How China Plans to Wipe Out House Churches [Excerpts]
Incidents of persecution of Christians rose by about 42 percent last year compared with 2011, according to the report by human rights group China Aid. Many of these incidents involved groups of Christians. In total, the number of individual persecuted Christians rose by roughly 14 percent and total individual detentions increased by nearly 12 percent. China Aid said overall total persecution in six categories was about 13 percent worse than in 2011—though China Aid termed its statistics just "the tip of the iceberg."
At least 132 incidents of persecution affecting 4,919 Christians—442 of whom were clergy—were reported in the country last year, according to China Aid's annual report. The Texas-based group tracked detention of at least 1,441 Christians, the sentencing of nine of them, and the abuse (verbal, mental and physical, including beatings and torture) of 37 Christians.
The recent appointment of Xi Jinping as the new leader of China's Communist Party has made no difference in treatment of Christians, said a member of the Shouwang Church in Beijing, a congregation authorities have harassed for more than two years.
The continued rise of persecution is not the only dynamic raising serious concerns; authorities have targeted unregistered house churches in a planned manner….In 2008 and 2009, officials "targeted house church leaders and churches in urban areas," China Aid notes. In 2010, they "attacked Christian human rights lawyers groups and using abuse, torture and mafia tactics." The focus in 2011 was on increasing the intensity of attacks against Christians and house churches.
In 2012, a new three-phase approach was adopted to wipe out unregistered house churches, which the government saw as a hostile group of dissenters, and force them to join the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church system. In the first phase, from January 2012 to June, the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) secretly investigated house churches across the country and created files on them, the report says. This was followed by a wave of crackdowns on house churches, which has continued into 2013, as part of the second phase. The second phase will also entail strongly encouraging unregistered churches to become part of the TSPM—at which point they would become known as "house gatherings," with the government banning the term "house churches."
Some house churches have registered with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, but most do not as they object to the beliefs and controls of some TPSM leaders. Barriers to evangelical churches registering with the TSPM include theological differences, adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members, and government control of sermon content.
The number of Protestant house-church Christians has been estimated at between 45 million and 60 million.