As China continues its restrictive grip on Christian churches, believers are feeling the pinch. Reverend Song Yongsheng, a pastor of a church in China’s Henan province, committed suicide earlier this month when discussions with the government over his church’s freedom resulted in “a failure.”
“I wanted to work with the government, but it was a failure,” Song wrote in his suicide note as reported by AsiaNews. “I want to be the first martyr of this terrible situation.”
Song was the chairman of Shangqui’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the president of the city’s China Christian Council (CCC), according to Faithwire. These organizations, established by the government, control the state-approved churches in the country. All churches must be registered to the Religious Affairs Bureau, which ensures that communist ideals are taught from the pulpit and the hymnal.
The pastor, who threw himself off of a building, hoped that his martyrdom would expose the Chinese regime’s abuses, as reported by ChinaAid, a nonprofit fighting for religious freedom in China.
Song became exhausted in his efforts to stop Chinese officials from criminalizing Christians who did not worship the government. AsiaNews has received an increase in reports since 2018 of church destruction and arrests of those who have not registered with the Chinese government.
News of the pastor’s death remained censored in the Chinese media. “The pastor’s funeral was controlled by government agents, who at the same time censored any reference to the man on social networks,” Asia News reported. Song’s wife claims that the pastor fasted for four days before his death and that his body was immediately cremated after the funeral. Only two church representatives were allowed to attend the private ceremony.
Many churches in the country are feeling the persecution. According to Open Doors, one of China’s largest house churches in Chengdu was raided by Chinese police a few days before Christmas with more than 100 people arrested or detained. One of China’s most well-known pastors, Wang Yi, was one of them.
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Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.