Months after the fact, a report has surfaced that True Jesus Church in China’s Henan province, worth about $1.4 million, has been forcibly demolished by Chinese authorities. The report comes from the religious persecution watchdog group, Bitter Winter, and highlights the speed with which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) moves as it continues to arbitrarily wipe out places of worship across China.
“The Communist Party will resort to any means possible to achieve its goals,” a believer connected to the True Jesus Church in Henan province, told Bitter Winter. This person compared the CCP’s demolition of the church to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
Fortunately in this instance, no one was killed. However, two elderly believers were injured when they were forcibly dragged from the church property. Additionally, eight leaders of the church and 13 members were charged with committing the “unlawful detention” of the director of the Religious Affairs Bureau. These people tried to convince the director not to close the church and repurpose the building. Obviously, their pleas were ignored and the church was eventually razed to the ground. Some of those who petitioned the director were also arrested.
The Demolition of the True Jesus Church
The demolition happened in two phases. On the morning of June 22, 2019, as about 200 believers were gathered at True Jesus Church, the church’s electricity supply was suddenly cut off. Officials climbed over the church’s courtyard wall and broke the gate lock to let about 60 officials inside the church property.
Officially, the church was being charged with raising funds illegally and therefore the church building itself was deemed illegal. The director of the Religious Affairs Bureau ordered a church leader to vacate the church and said the building was to be converted into a nursing home. However, those gathered for the church meeting refused to obey. Although the officials didn’t force anyone out of the church that day, they did continue to surveil the activities of the church, including recording its services.
Then, on July 26th around 3 a.m., approximately 1,000 government employees covertly assembled at a school nearby as they planned to demolish the church. Congregants, who suspected such an action might take place, were guarding the church overnight and were present when police officers came inside. The officers dragged the congregants outside, which is when the two elderly members were injured. The police searched the church and took away a piano and four air conditioning units, while leaving other valuables inside. The crew then began demolishing the church.
It took just a few days for the crew to raze the church and plant a new lawn with saplings in its place—making the plot of land look as if nothing was there before.
The True Jesus Church Movement
The True Jesus Church in Henan province, in the town of Caidu, is part of a network of churches by the same name. The original True Jesus Church started in Beijing in 1917 by Paul Wei (also known as Wei Enbo), who was a cloth merchant that converted to Christianity.
When the Pentecostal movement reached China, Wei embraced the teaching that speaking in tongues is the sign of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Wei also claims to have had a vision of Jesus himself baptizing him face-down in a river, then giving him a sword and armor. Bitter Winter’s article reviewing a book about the True Jesus Church contains more detail about the movement and its ongoing scuffles with the Communist Party.
The True Jesus Church does not belong to the state-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Chinese pastors of churches belonging to the TSPM have been forced to sit through lengthy training conducted by the CCP to teach them in what to say during their sermons as well as what songs to sing during services. The training, many warn, is just instructing pastors to spread communist propaganda and to turn worship services into patriotic ceremonies. The government has also directed a new translation of the Bible which attempts to make it more sinicized.
Other churches that don’t belong to the TSPM, like Early Rain Church in Sichuan Province, are facing raids and similar claims that their buildings and gatherings are illegal.