In addition to driving some churches underground, China’s crackdown on Christianity also is causing despair among clergy who attempt to cooperate with the government. Earlier this month, the Rev. Song Yongsheng—whose name means “eternal life”—jumped off a building after reaching a stalemate with Communist authorities. “I wanted to work with the government, but it was a failure,” Song wrote in a suicide note. “I want to be the first martyr of this terrible situation.”
Song denounced the heavy-handed measures and oppression, saying the government’s complete control of religion left him “exhausted.” The pastor hoped his death would shine a light on corruption in China, which Open Doors recently ranked as the 27th most difficult place to be a Christian. That 16-spot jump from the previous year is largely due to tightening restrictions aimed at removing any threats to Communist rule.
Pastor Held Influential Roles in Government-Based Groups
As the leader of the registered Protestant church in Shangqiu (in Henan province), Song tried to stay aboveboard while dealing with government officials. In fact, he was president of the city’s China Christian Council and chairman of the local Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), groups established by the government to control state-run churches.
Song reportedly became frustrated while trying to prevent officials from criminalizing worshipers who placed God above country. He wanted to improve the conditions of all churches, whether or not they were registered. China’s recent Sinicization campaign to align religion with the Communist Party’s agenda makes it illegal to practice one’s faith outside the TSPM network.
The pastor also had been seeking permission for a new church entrance to prevent traffic accidents. But funds never arrived because not enough Christian churches have been registering. “I wanted to collaborate the church and government with my belief and charisma,” Song wrote, “but now it is a failure.”
Chinese Media Censors News of Pastor’s Death
Song fasted for several days before committing suicide, his wife reports. Government agents controlled a private funeral, allowing only two church representatives to attend. Immediately afterward, Song’s body was cremated, and officials have prohibited his family or church from holding a public service. All references to the pastor and his death have been censored from social networks in China, according to AsiaNews.
Oppression by the country’s Religious Affairs Bureau has forced many Chinese Christians underground in an effort to maintain their faith identity. Early Rain, a church that dared to operate openly without registering, has faced intense persecution. Pastor Wang Yi and about 100 members were arrested in December, and though most have been released, they’re still being monitored and targeted. The pastor, who’s still being detained, now faces charges of “illegal business activities,” apparently for distributing Bibles.
Before his arrest, Wang defiantly wrote to congregants: “The rulers have chosen an enemy that can never be imprisoned—the soul of man. Therefore they are doomed to lose this war.”
The newly formed Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China is an interfaith effort to reduce human-rights abuses in the country.