A massive global evangelical gathering known as the Lausanne Congress will begin Oct. 16 in Cape Town, South Africa. But it looks likely to take place without the participation of 230 Chinese delegates.
So far, at least 11 people planning to attend have been forbidden to leave China, and many others have come under pressure. Many fear Beijing is moving to exert control over underground Christians.
Christianity in China is flourishing, with tens of millions of Christians openly worshiping. Many gather in private assemblies, or house churches, rather than in the official government church, known as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The authorities have largely turned a blind eye in the past.
But when a grouping of house churches decided to send 230 delegates to attend the Lausanne Congress, the government stepped in.
Abraham Liu Guan is a church elder who tried to leave Sunday for the meeting. Authorities warned him not to meet NPR, but in a phone interview he explained what happened at Beijing airport customs. “The border defense people said they’d received a notice from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security. It said our participation in this meeting threatened state security, and they should not let us pass customs,” Guan said.
That China’s underground Christians could get together to choose delegates and raise more than $1 million to cover their costs would have been unthinkable a decade ago. But that level of coordination is unsettling to Beijing, especially given the explosive growth in Christianity.
Beijing’s hard line on this congress comes as the authorities were showing signs of tolerating house churches. It clearly undermines Beijing’s claims to allow freedom of religion. It’s not yet clear how far Beijing will go.
But some fear this could be the start of a new wave of persecution against China’s underground Christians.
The most recent incident involved members of house churches in Beijing.
According to Oct. 11 local time report by Ming Pao Hong Kong, five volunteers from Beijing house churches had embarked on their trip to the congress, but after they’d finished their boarding procedures at the Beijing International Airport, board guards blocked them from leaving the country – four passports were confiscated, one person was detained. The officers said the confiscated passports will be returned on the 25th, which is after the conference has concluded. This event has brought wide-spread media attention.
Furthermore, according to Texas-based China Aid Association (CAA) reports on October 11, local time, a Chinese church representative has successfully pass through the gates in Shanghai and is on his way to the congress, yet another was blocked from leaving the country.
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