The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has intensified its crackdown on Christian symbols, removing several more crosses from churches this month.
The Christian Examiner reported Wednesday that authorities had forcibly removed a cross from a church in Zhumadian Diocese in Henan province on October 3; demolished the cross at Lingkun St. Michael Church of Yongqiang Parish in Zhejiang province on October 11; and removed two more crosses at Luoyang Catholic Church in Henan the following day.
On October 15, authorities ordered the Anlong church in southwestern Guizhou to remove structures and crosses erected as part of a local pilgrimage, claiming they were in violation of planning laws. They further threatened to confiscate the income from the pilgrimage unless a fine was paid by October 20.
The harassment of Christians has escalated under the rule of president Xi Jinping, leading a recent congressional commission report to announce that Chinese Christians are living in a “nightmare.”
Commission co-chair Chris Smith said Xi’s efforts to “Sinicize” religion — assimilating it into Chinese socialism and purifying it of outside influence — has made life extremely difficult for Christians in the country at the roll-out of the 2018 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) this month.
“If you don’t comport with the Communist Party principle about everything you do to the ideology of Xi Jinping, you are going to be arrested, you are going to be tortured, and in many cases you are going to be killed,” Smith said.
Last March, Vatican Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States, embraced the concept of Sinicization in his opening address at a conference on Christianity in China, held at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome.
When considering mission and theological reflection, he said, “two expressions or, more precisely, two principles stand out, which should interact with each other, namely ‘Sinicization’ and ‘inculturation.’ I am convinced that an important intellectual and pastoral challenge arises in an almost natural way from the bringing together of these two terms, which indicate two real visions of the world.”
“From these two visions, it should be possible to work out the coordinates of an authentic Christian presence in China, which could present the special nature and the newness of the Gospel in a context deeply rooted in the specific identity of the age-old Chinese culture,” Gallagher said.
In late 2016, the CCP reasserted the absolute independence of the nationalized Catholic church from Rome, insisting that the church in China adhere to a program of “self-governance.”
In a statement released after the National Congress of Chinese Catholic Representatives in Beijing, participants affirmed the autonomy of the Chinese Catholic Church from Rome.
“Sticking to the principle of independence and self-governance as well as a system of national congresses embodies the self-esteem and confidence of the Catholic Church in China. They are the foundation of the church’s existence,” the statement read.
Reports last month noted that Chinese officials have been burning Bibles and deleting Bible downloads from the Chinese internet on the grounds that only the government-approved version of the Bible is allowed.
Xi’s crackdown on Christianity, and religion in general, has been so intense and continuous that watchdog groups have compared this period to the religious purges conducted by Chairman Mao Zedong.
“Christians in China are bracing themselves for the worst clampdown since the Cultural Revolution,” said Gina Goh, the regional manager of watchdog group International Christian Concern (ICC) in a press release in early October.
For his part, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former head of the Vatican’s highest court, said Sunday that the recent deal between the Vatican and China’s Communist Party was “absolutely unconscionable.”
The agreement was “a betrayal of so many confessors and martyrs who suffered for years and years and were put to death” by the Communist Party, said Burke in an interview with the Australian.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.