Authorities in China’s Zhejiang province are enforcing a ban on crosses topping the region’s more than 4,000 Christian churches’ spires, roofs, and walls.
“Doesn’t the government give us the right to religious freedom? Why are they taking down our symbol without any explanation?” one Christian asked.
“We have violated no law. We do not oppose the government. We have been good, law-abiding citizens,” another said.
Few Christians were willing to give their names to the media, due to fears that the government may retaliate.
Analysts believe that government authorities are under pressure to remove all external symbols of Christianity from the province over a two-month period.
“The authorities have attached great importance to this religious symbol,” Zheng Leguo, a pastor from the province, said when the news of this ban broke in May. “This means no more prominent manifestation of Christianity in the public sphere.”
“The crackdown has alienated the Christians in China, who are otherwise law-abiding citizens,” Yang Fenggang, an expert on China’s religions at Purdue University, said.
“The authorities are especially worried that those with religious beliefs have a strong sense of identity and belonging, which can translate into huge social forces,” Zhao Chu, an independent commentator, said about the cross ban.
The number of Chinese Protestants has steadily grown since 1979. Some groups even estimate that China will have the world’s largest Christian population by 2030. Officially, the communist government of Chinese recognizes Christianity as one of the five legal religions in the country. However, legal congregations are heavily monitored and regulated by the state.
China’s constitution states that “No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the education system of the state.”
Many in the government fear that the West may take advantage of the growing population of Christians to undermine Chinese society, so the established leadership structure in China has blocked Christians from fostering serious social changes. For instance, it is illegal for members of the ruling Communist Party of China to belong to Christian churches.
“Party members are banned from joining religions. Believing in communism and atheism is a basic requirement to become a Party member,” Li Yunlong, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said.
Effectively, this makes it very difficult for the Christian minority in China to affect political change.