Beijing - China has launched an all-out campaign against house churches, ministers and believers that should be completed in ten years, the China Aid Association said based on Communist Party sources and documents.
In the past 30 years, Protestant house churches have become a major phenomenon, with 50 to 80 million members who meet in homes or otherwise private places to pray, carry out ceremonies and hold assemblies. Their love for free worship has led them to reject official Protestant Churches, guilty in their eyes of "worshipping the party" rather than God.
During the same period, Chinese authorities have tried to suppress this uncontrolled movement by jailing pastors, torturing believers and destroying homes and places of worship. A campaign to force underground communities to join official organisations (such as the Movement of Three Autonomies or MTA) was launched before the Beijing Olympics.
According to documents cited by China Aid, the new eradication campaign includes:
1. January-June 2012, conduct thorough, intensive and secret investigations of house churches throughout the country and create files on them.
2. In two to three years, concentrate on cleaning up the house churches that have been investigated and have had files created.
3. In 10 years' time, completely wipe out house churches.
Clergymen and believers can testify form experience that registration and filing information are being carried out with precision. Police and officials with the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) are interrogating religious leaders and believers to find more about their activities and are actively "advising" them to join the MTA.
At the same time, seminars on "patriotism" are being organised for believers to induce them to join official communities, submit to the government and obey the party.
"Training courses" have been set up for the clergy who will be issued permits to preach.
At the National Work Conference on Religious Affairs on 9 January 2012, SARA Deputy Director Jiang Jianyong said that the process of certifying and creating files on clergy would be completed this year. Afterwards, "Regulations on Religious Affairs" would come into effect.
Under the new rules, any religious activity outside of the state would become "illegal" and anyone involved in it could be prosecuted. Underground communities would thus be cleaned up and then wiped out.
This way, SARA's chief Wang Zuo'an's prophecy would come to pass. In October 2011, he had said that the problem of house churches "doesn't exist."
Now many underground Catholics fear that they will be next. In recent months, police have arrested, detained or invited priests and believers for a "friendly chat" advising them to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, an official government body that has been condemned by the pope as incompatible with the Catholic faith.