as physics mathematics and chemistry. They may use the scientific method but their conclusions are not regarded with as much truth as physics and chemistry. Economics is a soft science too. If a physicist tells you something, there is probably a 99.9% chance of it happening. If an economist tells you something there is NOT a 99.9% chance of it happening.

      Einstein may have had a spiritual side. Do we all believe in it/is it accepted by as many people as that E=MC^2? NOPE.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Dubious Dissent

      Vignesh is right. To characterize those social sciences as sciences period shows little understanding of substance and little thinking ability beyond the basic recognition of recurring words. And although Einstein was religious, that does nothing to undermine the statement that he never attempted to encapsulate morality in an equation. All too often, anti-religion manifests itself in mindless attacks against whatever is said marked by an ignorance of the actual issues.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  11. Larry L

    Religion is fables and myths... The Chinese have a government to run and certainly see how poorly religion has influenced nations around the world. Religion is good to control people unable to deal with complex or threatening issues – like the old China or the "Red States" in the US. It's not so good to control the minds of intelligent and thinking people.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Dan

      There are intelligent, thinking people in the US?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Shimpainai

      How did you get away with saying religion is fables and myths? Everytime I try to say something logical, I'm under moderation and deleted. Why can't I say what I really think about China's crack down on organized religion?

      Some people voice my views here and their comments are posted.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  12. 23535

    CNN REALLY???!!!
    i've been living in southeastern china for about 4 years and i go to one church in this city regularly. by the way, there are other 3 more churches here.
    keep lying CNN, good job so far.
    to sunkist: i agree with you!

    July 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  13. Tim

    Good.
    This religion and others like it, although personally uplifting to individuals, are too often used by people desiring power, and willing to use religion as a banner. Religion has resulted in the deaths of millions throughout the ages, since time immemorial.
    I think the Chinese government is doing a smart thing.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Michael

      Move to china and you will get a better understanding. Religion has been around long before governments and it always has the power. The banner of a state is not in bedded as deep into the soul of a man as the banner of God in any form.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Joe

      You know what has resulted in the death of millions of people? People desiring power. Religion is just a tool. Its like a gun, its a little more powerful then the knife but people who want power are going to get it anyways. Mao Zedong killed a ton of people, he didn't need any religion for that.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  14. Chris

    So, the Chinese people are trading their 3000-year-old Buddhist traditions for some newfangled Semitic religion, complete with an angry Sky-God raining down vengeance and retribution down on Mankind ?

    Sounds like a bad trade to me.

    Ezra Jin ? What kind of a Chinese name is that ?

    July 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Michael

      God did not create global worming !

      July 13, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • jnh2misc@yahoo.com

      There were Christians in China before it even reached parts of Europe.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Laughable Litany

      Typical, to base criticisms on empty assumptions. What do you know about Buddhism and Christianity anyway?

      July 14, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Shimpainai

      Amen Brother!

      July 14, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Pete

      Trading a lie for a truth sounds like a good deal to me.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  15. tony

    plz arrest all of them

    July 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Michael

      Your heart is filled with hate you must be a unhappy person!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Grammar and Spelling Cop

      an unhappy person

      July 14, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  16. dave

    ...................Figures that the Chinese Govt is afraid of the truth,,,,it would undermine their communist control of people and lack of human rights. The Lord predicted this to a tee.....so, it is what it is. I pray for the Chinese Christians.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Jesus prefers the illiterate

      English much?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Michael

      Man cannot fight the truth it will in-bed first into their mines then their souls! And only those that hate the truth love lie and evil pleasures!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • dave

      Nope, just often. Thanks for asking....:-)

      July 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  17. Good riddance to bad rubbish

    The communists and the christians deserve each other. It's like watching Stalin and Hitler go to war. The only shame is that they don't wipe each other out.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Michael

      its people like you that turn heaven into hell!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Jordan

      I just wanted to say, Michael, that heaven can never be turned into hell. Heaven is heaven because God is there. Simple as that. Hell would be heaven if God was there, but thankfully that's not the case.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Dubious Dissent

      Typical atheist drivel. All form, no substance. Condemnation without critical censure.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  18. Annexian

    Y'know...

    I was in a store last week and there was this nice "Bible Tote" small box/bag hybrid for carrying yer Good Book. Well, it PROUDLY declared "This book is BANNED in -– countries and controlled in -- others" don't remember the numbers.

    But, note, it was MADE IN CHINA. Along with all the BIBLES being PRINTED there and all the X-Y-Z -'istian "Cool" stuff, jewelry, t-shirts, etc... You'd think of the many many companies making consumer goods perhaps ONE would make things in the USA and get the "Tax Breaks/Subsidies" to make it here so the cost (same on both ends, believe it or not) goes back into the economy creating said economy of people able to afford such consumer junk...

    July 13, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Michael

      They have been getting the tax break and things are steal made in china! Da

      July 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Juan

      not sure how your comment has anything to do with Christians not being allowed to freely practice their faith.

      sounds just like far lefty hate-mongering... surprise..surprise

      July 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  19. Tony

    Even though I'm against how the Communists cracking down on Chinese Christians--let me just say for a minute, China has little to no history on its role in Christianity. Christianity came to China under Western colonial influences in the 1700-1800.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • ari

      christians have existed in large numbers in china since 800 AD. christianity itself was introduced there in the first century AD.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  20. sunkist

    CNN, seriously??

    The day that president Obama walked out of office outrageously for not being able to resolve USA's biggest financial problem ever; the day that 21 innoncents died in an explosion in India; the day that US troops still struggling in Afgan, rebels fighting in Lybia, and USA embassy still waiting for an explaination for attacks by Syrian mobs.

