A Further Statement on Outdoor WorshipBeijing Shouwang Church April 14, 2011
It is likely that the government and those who do not know about the situation would interprete Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship as participating in the current sensitive political activities. There was generally no such misunderstanding when Shouwang congregation worshipped outdoors in November 2009; yet this time, it is evident, among the foreign media coverage in particular, that one would be inclined to relate Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship to some political movement or someone’s human rights activities. When it comes to the timing of outdoor worship, we have to say it is beyond what the church could choose or decide, both this time and in 2009. Both are what the church was forced to do after the relevant government agencies prevented the church from having indoor worship facilities. We don’t want to stop the Lord’s Day worship; We don’t want to give up meeting together.
Again, we now make it clear that Shouwang Church’s outdoor worship is simply because of the fact that we worship together on the Lord’s Day and has nothing to do at all with some political movement or someone’s human rights activities at present. The reason for the confrontation between the church and the relevant government departments, which we believe the relevant government departments also know about, is not a result of these days but that of the fact that the problem accumulated over the past decades have not been solved or even faced up to. We will see more clearly where the problem lies in if it is placed in the larger historical context of recent years.
In 2005, Shouwang Church began to rent office building rooms for the Lord’s Day worship. In 2006, Shouwang started to form an integrated church out of different fellowships across the city and applied to register with the government. These were part of Shouwang’s efforts to become a transparent and open church and also a mega-trend of the house church growth in China in a new era. With the rapid development of the Chinese society since the reform and opening-up policy was initiated in the late 1970s, the number of Christians have been increasing, more and more Christians are educated and concentrated in big cities as a result of urbanization. This means there have been changes in the number of house church worshipers and the form of both worshiping and governing. In some respect, to become an open church means the church will prepare to shoulder more social responsibilities and social services and have more communication and cooperation with the relevant government agencies.
As a faith community, the existence of the Christian church and its legality do not have to depend on the approval of the government departments. But as a social organization, Shouwang Church applied to register with the government in 2006 out of respect for the government and the regulations for registration of social organizations with a prerequisite of not joining the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China. On July 21 2006, Shouwang Church sent application to the Ethnic, Religious and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of Beijing Haidian District for registration. On August 11 that year, the Office gave its Decision After Examination saying “after examining, we find the pastor of the suggested ‘Beijing Haidian Shouwang Christian Church’ has not been approved by the registered legal religious organization of Beijing, so the organization does not have staff with qualifications appropriate to the professional activities of the organization” and “won’t approve the application.” It suggested we contact and consult with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of Beijing Haidian District. Then, the church made a request for administrative review to the Beijing Religious Affairs Bureau about the decision of the Office and submitted a written statement to the State Religious Affairs Bureau about the church’s position. However, the church has not yet received any positive response from the government. Thus far, the process of Shouwang’s applying for registration has ended with the government’s rejection.
If Shouwang Church applies to register with the government as an organization under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of Beijing according to the relevant government department’s interpretation of Religious Affairs Provisions, then we will not encounter the problem of worship space and Shouwang will probably have already entered into the purchased premises. But the question is, as a house church, Shouwang is not willing to make any compromise on the stand of our faith despite that we are willing to register with the government and that we have made it clear that we are a thoroughly homegrown church that has long realized the Three-Self principle (self-governing, self-propagation and self-support) in a truly Three-Self way and that we uphold the Constitution and love this country; We cannot join an official state institution, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches, which is not a church; We cannot agree either with the relevant government department’s interpretation of Religious Affairs Provisions that the Protestant organizations are only the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches; Such an interpretation shows the government departments still perform the religious policy of the 1950s and have not yet faced up to the new development of the house church with the awareness of the new era and are unwilling to recognize the “legality” of the house church in the legal sense. Therefore, we believe that we are paying the price for holding fast to the uncompromising stand of the house church and for the fact that the government’s obsolete religious policy fails to recognize the “legality” of the house church in the legal sense. It is just against this backdrop that the problem of the “legality” of the house church in the legal sense broke out in the form of worship place.
