Chinese pastor blacklisted by Communist Party shares testimony
This article is part of The Christian Post’s Series 6 on China’s human rights abuses in the Olympics spotlight and features the testimonies of Christians and religious minorities who were persecuted under communist rule. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.
As long as the Rev. Jonathan Liu remembers, his family adhered to Christianity. Both of his parents came from well-established Christian families; in fact, his mother’s great-grandfather believed in the Lord as early as the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty in China.
After being baptized in a Three-Self Church, the Chinese Communist Party-controlled church, in Shanghai in August 1990, it seemed natural for Liu to enter the ministry. But something about the way Christianity was presented in the Three-Self Church was starting to ring hollow for him.
“As a Christian in mainland China, if you only worship in an official church, you usually don’t feel much pressure, but the official church will always follow the party, and the pastor will sing the praises of CCP policies in his sermons. , whether intentionally or not,” Liu told the Christian Post. “This is unsatisfactory for many believers who seek the truth of their beliefs.”
Eager to learn more about the God of the Bible and a Christianity free from political propaganda, Liu began to study the Bible privately. He attended “family meetings,” private gatherings of Christians who prayed, sang, and studied the Bible away from the watchful eye of the CCP.
The repercussions, however, were swift: Because he attended a family reunion, Liu was rejected by the Christian Council of Shanghai when he tried to apply for a seminary at the East China Theological Seminary. The school is located in Shanghai and is operated by the official Three-Self Church.
Undeterred, Liu traveled to Ningbo, Zhejiang – a province with a relatively strong Christian presence – where he studied theology and served in a local church. Meanwhile, her home in Shanghai was regularly monitored by household registration police, who were suspicious of her religious activity.
“According to my parents and my neighbors, they often came to investigate and asked them to report where I was,” he recalls.
Yet Liu served in the Three-Self churches for 14 years before finally leaving the denomination in 2004, serving underground house churches in Shanghai, Anhui Province, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province. In 2008 he decided to move to the United States part-time, spending half the year in Shanghai leading a small church of about 20 people.
Slowly but surely, the pastor began to face increasing harassment from the CCP because of his ministry work. In 2014, the Shanghai police came to his door in the name of household registration verification.
“I thought it was just a routine thing,” he recalls.
But soon after, he discovered that he had been blacklisted by the CCP and was being watched by government officials.
“When the books I bought from China were to be shipped to the United States, they were returned by the shipping company on the grounds that there were prohibited books. In fact, all the books I bought were been published in mainland China, and they could not be banned books,” he said.
“Later, after requesting information from various parties, I learned that the reason my items had been intercepted by customs was that I had been included in the ‘blacklist’…I was blacklisted, which may be relatively minor and will not restrict entry and exit, but will be strictly monitored.Once banned from leaving the country, for me, there is almost no possibility of getting out. escape from China.
That same year, officials in Zhejiang, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, launched a campaign to forcibly demolish the crosses of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in the name of the “three demolition and reform” beautification campaign.
In just a few months, authorities had removed more than 1,200 crosses from churches and other buildings. In some cases, entire church buildings have been destroyed. Those who resisted faced physical abuse, detention and criminal charges.
“Because I worked in the church in Zhejiang for about 10 years, I was very concerned about the situation in Zhejiang,” Liu said. “At that time, I kept posting photos of the cross demolition in Zhejiang on Sina Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter), calling on everyone to pay attention to this matter and pray for it. I was harassed many times by the police in Shanghai, and even a brother from our church was involved. He was then forced to flee to the United States.
Continued harassment from authorities, coupled with his status as a “blacklisted” Chinese citizen, prompted Liu to officially leave China. At the end of 2014, he immigrated to the United States, becoming a permanent resident. He began pastoring an Anglican church in San Jose, but remained concerned about human rights and religious liberty issues in his native country.
Two years after establishing his permanent residence in the United States, Liu launched the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, a community of Chinese Christians who come together to pray for believers in mainland China and to raise awareness on the persecuted. In 2018, the group was registered as a nonprofit religious organization with the California state government.
China is identified by the US State Department as a “country of particular concern” for its gross violations of religious freedom. The country is ranked No. 17 on Open Doors’ global watchlist of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian. “Communist and post-communist oppression” is cited as the main source of persecution.
“Church attendance is strictly controlled and many churches are closed, whether they are independent or belong to the Patriotic Movement of the three autonomies. … The old truth that churches will only be seen as a threat if they get too big, too political, or invite foreign guests, is an unreliable guideline,” Open Doors’ latest report notes.
According to Liu, the Chinese government’s persecution of churches can be divided into two aspects: The first, he said, is to strictly control the official church.
“For example, the official church is required to absolutely accept the leadership of the CCP, and the preaching of the pastor in the church must be in accordance with the will of the CCP, preaching remarks such as patriotism, the core socialist values of Xi Jinping, and the sinicization of Christianity,” he explained. “Pastors and preachers who do not want to preach in this way should stop their evangelical qualifications; in order to avoid ‘religious overheating’, they deliberately tear down crosses and other acts.
The second, and perhaps more sinister, aspect, he said, is that for house churches that do not accept government management, the persecution is even more severe.
“Meeting points are immediately closed and preachers are arrested,” he said, referring to pastors he knows personally who have been arrested for their beliefs.
Based on his experiences, Liu said he is concerned not only for the Chinese Church, but also for Western churches being deceived by the false beliefs promoted by the Chinese state-sponsored church. He called on Western Christians to pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters and to stay informed about the human rights situation in China.
“Prayer is always the best support, because the power of the prayers of the righteous is great. I called on Christians in the West to pray for Christians in Mainland China,” he said.
“In addition, Western Christians must also be vigilant and not be fooled by the official United Front Church of China. Although there are a large number of open Christian churches in China, these are organizations that are absolutely controlled by the government. The official church is even complicit in the government’s persecution of house churches.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be contacted at: [email protected]