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. NewsRaider

    Why does anybody care about churches in China?

    July 14, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  2. drn

    VERY interesting how this articule has generated so many comments against Christianity... What happened to desiring equal religious rights for all? Or is that only for all religions that AREN'T Christian?

    For anyone to deny Christianity's real, good influence in the world (which greatly outweighs the always mentioned "evils" it has displayed by misguided actions e.g. the crusades) it is necessary to ignore history. True objectivity REQUIRES a true confrontation with the fact that true Christianity has consistently led people to a better life, regardless of what measure used.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • Ed

      CHristianity has led us to a corrupt democracy and islam has led us to a corrupt political system. History is the true cure.

      July 14, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • SickandTiredOftheLies

      DRN totally agree!

      July 14, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  3. marc

    Im tired of hearing complain about how bad you got it here or you think a certian people are strang becuse he may not agree with your way of thinking. What I to all of you. Take a look around you we have it very good. You can go home sit down watch your tv and not have to worry about your family being taken because away in the middle of the night because spoke out agianst your government. Or because you prayed to a god you can not see. People paid the price with there lives at least honor these men women who did die for your freedoms. It would be nice to here people stop and take the time think about how you have what you have here in this country. Take a look those people at least have courage to stand up and even die for what they beilieve in. There are good amount of my country man who do more complaineing and do not even understand the real issues of whats going on around. Thats all got to say. people in china keep believeing in your cause.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  4. Ed

    I am christian but i respect all faiths because it is only through god and his representation in this world whether it be past present or future that true enlightenment and courage comes from. Why should we be the judge of all faiths it is not in our knowledge or our understanding to question the way god chooses to make the world we should all just have faith in god. Messiah means messenger christ means anointed one and muslim means to surrender to god.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • Ed

      The true messiah was moses. The true christian was Jesus. And the true Muslim was Muhammed.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • SickandTiredOftheLies

      Most Christians tolerate ans respect other religions. They just don't disagree with them. YS has the right idea"YS
      I find it hilarious that a bunch of Americans are posting comments like "good!" and "religion is evil!" and "stop Christianity before it takes over!" and "we're so oppressed by the evil Christians here!".

      Meanwhile, they live in a nation that is amongst the most secular and religiously diverse on earth (yes, really), where atheists, Jews, Mormons, and Muslims all earn more than Christians (yes, really), where religious freedom and freedom of speech are protected more than anywhere else in the world (again–yes, really), where virtually all of the most important inventions of the past century have come from, where abortion is legal, where gay marriage is legal in six states, where people are not required to declare a religion (unlike in my country!), where non-Christians are allowed to vote. All while having a 80% Christian majority.

      Let's all feel sorry for those poor oppressed non-Christian Americans who are sitting on their Macs typing screeds against Christianity without fearing any sort of repercussion from their government. It must be so hard to be them. They are clearly VERY discriminated against."

      July 14, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • SickandTiredOftheLies

      meant to say they tolerate and respect religions, but they just dont agree with them. Nothing wrong with that!

      July 14, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  5. TheTruth72

    The Bible talks about persecution of the Christian church (people who believe Jesus as Christ) in the last days. China has been seeing much more persecution than most any country. It hasn't hit America yet, but it's getting that way.

    One thing I find amazing is the way that the Holy Spirit tells Christians in China where to meet and at what time. The Holy Spirit also gives them a warning about 15 minutes before police arrive to arrest them and they are able to escape. It's a harsh life over there for Christians. Don't believe what I'm saying? Do a little research. Also, check out fellowshipofthemartyrs.com.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  6. Sherry

    China is a great example of a backwards communist country. This government should be shut down or all of its members and supporters dragged into the street and beaten by the citizens who have had there freedoms and human rights taken away from them.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  7. George

    no God but Allah and Muhammed his messenger. I converted to Islam.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Sherry

      Check yourself into a mental hospital.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • Stephen

      You give Muhammad greater credence than the intelligent designer. Muslims do this with Muhammad, Jews to this with Moses, Christians do this with Jesus.

      Imagine a religion which actually paid attention to God more than those who were claimed to have been God sent?

      Every religion hails its God sent messengers more than the designer itself.

      This is pure stupidity,

      July 14, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • TheTruth72

      That's sad, because Jesus loves you. Not sure what lured you there, but can't you see the times and that Jesus is returning soon? Why would you follow a religion based on hatred? Your thoughts are probably equal toward Christianity. Well, I've done enough research know that there isn't hatred for people from God or Jesus, only love. It is the sin that He does not like.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • TheTruth72

      Stephen, the only difference between these religions in what you said in the first sentence is that Jesus was God in human form. Jesus is the Savior of mankind and Christians look to Him for saving. But even Jesus gave all glory to God the Father. One point I agree on is that the majority of (let's call it) churchianity looks to someone else to give them the answers (pope, pastor, priest, etc). They should be looking directly to the source, Jesus and God the Father. When can the Christian church forget it's differences with denominations and become one.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • JW

      People talk about the Christian and Islamic God as if they are different. I think they are the same God. Islam even considers Jesus to be a prophet.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • tim Ricard

      Truth72 thankyou.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  8. Aaron

    The Chinese government uses slave labour and gives little religious freedom. But, we keep buying their junk at Wal-Mart.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Sherry

      Your absolutely right! We fail.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  9. marc

