by Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News)-- Last Sunday five members of a house church in Fangshan tried to worship with members of the embattled Beijing Shouwang house church in a public square in Beijing.
However, upon their arrival, police took them to their station where officials urged them to sign documents recanting their decision to support the Shouwang church: all five refused, and were eventually released.
The "Fangshan Five" are part of a growing wave of house church Christians determined to openly support Shouwang Church in its stand for religious freedom. Shouwang members have attempted to meet in the outdoor square every Sunday since April 11 after government officials denied them a permanent place of worship.
Weeks earlier, police detained 16 worshippers at the square, including Pastor Wang Shuanyan of Beijing's Xinshu house church. Wang is one of 17 house church pastors who signed a petition to the National Peoples' Congress calling for the reform of China's religious policy.
To date, the NPC has failed to respond, but the backlash against Shouwang and other house churches has increased.
Shi Enhao, pastor of Suqian house church in Jiangsu Province, was detained by police in a church raid; he was sentenced without trial to two years in a labor camp for "illegal meetings and illegal organizing of venues for religious meetings." Shi's lawyer appealed, but they received no response.
While Chinese officials claims there is freedom of religion through government approved groups such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, many churches worship independently, rejecting government censorship and interference. However, this independence can come at a high price: house church pastor Zhang Rongliang -- who was detained five times, serving of 12 years in prison – was just released this August after being imprisoned since 2004.
Experts estimate there are 60 to 130 million members attending unregistered churches in China, compared to 23 million attending government sanctioned churches. During the last decade, large numbers of unregistered church members have met in public squares, resulting in the Chinese government's targeting of their church leaders.
"Now (that) the shepherds are separated from the flocks of sheep," wrote Yuan Xin, "the sheep are being beaten, but the shepherds cannot stand out to fend off the blows."