Chinese police raided a church plant of the heavily-persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu on Sunday, confiscating phones and Bibles and briefly arresting the pastor and six members.
During Sunday morning service, Communist Party officials from multiple departments entered Xuncheng Church and went to the pulpit where Pastor An Yankui was preaching. An reportedly asked if the officials could wait until the service was over – a request the officials honored.
Because An did not have a pastoral certificate from the Communist Party and the church was unregistered with the government, the task force said they would be taking him into custody. Church members then reportedly argued with the authorities, demanding to see an arrest warrant.
"Churchgoers asked for proper legal documents for their actions, to which the team only showed a disbandment notice from the religious affairs bureau instead of an arrest warrant," reported International Christian Concern (ICC). "They also failed to show a summons letter and claimed that they were doing so verbally."
The pastor, his wife, and six members were then taken to a police station where they refused to give up the passwords to their cell phones. In response, they were taken to another detention center, forced to change into prison clothes, and interrogated before being released later that night. Police also posted a disbandment notice on the church's door and confiscated other members' phones, Bibles, hymnals, and choir robes.
Xuncheng Church's parent church, Early Rain Covenant, has drawn international attention for the persecution it has experienced at the hands of the government. Pastor Wang Yi is serving nine years in prison, drawing a call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his release. Other elders of the church have been imprisoned, and members were arrested for worshipping over Zoom in their own homes on Easter and last month.
"In this day and age, where any religion in China has to submit itself to the control of the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, it is no longer a surprise that a house church is seen as an enemy of the state and clamped down upon," said ICC Southeast Asia Regional Manager Gina Goh. "China's blindness to its violation of religious freedom needs to be continuously exposed so that Beijing knows it cannot get away with performing these evil acts."