    A day that much more significant things are happening; so many issues that US people should REALLY worry about being unresolved; so many problems that even the whole world needing to take care of.....

    You put this story, "Christians in China 'under pressure'" in the middle of your home page. That is just a perfect showcase of your long-lasting effort of building hatred towards China!

    Im not gonna lie, Im a Chinese citizen living overseas. I get total access to any news source all over the world, and I still think USA propaganda is way dirtier than Chinese one - Chinese govn wants chinese to love/stick with their country (or govn, I won't deny either); US media wants their people to hate others – other people who has different social value priority or ideology.

    And guess what, if the media could just focus on domestic stuff for one bit, maybe people of USA will realize the problem way earlier instead of allowing its govn to build such a huge hole.

    CNN, USA and its people, if you really hate commies and want to make CPC out of the game, DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK. That's how you outran USSR - by working hard, not talking trash.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • dave

      Ahemmm... if you haven't noticed, the story is listed under "Belief".... and not national, state or world events. If you wish to read about them, they are there, just look.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Freelance

      This story is at the top of the section of what can loosely be called human interest stories. Right next to it, at the top of the news stories, is one about the debt ceiling haggling. Right beneath that is the Mumbai bombing. THE day that US troops are still struggling in Afghanistan? It's been THAT day for nearly ten years. You want it to be the top story every day still?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Michael

      Are you a china Christian?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Juan

      Yeah... I definitely don't think playing the "i'm Chinese" card gives you any merit in judging what an American News agency reports on. The Chinese Government is intolerant to Christians. PERIOD. If we treated Buddhist in America, the way Christians are treated in China, then it would be all over the Chinese news!!

      When you are not allowed to gather with your friends and family in China and practice your religion.. then maybe you will have some merit in your, "mind your business America" argument.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Wes

      You seems to be too political sensitive. I don't quite agree with your opinion. Hanging this story on the homepage is better than putting a political propaganda. The report is just telling the truth about the harsh moment that many Chinese Christians are faced with, and appeals to the Chinese government for giving them more religious freedom. You inferred too much from the context. Apparently, I don't see any acrimonious words against China. As well, the issues that you put up about the US are irrelevant to this incident.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • d

      ok, people talk trash about america all the time, it's freedom of speech. the ability to point out the wrongs means we are able to comprehend the issue and try to move forward. not sure why the sensitivity because heaven knows i read enough about how "evil Americans" and have to debate George W. Bush when i travel.

      i never really understand why overseas chinese want to speak about there's so much freedom in china but then don't want to actually live in china? it's been so bothersome that anything negative about china immediately gets cried out to be lies and propaganda. i have to agree that not all journalism is written in an unbiased light and there are errors in reporting but i've read through enough comments on china-relevant posts to be able to tell that people get very heated about this and everything written is propaganda. also realize that china also focused on "non domestic" stuff in their reporting, and when it's domestic items it's very very positive?

      i mean have you read this article in xinhua that states that "China fulfills all targets of Human Rights Action Plan" Can't post URL so you can search it for yourself. Tell me if that doesn't sound a bit fishy or you are arguing against dissident reports that have been uprising all over the world from mainstream media to amnesty, to i guess you'd call "alleged" sources within China.

      "BEIJING, July 14 (Xinhua) - All targets and tasks set by the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010) have been fulfilled as scheduled, said a report released on Thursday by China's State Council Information Office (SCIO)."

      Just read and if you don't feel something is the truth, go research and write something meaningful. China is big and of course one person's experience, positive or negative, does not easily mean that everyone has the same experience they do. As a sign of respect for the Chinese Christians in China who might be experiencing this, don't simply dismiss them!

      July 14, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • sunkist

      Woohoo, what a discussion here.

      To Freelance: The only problem I have with this is its headline position, what's beside it is irrelevant. And I do think even today, any news of US soldiers deserve headline more than this.

      To Michael: No Im not.

      To Juan: Intolerant? There are all kinds of churches and temples all around China, does that mean Intolerance to you?? Also, whether I could gather my friends to do religous practice or not is not related to if America should mind its own business - as long as USA is crubmling like today, nothing is more important than taking care of itself.

      To Wes: Thanks for your opinion. Your prbly right, I may be too politically sensitive - I just happen to think it's all this little things that US media are doing captiviated a US population that naturally regard China as its enemy. I have no (or just a little) problem with this report itself, I just think there's a dirty motive for the CNN to put this kind of news to the headline. And yeah maybe the stuff regarding US problem is not too much relevant, but I do think at this moment, US should mind its own business for not only it's own good, but for the worlds good.

      To d: Man you put up so much lol. Again I am not complaining about the news itself and Im definitely not saying the chinese christians should be dismissed. I just think it is stupid to put this kinda story to the headline, where its negativity gets so much amplified, whereas it's not really a big deal comapring to everything that's goiing on (was there violence? was there legal restrictions? Yeah there maybe pressure, but China doens't have to support any religion just like US govn will never support communism). I don't have ANY problems with Americans! Regarding your question about why oversea Chinese don't live in China but speak for them. First of all, Im just oversea student who will DEFINITELY go back to china (as I came out just to get away from my parents haha); secondly, a lot of them (including me) absolutely ADMIRE USA before, but when they actually came here, they realize it's doing nothing but GOING DOWN (for some of them it's not that easy to go back, so in-between, they raise problems to most of anti-chinese stuff); most importantly, don't you think they have the most credibility about China cuz they actually lived there??

      July 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Welcome to the "Belief" Section

      1.Welcome to the "Belief" Section...... if you want to see more on USA, world or local news, GO somewhere else. 2.Most stories that are new *gasp* are on the headline page.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.