Following a recent government crackdown on visible crosses on Christian churches in China, a number of church pastors have defied the campaign, going so far as to replace demolished crosses, and in some cases, to put up bigger ones.
In early May, government agencies outlawed crosses on the rooftops of buildings in the Chinese province of Zhejiang. New regulations for religious structures set forth that any crosses must be affixed to the façade of buildings, rather than above the roof, and could not measure more than one-tenth of the height of the façade.
Government agents began acting immediately to remove the “offensive” Christian symbols.
“A notice was sent to people in Fuyang District, Hangzhou, stating that the crosses from all churches — at least 43 churches — in the district will be removed,” said Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance.
Earlier this month, Zhejiang officials removed 12 crosses from churches in the city of Lishui, and burned one down when a removal machine malfunctioned.
Authorities had already done away with hundreds of rooftop crosses from Protestant and Catholic churches, but now church leaders have said that enough is enough.
The new regulations were deemed so offensive that even official state churches began to push back. “The rules make many unreasonable requests for Catholic and Protestant buildings,” said the state-backed Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, Zhejiang’s capital.
“They also excessively interfere in freedom for reasonable use of building interiors, violating the basic spirit of the state’s religious management,” the church said in an online statement to Zhejiang authorities.
Last Tuesday, the Catholic Diocese of Wenzhou also criticized the proposed legislation, stating that only new churches should be required to comply with the new building regulations.
Now, a dozen churches in the province have taken matters into their own hands, replacing crosses forcibly removed by the government, according to a report from UCA News.
“Some churches elsewhere have also done this but collective action is more obvious in Lishui,” said one Protestant preacher who preferred to remain anonymous.
He added that as many as 20 other Protestant churches are facing the threat of demolition in Anji County near Zhejiang’s provincial capital, Hangzhou.
According to reports, at least 470 crosses have been removed and 35 churches destroyed in the Zhejiang province since the end of 2013, but the real figures could be much higher still. U.S.-based China Aid organization has estimated that the number of crosses removed could be as high as 1,000, and destroyed Christian churches could be as many as 50, based on local reports.
Meanwhile, the Chinese national government has filed a diplomatic protest over this year’s annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which called Chinese religious freedom violations “severe” and “systematic.”
“This report from the so-called U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is full of political bias and makes arbitrary and unfounded criticism of China,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Hua added that Chinese citizens had “ample” religious liberty under the law.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.