1/23/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The year of 2014 arguably brought about the worst persecution that China has seen in decades, in keeping with the rise of Christian persecution seen worldwide. Reports indicate that as of mid-December, a minimum of 426 crosses have been removed or churches have been demolished within the Zhejiang Province alone. This only accounts for a fraction of the total due to the number of demolitions that went unreported. The Zhejiang Province has faced the strictest crackdown on church activity of any region in China with other church closures and demolitions happening sporadically across other provinces.
In an attempt to publicly justify their actions, Chinese government leaders officially released a list of “cults,” many of who were affiliated with the Christian Orthodox Church or Christian house churches. This list has allowed the Chinese government to persecute Christians across the nation without repercussion. According to ChinaAid, on September 21, 2014 government officials stormed Olive House Church and Fangzhou Church as six church members were placed under criminal detention allegedly for “suspicion of utilizing superstitious organizations and superstition to undermine the implementation of the law.”
This unwarranted targeting of Christian churches is officially being carried out under the guise of “removing or modifying illegal constructions” under the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign. However, it is overwhelmingly clear that Christian places of worship, including legally recognized churches, are being targeted on the basis of their association with Christianity and without regard to the legality of their construction or their registration status with the government.
The city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang has faced the worst of China’s demolition campaign. Church destructions across the city have led to multiple violent confrontations between church members and government officials. On July 21, 2014, over six hundred government officials and uniformed individuals stormed Pingyang County’sSalvation Church. Fourteen church members, attempting to guard the building were severely injured during the confrontation, including a skull fracture to an elderly man, after the crowd attacked the group of Christians with clubs. Despite numerous calls from church members to police for assistance, local authorities refused to send their officers to the church.
An especially alarming aspect of these demolitions is the manner in which they are carried out. Although law demands that demolition teams must be comprised of members of the Religious Bureau or Housing and City Planning Bureau, a significant portion of these church destructions are carried out by armed SWAT teams, police forces and occasionally unidentified individuals claiming to represent local authorities. This deliberately hostile approach demonstrates not only a lack of respect for the rule of law, but the determination of city and provincial authorities to continue aggressively demolishing and closing churches regardless of the widespread unpopularity of this campaign.
In addition to depriving tens of thousands of Chinese Christians of places of worship in a clear violation of Article 36 of China’s constitution, this campaign has caused great economic hardship for the Christian community of Zhejiang Province. The complete destruction of the newly built, 4,000-seat Sanjiang Church on April 28th, 2014 not only shocked the international community, it also destroyed a 30 million Yuan ($4.8 million USD) investment into the city of Wenzhou that had been largely paid for by donations from the life savings of everyday Chinese citizens.
In spite of the increasingly difficult conditions that Christians in China are facing, there is still hope. According to UCA News, for the past five years, China has been building or renovating churches across the country at a rate of approximately 1,000 per year, including a new church in Kunming, Yunnan province which is the largest in Southwest China. Furthermore, in November, the world’s largest Bible producer in Nanjing printed its 125-millionth Bible and expects even higher numbers in 2015. Despite government interference, we pray that the underground church will continue to thrive throughout China in 2015.
Corey Bailey, Regional Manger for Asia, said, “While the government of China states that they grant their citizens the Freedom of Religion, pastors and Christians sit in prison merely for practicing their faith, and Sunday School children must watch as local authorities demolish their church. Persecution of Christians is a disturbing trend on the rise in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. China is not exempt from this atrocity. It’s time for the international community to both speak and act; it can no longer remain silent in the face of persecution of Christians.”