As part of its ongoing crusade to eradicate symbols of Christianity throughout China, communist authorities in the coastal Zhejiang province have demolished yet another Christian church building after reportedly claiming that the church’s cross was too high and thus in violation of building codes.
According to the religious freedom group China Aid, a demolition team of several dozen people destroyed the Island Head Christian Church on April 13 in the city of Wenzhou, under the pretense that the building was illegally constructed. While church leaders and other members of the faithful resisted the demolition at first, they later yielded when state officials threatened the demonstrators.
One of the church members estimated that the razing of the three-story church represents a cost of some 3 million Yuan (U.S. $460,000).
In China’s first conference on religious freedom in fifteen years last weekend, President Xi Jinping demanded that “unyielding Marxist atheists” impose communism onto the nation’s religious groups.
“We must resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means and prevent ideological infringement by extremists,” Xi said at the meeting. Members of the Chinese Communist Party, he asserted, must be “unyielding Marxist atheists, consolidate their faith, and bear in mind the Party’s tenets.”
Xi also said that communists have a special obligation to steer teenagers away from religion, while religious leaders must “interpret religious doctrines in a way that is conducive to modern China’s progress and in line with our excellent traditional culture.”
David Ro, international deputy director for East Asia of the Lausanne Movement, has proposed that the Communist Party’s clampdown on Christian churches may reflect a campaign to “indigenize” Christianity, removing traces of its ties with the West.
Churches with “huge buildings and highly visible red crosses appear to resemble Western cathedrals, in contrast to the less visible ‘indigenous’ house church Christianity which some officials may feel is more appropriate for China,” Ro wrote.
Ro also cited internal politics as well as an “emerging leftist movement with nostalgia for Mao” among possible factors behind the ongoing persecution.
Last weekend, President Xi said that all religions should promote “Chinese culture… Chinese laws and regulations” for the imposition of “socialist modernization” on society.
China’s relentless campaign against the Christian cross has continued unabated since 2014 and reflects a particular hostility toward the central symbol of the Christian faith.
“The authorities have attached great importance to this religious symbol,” said Zheng Leguo, a pastor from the Zhejiang province who now lives in the United States. “This means no more prominent manifestation of Christianity in the public sphere.”
Since 2014, communist authorities across the Zhejiang province have destroyed more than 2,000 church crosses, with more than 50 destroyed in Wenzhou during the month of March alone. Officials often cite violations of building regulations as justification for the demolitions.
Informed observers estimate that some six million Chinese citizens belong to the underground Catholic Church faithful to Rome, and who do not identify as members of the communist-controlled Patriotic Association.
So-called dissident priests who refuse to conform are subject to torture in “reeducation” programs or simply disappear. At least five priests have been “disappeared” across China during April alone. A sixth was found dead, a death ruled a “suicide” but widely considered an act of state aggression against the Church by those who knew him.
Last weekend, a report came to light of the case of Chinese authorities burying a Christian woman alive with a bulldozer. The woman, a pastor’s wife named Ding Cuimei, was suffocated on April 14 after standing before a church the Chinese government had decreed must be demolished.
Pastor Li Jiangong was buried with his wife, though he managed to survive, clawing his way out.
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