By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - China's Communist leadership has ordered devoted Christians not to believe in God, well-informed activists, and local believers say. "Attacks on house churches have intensified across China. Police and government officials raid places of worship and intimidate congregations," added Shen Xiang, who writes for Bitter Winter, a respected religious rights magazine on China.
In one of the latest known government approved incidents, a local house church in the central province of Hunan, was reportedly vandalized by four perpetrators. The group was led by the deputy secretary of a town administered by the provincial city of Leiyang, activists said. During the June 28 raid, the church's donation box was confiscated, and ten Bible verses on the walls were destroyed, Shen said.
When the venue's director asked officials why they were destroying and removing church properties, the deputy secretary allegedly replied that it was "the result of their disobedience." He reportedly added that it was "illegal to hold religious gatherings without a permit or joining the [government-backed] Three-Self Church."
Earlier, on May 17, the Religious Affairs Bureau in the province's Yongzhou city shut down a local house church for "holding illegal gatherings without permits," Bitter Winter reported. Officials confiscated "all valuables," including a computer, a photocopier, and Bibles, activists said.
These were no isolated incidents. On April 19, for instance, police in Dengzhou city in central Henan province raided the Sola Fide congregation, confiscating its Bibles and hymnbooks, according to investigators. Eight congregation members were reportedly brought to a police station for interrogation.
After his release, one of them quoted a police officer as telling him that they "could not believe in God in China." The freed Christian also told Bitter Winter that even "descendants of those who are arrested for practicing their faith would be implicated." They are reportedly banned from joining the army or working in public service.
The believer also revealed that half a month after his release, police visited the eight arrested members at home "to check if they continue attending religious gatherings." Officers allegedly warned them that they would be sentenced to three to five years in prison if they gather again.
"We don't break any law by believing in God, but the government treats us this way," the unidentified believer told Bitter Winter. "The government wants to eliminate all religions. [They] threatens us with the future of our family members, forcing us to give up our belief. It's really shameless," the Christian was quoted as saying.
Elsewhere, authorities in Ninghai county in China's eastern province of Zhejiang have been accused of increasing their crackdown on house churches in recent months. The director of an old local church in the county's Changjie town told Bitter Winter that Religious Affairs Bureau officials visited his house every Sunday. Security forces allegedly checked if he was not holding gatherings there. They reportedly threatened to detain him and demolish his house if three or more church members were found in his place.
The venue was one of the town's shut-down places of worship in December last year. Central government officials also organize secret "return inspections" to ensure that closed-house churches don't reopen, Bitter Winter quoted a source as saying. Local authorities are reportedly required to patrol the closed venues every Sunday.
The director of another house church told Bitter Winter that the local government summoned him in May. They allegedly threatened to fine him about $4,300 in local currency if he was discovered holding a gathering for the first time, and about $ 43,000 for a second meeting.
A local preacher reportedly explained that the "increasing persecution and harassment" forced most house churches in Ninghai county to disperse.
Most Christians speaking to reporters or activists for this story were not identified amid concerns about government repercussions.
Chinese authorities have denied wrongdoing. They suggest that churches in China must register with the government and join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. However, even these state-approved denominations face severe restrictions. Therefore millions of Christians worship in illegal underground house churches or other houses worship.
Church leaders have linked the reported anti-Christian measures to the perceived authoritarian policies of President Xi Jinping.
He has led an unrelenting campaign against devoted Christians and unofficial churches in China, which by some estimates, serve at least tens of millions of believers.
Communist officials have, in recent years, suggested there may be as many as 130 million devoted Christians in China. That would make it one of the world's fastest-growing Christian communities.