Chinese destruction of two churches latest in longstanding persecution of believers

Chinese destroy churches or removed their steeples and crosses because Communist Party fear that Christianity is a threat to the party’s iron grip on the country

The destruction of a Protestant church in China last week is the most blatant act in a long running campaign to crack down on religious beliefs in that country.

As widely reported in the international media, Chinese police dynamited the Golden Lampstand Church, in the city of Linfen in Shaanxi province last week. It had a congregation of more than 50,000.

A Catholic church in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, was demolished on December 27. Officials smashed crosses and confiscated statues, the Eucharistic altar, and other religious artefacts.

The New York Times described the demolitions as “part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity…is a threat to the party’s authority.”

It said that under President Xi Jinping, the government had destroyed churches or removed their steeples and crosses.

It is estimated that there are up to 90 million Christians in China and many of them belong to evangelical groups like the one which built the Lampstand Church.

According to international reports, local authorities planted explosives under the church, which was built with US$2.6 million contributed by local worshippers.

ChinaAid, a US-based Christian advocacy group, said the Golden Lampstand Church had faced “repeated persecution” by the Chinese government. In 2009 hundreds of police and hired thugs smashed the building. Church leaders were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years on charges of illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic.

Religion in China

Although religious freedom is guaranteed under the Chinese constitution, in practice this means that whether worshippers are Christians, Muslims or Buddhists, they are expected to belong to and obey the orders of government controlled organisations, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestants and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Those practising their faith outside government control are often subject to persecution, imprisonment and torture.

According to the 2016 US State Department’s report on religious freedom in China, there have been reports that the government has physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices, including members of house churches.

The report said a pastor of an unregistered church and his wife were reportedly buried alive while protesting the demolition of their church. The wife died while the pastor escaped. The State Department report said there were also reports of the disappearance of a Catholic priest.

The State Department said authorities in Zhejiang Province continued their destruction of Christian structures as part of a campaign against “illegal structures” that began in 2014.

More than 2000 structures, including 600 crosses, had been destroyed or demolished by the end of the year. Many Zhejiang pastors and congregants openly resisted the campaign, resulting in the detention, prosecution, or conviction of several church leaders and activists.

Tongan connection

Concerns about the Chinese government’s apparent attitude towards religion have been used by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s enemies.

In February last year a fake letter supposedly written by Hon. Pōhiva to the Chinese government was circulated. As Kaniva News reported at the time, the letter contained passages in which the author suggested establishing a conspiracy to “erase all religious teachings in school [and] allowing businesses to open on Sunday” as a first step to overthrowing the monarchy.

The Chinese embassy in Nuku’alofa described the letter as “groundless and not true.”

The main points

  • The destruction of a Protestant church in China last week is the most blatant act in a long running campaign to crack down on religious beliefs in that country.
  • As widely reported in the international media, Chinese police dynamited the Golden Lampstand Church, in the city of Linfen in Shaanxi province last week. It, had a congregation of more than 50,000.
  • A Catholic church in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, was demolished on December 27. Officials smashed crosses and confiscated statues, the Eucharistic altar, and other religious artefacts.
  • The New York Times described the demolitions as “part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity is a threat to the party’s authority.”

For more information 

Religious freedom in China 2016

Church destroyed, Christians detained in China’s Henan province

Chinese authorities blow up Christian megachurch with dynamite

Chinese embassy, PM’s office, call online letter attributed to Pohiva ‘fabricated’

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