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Chinese Authorities Raid 2 Prominent Independent Churches


This month, Chinese authorities raided some of the country's most prominent independent churches, shutting them down and arresting their pastors. As NPR's Rob Schmitz reports, China's government has stepped up its campaign against Christianity, a religion it sees as having problematic foreign ties.


ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Police raided the Early Rain Covenant Church on December 9, a Sunday evening, while congregants gathered for services. Video captured of the raid shows officers separating a child from her father as they detain 100 churchgoers.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

SCHMITZ: The church, based in the southwestern city of Chengdu, has 500 members and is one of several high-profile independent churches that have been raided by China's government this year for what it calls illegal religious activity.

IAN JOHNSON: I think the government sees religion as a double-edged sword.

SCHMITZ: Ian Johnson is the author of "The Souls Of China: The Return Of Religion After Mao."

JOHNSON: On the one hand, it is promoting some religions, like Buddhism and Taoism and folk religions. But in terms of these other religions that they think have too many foreign ties and can be influenced by outsiders taking a very hard-line approach, it's all part and parcel of a broader effort to control civil society.

SCHMITZ: Johnson says Chinese authorities are cracking down on churches that are not officially sanctioned by the government. Nearly half of China's 60 million Christians attend these unregistered churches. The raid on Early Rain was preceded by a raid in September by Beijing police on that city's Zion church, which had 1,500 members. In his book, Johnson profiled Early Rain's pastor, Wang Yi.


WANG YI: (Foreign language spoken).

SCHMITZ: At a sermon in September, Wang called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a sinner, while congregants answer with amen. It was this, Wang's increasing political activism, that Johnson says likely contributed to his arrest.

JOHNSON: He's denounced Xi Jinping lifting the term limits on the presidency so that he could become president for life. He said that this was destroying the constitution and similar to creating a new Caesar.

SCHMITZ: The 45-year-old pastor Wang Yi and his wife now face up to 15 years in prison on charges of subverting state power. His church remains sealed off to the public, and in the week following the raid, another prominent church in China's southern province of Guangdong has been raided by Chinese police, too. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.