Chinese security forces took down a church’s cross in eastern China early Monday, July 28, as part of a government crackdown on church buildings in a coastal region where thousands of people are embracing Christianity, Christians said.
Evangelist Qu Linuo, who belongs to another church, told reporters that “hundreds of police” showed up at Longgang Huai En Church in the city of Wenzhou. Witnesses said they used a crane to remove the cross from its steeple.
Qu said he and about 200 others had flocked to the church a few hours earlier to protect the church but peacefully made way for the police. There we no immediate reports of injuries.
This was no isolated incident. This weekend news emerged that a government-hired crew tore down the metal cross atop the one-room church in the eastern village of Wuxi, about 480 kilometres (300 miles) south of Shanghai.
However a church member used his own welding torch to put it back following last month’s attack. He was promptly detained and questioned for 10 hours on the charge of operating a welding business without a license, Christians said.
A week later, the crew came back to remove the cross but church members put it back up, now tattered and a little shorter.
In Monday’s incident, Qu said authorities told the church the cross “violated building height limits”.
Police officials did not comment or said they didn’t know anything about the incident.
Across Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou sits, authorities have toppled or threatened to topple crosses at more than 130 Protestant churches, according to local observers. In a few cases, the government has even razed sanctuaries.
However Christians at another church in Wenzhou successfully protected their cross from hundreds of police, last week, The Association Press quoted Zheng Changye, a 36-year-old member of another church who said he had rushed over to the scene. He said three people suffered serious injuries in the clash with police, and photos posted online showed several people bleeding from head injuries.
On Monday, July 28, other photos posted on the China social media site Weibo showed parishioners at the Longgang Huai En Church praying on its steps and holding banners reading “Anti-graft, anti-corruption, protect religion.”
Qu said authorities afterward returned the roughly 10-foot-tall, red cross to parishioners, who wept and prayed around it.
Officials have said they’re only enforcing building codes although often they won’t specify which ones.
But local Christians say the government is targeting the fast-growing Christian faith. Communist-run China may have as many as 130 million Christians, according to advocacy group China Aid Association, many of them meeting outside the official sanctioned churches.
Several church leaders and individual Christians remain behind bars. They include Pastor Zhang Shaojie of ‘Nanle County Christian Church’ (NCCC) in China’s central Henan province who was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment this month on what his supporters call trumped-up charges of “fraud” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”.
The real reason behind the sentence, his friends say, is the popular pastor’s “effective evangelical church work”.