    If you all think you would have it better under communist rule. Go do your history lessons over agian. I grew up listen to the horror stories of people being taken in the middle of the night in nazi germany. I also grew up listen to my grandfather tell us stories of family member being taken by the kgb and never seen or heard agian. I would rather take 2.5 billion chritians and judism believers vs a mad man who murders people because they speak openly about there government. These people the communist murder over a 100 million people between stalin and moa and hitler. These where mad men. They all died but there is proof that there is jesus and he was real and he did walked the earth and he did rise from the dead. But none of these mad men never did that. They lie in the ground with there flesh rotting off there dried up bones. Budda there is no real proof he even exsited same with hindism. We are nation of many cultures but we have allowed in america to erode our christian beliefs

    July 14, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  10. Joe

    God is not real.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • Henry

      And how does that relate to this article?

      July 14, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  11. Ed

    If you want to be truly religious you have to study all religions and see that they are all basical saying the same thing. Tolerance Peace and Faith. Muhammad had a deep respect for both Jews and Christians. It is a fact only truly understood from research.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  12. gkuke

    I can only understand the language of love and that include respecting all the religions as His Holiness the Great Dalai Lama always say. By respecting other religions, there will be harmony, by harmony trust and by trust friendship and by friendship a healthy society, community and world. The world where everybody live safely and harmoniously sharing happiness together and facing problems together.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  13. Shimpainai

    America with the highest crime rate and lowest educational system of any developed country wants to be the morality police for the whole world.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  14. Ed

    Religion should be entangled into the fabric of society and all religions must be tolerated in order to achieve peace in the world. True Democracy is only attained through the power of faith.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  15. Henry Waller

    All the people who claim that Christianity has only produced wars and death over its 2,000 year history, can you please produce an example beyond the standard talking points of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition (which killed fewer people in 400 years than terrorists killed in one day on 9/11)?

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

      Also that was only one group of Christians "Catholics." I am Baptist and we were definitely not a part of any of that. Also the Crusades are not as big of a religious war as people think. Christians fought Christians and allied with Muslims during the war. It was a direct political war with religion used as justification. The Pope wanted Constantinople and the Eastern Orthodox church to rejoin their ranks and also wanted to send all the mercenaries and soldiers in Europe to the ME in order to stop the wars in Europe and put them over in the ME. The average Crusader night was a thug soldier that barely obeyed any religion and wanted to fight for a living. If they hadn't gone to Jerusalem, they would have just killed people in Europe.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  16. Steve

    Those saying religion is NOT stopping advancement of the human race should understand religion and societal revolution / governance are SEPARATE and not the same thing. Its when religion becomes so strongly intertwined as a belief that we extend religious beliefs on law (such as the muslim syariah court where you can be persecuted for such acts as drinking if you are a muslim) which can have an effect of believing our beliefs to be law; where that said belief is unquestioning and has no tolerance for other beliefs (eg: a chirstian goverment if they made their own version of syariah court then other religions such as buddishim will have to abide by chritian beliefs)

    This is where i believe it is wrong as no other human has the right to tell another human being what to believe in, and as such good governance where the people is for the people and freedom is granted to the boundaries of not allowing violence is one that I believe in.

    So is scientific research as science in medical terms, goverment, and religion is diseparate and so is a HUMAN being's RIGHTS as a human being (to choose their own religion and practice said religion without controling other religions or imposing their beliefs on other religions) and this should be same and part and parcel of a culture.

    eg: You might have a chinese background and culture but that does not mean you can impose you culture on others who are also of a same background but different beliefs- Human Rights

    July 14, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  17. Mike Smith

    Chinese human rights abuses:




    July 14, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  18. Shimpainai

    This site loves stupid comments supporting religion but will delete comments that are comprehensible and show an element of common sense.

    Praise the Lord and pass the offering plate. Jesus needs your vote. Chinese people are stupid because they don't believe in Jesus.

    Moderate that.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  19. a shame

    In communist Romania, my great grandfather held underground religious services in his basement for a decade, while the church in town that he built with his own hands stood empty. Communism sucks! Always has, always will!

    July 14, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  20. Shimpainai

    Believing in Jesus makes people more intelligent that's why Chinese people are so stupid.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Shimpanai

      I know why you are so stupid.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • HK observer

      No. Actually there is a direct correlation between religion and a lack of reasoning skills. I hope that more people turn to independent thought. State controlled is where the western world is headed. This is also stupid.
      Religion is a form of social control just like the Chinese state does. Shinpainai has it partially correct but missed the larger picture.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • Shimpainai

      I am so totally being sarcastic! The Chinese people are some of the most intelligent of the world. The U.S. has the lowest educational system of any developed country and yet insists on being the moral police of the world. It sickens me.

      I'm being sarcastic because this site is blocking most of my reasonable comments comments that are not in support of organized religion. Pardon my sarcasm and crudeness. This site seems to appreciate that more than articulate reason.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:36 am |
    • Tony L

      This is the most idiotic comment I have ever read. You must be a green-eyed motor mouth from India.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • MWPfaff

      Really? There is a direct correlation? Which study is it that suggests this? How did they measure the variable of reasoning skills? Somehow this sounds like something you'd say to further your point of view without having to provide any attribution. If not, I'd love to read it.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:49 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
About this blog

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.