Protestant House Churches as Guerrillas: An Illegality Approach to Religious Freedom

This article investigates how unregistered Protestant house churches, legalistically defined as “illegal,” interact with state actors in China’s sociopolitical context. It proposes a “guerrilla” theory of Protestant house churches, explaining how these churches operates guerrilla-like under the illegality model with varying degrees of religious freedom, depending on the tolerance of the authoritarian political authority. The tolerance at one end of the spectrum may lead to a politically reciprocal collusion between the law enforcement authority and house church, while on the other end, this arrangement may be broken by subsequent repressive measures that work to dismantle the church; this is particularly likely when a church’s high-profile engagement in the public sphere challenges the ideological dominance of the Chinese Communist Party’s Marxist atheism, in spite of any international connections and support that may be a consideration for the government’s decision-making.