People Daily news reported Aug. 7 that Wang Zuoan – the director of China's State Administration for Religious Affairs – said local authorities will work harder to promote Chinese Christian theology that is in line with “China's national condition.”
“That is a very negative sign because it really shows that the Chinese government wants to control both physical buildings as well as what Chinese Christians teach in those buildings,” Sooyoung Kim, regional director of Southeast Asia for International Christian Concern in Washington, D.C., told CNA Aug. 12.
This announcement comes in the wake of an ongoing “anti-church” campaign in the Zhejiang Province – an area once known as “China's Jerusalem” because of the lax relations between church and state officials and the prominence of churches – where over 360 churches have been partially or entirely demolished, including the 4,000 seat Sanjiang Christian Church which was completed last year and cost $4 million to build.
On Aug. 13 the ShuiTou Salvation Church in the city of Wenzhou had its cross forcibly removed after nearly two months of Christians keeping vigil outside to protect their church. In an earlier attempt to remove the church’s cross, known as the JuiEn Cross, police beat Christians with iron batons, severely injuring at least four.
Kim said that the anti-church attacks have been carried out under the guise of urban beautification by destroying or modifying buildings that are deemed illegal structures. However, many of these churches are state-approved and there is no law that bans crosses from buildings.
Government officials “have already done similar things on secular buildings, but in this case, an overwhelming number of churches and church crosses have been removed compared with secular buildings,” she said.
While house churches, or non-registered Christian churches, have seen an increase in persecution since 2008, the targeting of government-approved churches on such a scale is unprecedented.
“The government wanted to crackdown on the underground house churches because they feel that they are growing too fast and are getting out of control,” Kim said. The “Chinese government is always very sensitive towards any perceived threat to its reign, either ideological or otherwise.”
“This is the first time we have ever seen a massive crackdown on government-sanctioned churches, so many people are (wondering) what is going on there.”
China's forcible destruction of churches and removal of crosses in the Zhejiang province is not likely to end anytime soon, Kim said.
“We are very closely following this issue and so far all of our contacts have said there is no sign of any immediate stop.”
International Christian Concern has launched a petition calling on the Chinese government to stop removing crosses and demolishing churches, saying that these actions are illegal under China's constitution. They plan to deliver the petition to Ambassador Cui Tiankai.
Despite the religious persecution many Chinese Christians are facing, Kim said she sees hope in their faith even if the physical cross is being taken away from their churches.
“I feel very encouraged from the believers on the ground. They say that they just want to fight – fight until the end,” she said. “They said they're not sure if they can keep the physical cross, but what they really know is that they need to be faithful and not to be afraid of the injustice.”
The Chinese government recently announced that it will increase its efforts to promote and develop a national brand of Christian theology.
Human rights, Church in China