Government-Christian tensions highlighted in China

BEIJING – Leaders of underground Chinese Protestant churches condemned the government’s persecution of a fellow congregation, while Catholics voted under the watchful eye of security forces for a new government-approved bishop, reports said.

The developments illustrate growing tensions between Communist authorities and increasingly assertive Christian groups whose memberships are growing rapidly.

While China’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Christians are required to worship in churches run by state-controlled groups. However, tens of millions of Christians are believed to worship in unregistered “house” churches which receive varying degrees of harassment.

In Beijing, underground Protestant church leaders issued a petition to the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, calling for an end to persecution of Shouwang Church and its 1,000 members who have been blocked from their worship place in Beijing in recent weeks.

Members who have sought to hold worship services have been briefly detained or confined to their homes.

Asked about the authorities’ actions, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Thursday avoided details, but said church members had been “gathering illegally many times and in order to keep social order, public security departments have adopted relevant measures.”

The petition, drafted by senior underground church leaders Xie Moshan and Li Tianen and signed by 17 church leaders from six cities, is a strong indication of nationwide support for Shouwang’s plight.

“With the incessant growth of the number of urban Christians and the continued expansion of the church, the conflict between state and church of this sort is likely to continue to break out,” said the petition, dated Tuesday. It demanded that a law be passed to protect religious freedom.

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