By Sooyoung Kim, ICC Regional Manager for Southeast Asia
China has launched a systematic anti-church campaign: over 360 church crosses in Zhejiang Province have been completely or partially demolished in two months under the guise of “removing or modifying illegal constructions.” The recent footage obtained by International Christian Concern (ICC) documents the forcible removal of a church cross and additional footage shows Chinese Christians tearfully singing hymns while the cross is removed by the government’s crane. These recent events raise a question worth answering: Why does the Chinese government hate Christianity so much?
On May 6, 2014, China published its first National Security Research Report that listed religion among the four greatest threats to national ideological security. The other three are the “export” of Western democracy, the predominance of Western culture, and diversified information and public opinion on the internet. In the report, China sees religion as ideological infiltration from “foreign forces,” posing a threat to Chinese identity and China’s socialist values.
The Communist government of China is anxious about any perceived threats that could challenge the legitimacy of its rule or its ability to mobilize the public. Since the 1980’s, China has witnessed a spiritual revival in Christianity – a Gospel-lit fire that has quickly expanded from rural villages to cities. The Chinese government soon realized that the Christian faith, once marginalized and only for uneducated, unemployed old ladies living in countryside, is now adopted by young Chinese men and women who were educated, middle-class, and city-dwelling, as well as by government officials.
Today, this “foreign” religion continues to be increasingly popular against a backdrop of the declining acceptance of socialist values within Chinese society. Ironically, socialist values originated from a Jewish German in Europe, not from indigenous Chinese culture. The government interprets the phenomenon as an infiltration of foreign values into every walk of life in Chinese society and consequently, it feels threatened.
The Chinese government does not have an entirely negative view of Christianity, as they see even this “foreign” influence imparts moral teaching to a society that desperately needs it. The government would gladly boast of every accomplishment of modern China, but cannot praise the current state of serious moral decline, rising crime rates, and indifference: the fruit of a people chasing after materialism for over 30 years.
Though the pockets of the Chinese people are full, their hearts are thirsty with a need that only religion can meet. The government, however, wants to use the religion for its own purposes and keep growth at a controllable rate. The current government strategy is to support Buddhism and easily controlled traditional Chinese values, such as Confucianism, to counter the society’s absence of faith.
Christianity, however, is not merely moral teachings, but a life-encompassing journey to know and follow a living God. Not willing to be controlled in government-sanctioned churches, many Chinese Christians gather in private homes, known as underground house churches. The Communist Party wants to use churches as a tool for its own designs and to be the head of the church. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government hates underground house churches. In the past seven years, underground house churches have become less “underground” and have started to contact each other, even claiming that Christians should seek to influence the society rather than hide their identity. The Chinese government finds this alarming, and crackdown on house churches have been increasing for years.
“The Chinese government won’t clamp down on all religions evenly because they still want to show the world that China tolerates and even encourages the growth of religion,” said an insider in Northern China, during an interview with ICC. “The government will support Buddhism, Taoism, and some folklore religions.” However, while they may support these other religions, the hard truth is that they do not support all religions – especially Christianity.
On April 28, Zhejiang Province officials bulldozed the 4,000-seat Sanjiang Christian Church in Wenzhou City. The demolition came despite a weeks-long protest where hundreds of Christian attendees formed a human chain around the church, drawing international attention to this anti-church campaign. Zhejiang Province has one of the largest Christian populations in China, and Wenzhou City, known as “Jerusalem of the East,” has been a hub for Christian missionaries for centuries.
“Wenzhou City is selected to implement the church demolition campaign for testing how much resilience the government may face from Christians,” a local pastor told ICC during an interview. “If Wenzhou City is ‘conquered’, they may scale up the campaign across China.” The most severely persecuted area within Wenzhou City is Yongjia County, where the Sanjiang church was located.
The wave of church and cross demolitions in Zhejiang Province occurred after Xia Baolong, the provincial Communist Party secretary, conducted an inspection tour of the province earlier this year. Baolong was allegedly disturbed by the forest of crosses he saw on the skyline, and the number of large church buildings that host thousands of worshippers every week. “He found the cross on top of BaiXi Christian Church too ‘conspicuous,'” according to an ICC contact.
The government says it is removing or modifying illegal construction for the purpose of urban development, not out of hostility against Christianity. However, in a news release earlier this year, ICC reported that the government’s targets have been religious buildings at the exclusion of all others. According to the provincial policy statement obtained by the New York Times the government’s priority is to “remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways.” The document says: “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
“The government is still removing church crosses at the pace of a raging fire,” a local pastor told ICC during an interview, “there is not a sign that the anti-cross campaign will stop anytime soon.”
Please pray for the government of China to change its position to favor Christians and churches, as well as praying for those in government who are opposed to the churches to receive salvation in Jesus Christ. –International Christian Concern www.persecution.org