In 2008 when Shouwang Church worshipped openly in the Huajie Mansion, the number of worshippers increased bringing the attention of the Haidian religious affairs department. In the name of consolidating security in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, the various government departments of Beijing Haidian District including those of religious affairs and public security launched a crackdown against the Lord’s Day worship in Shouwang Church on May 11, 2008. That was part of the government’s efforts to ban the church from worshipping there. The government departments then did not achieve the goal of outlawing Shouwang Church. But in October 2009, the relevant government agencies successfully forced Shouwang Church out of the Huajie Mansion by coercing the landlords into terminating the rental contracts with us ahead of schedule through a variety of means. That, in turn, resulted in the two outdoor worships of Shouwang Church in November 2009.
In November 2009 when the worships were held outdoors, the church handed in a letter to Beijing Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission putting forward outright a proposal to solve the problem of worship place by resorting to putting the premises on record. The Beijing religious affairs department made no positive response to our proposal simply asking Shouwang to turn to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee. After the second outdoor worship, the prospect for substantially solving the problem still looked grim. But the co-workers of the church believed what the government representatives said about their promise to allow Shouwang Church to return to indoor worship. They believed the wish that it would be good for the government to have more time in solving the problem of worship place. So the church was back to indoor worship on November 15, 2009.
After that, the church went through a number of difficulties having to change worship facilities. Despite this, we alone took on the inconvenience the continued changes of worship places had brought. We hoped to solve the problem in a better way by purchasing a space for worship. On December 22, 2009, the church paid all the amount needed for the second floor of the Daheng Science and Technology Tower in Haidian. But because of the government department’s interference, the property developer has refused to hand the key over to the church without giving any reasonable grounds. From the government department’s interference, one could see that the relevant agency still would not want Shouwang Church to have a permanent indoor worship space and would not want to believe the permanent indoor worship was of benefit to the social stability and harmony.
Thus, the church has on the one hand paid about 27 million yuan for the place but was unable to use the premises that should have belonged to the church, and on the other hand, the church has had to pay dearly for the temporary rental space for worship. From the end of 2009 through the beginning of 2011, the church alone bore all the inconvenience the worship place problem had brought. We waited a year and three months; One result is, not only there is no sign of hope for the church to enter into the purchased premises but also the church found it difficult to rent new temporary spaces.
Since it was impossible for the Old Story Club (Lao Gu Shi Can Ba, which literally means Old Story Food Bar) to hold the increasing number of worshippers on the Lord’s Day, and the owner of the Old Story Club was under pressure that everyone could understand, the church tried to move into other rented worship places in both May and August last year and March this year but only to find it still impossible to use the rented facilities even after the church had signed formal contracts with the hotels simply because of the relevant government department’s interference. We believe that if any individual interference is of accident, the interference for three consecutive times has consciously gone back on the oral promise the government made to the church in November 2009 and determined to again spotlight the confrontation between the church and the state regarding the problem of worship place during this sensitive period.
Following this series of incidents, we believe that the oral permit for using some temporary space like that in November 2009 is no longer the best way to solve the problem but only to pile up problems, lead to even greater crisis of confidence in the government and give rise to more difficulties in solving the problem in the days ahead. The outdoor worship this time does not mean the church consciously wants to have confrontation with the government. On the one hand, the church is fulfilling the requirement of our faith for not giving up worshipping together, on the other hand, the church is waiting for the government to solve the problem through cooperation with each other. That the church is pursuing a more formal guarantee this time or entering into the place it has bought is, in fact, hoping to see a government department could stand up and be counted facing up along with the church to the new church-state relationship and making a decision they could bear responsibility, for example, putting the worship premises on record. We believe that if the government department is willing to do it, they will definitely have the wisdom and resolution God has given to solve this kind of problem; If the government department is willing to do it, they will surely find a proper way to solve the problem along with the church. Though what made the church lose worship place is beyond our choice, we would rather consider this confrontation a turning point for finding a practical solution instead of letting it go and leaving the problem hanging.
The initiative in solving this problem always lies in the hands of the government. If the government department has sincerity and will to serve the religious citizens and help them solve difficulties, then the problem we face now can be solved; And accordingly, the government department will see that as long as the church has a guaranteed worship space, the premises it has already purchased in particular, the church will immediately return to worshipping indoors just like it was in November 2009; It will scotch all the guesses as to if the church has any political motives.
May God help Shouwang Church and also use all the relevant government departments to solve the outdoor worship problem as soon as possible.