House churches insist on end to travel bans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am

Representatives from mainland house churches barred from leaving the country to attend a global Christian conference issued a rare strongly worded letter, demanding their travel restrictions be lifted and 'current religious policies' improved.

In the open letter, posted on the internet on Friday, the normally low-profile house churches also made a rare public declaration that they were the mainstay of the mainland Protestant Church and that they had maintained 'the separation between state and church'.

'House churches cover the countryside and cities, from coastal to inland areas, from the centre to the borders,' the letter says.

'[Growing] from house meetings with several dozen participants, they now hold meetings in offices, hotel conference rooms and church buildings, with congregations of several hundreds or even several thousands of members. There are millions of believers from all social strata ... They have become the mainstay of the Chinese Christian Church.'

The strong reaction from the rapidly expanding house churches came after 200 of their representatives were barred from joining the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation in Cape Town, which started yesterday and runs until October 25. More than 4,000 people from 200 countries are expected to attend the conference. Many believe Beijing would be embarrassed to have house churches, instead of the government-sanctioned Three-Self Church, represent mainland congregations.

The letter said all delegates were approached by officials who tried to dissuade them from attending the meeting and put added pressure on them when they refused.

'Some were put in custody, some have had their passports confiscated, the churches of some of the representatives were raided, while individual representatives were detained,' the letter says.

'Some were blocked when they set off for the airports while most were barred from leaving the country at airport immigration.

'We call for the authorities to remove all pressure and restrictions on all delegates to avoid an escalation of conflict between the government and believers [Protestants].'