China (MNN) — The Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
Yet, according to the 2015 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Report, the Chinese government took steps to consolidate further its authoritarian monopoly of power over all aspects of its citizens’ lives. In fact, because this has meant unprecedented violations on all faith communities, the State Department has designated China as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) since 1999, most recently in July 2014.
Among the more obvious situations noted: 1,200 Crosses that were taken down from churches in China. China Aid Association President Bob Fu explains, “Of course, to the Chinese Communist government, the official explanation was, ‘The cross has become a distraction for public safety.’” Christians protested. For a time, social media feeds were full of pictures of red crosses in China. “They went on the street in peaceful protesting [and] made little crosses, declaring: ‘If you remove one cross, we will make 100-1000 more crosses to be put up on our houses and cars!'”
Although things seem to have quieted down, Fu says there is evidence pointing to a larger government campaign. “One document says the reason the government has this campaign is to ‘contain the overheated growth of Christianity.'” What’s surprising is where this is happening and to whom. It’s in the so-called belt buckle of China’s “Bible Belt” — Wenzhou city in Zhejiang province. “A vast majority–99%–of those church buildings where the crosses were forcefully removed are officially registered…. [They’re] supposed to be government-protected, called Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) churches.”
The city of Wenzhou is often called “China’s Jerusalem,” and the Christian population is just over 15%. Choosing this city, while the official reasons are unknown, still sends a message. ”I think Zhejiang is just being used as an experimental province for a bigger campaign that could be coming very soon,” Fu observes.
He noted that because Wenzhou is also one of the nation’s wealthiest cities, perhaps this area was targeted because they could rebuild or repair a demolished or damaged church building faster than anyone else. “Obviously, the government really wants to target the increasing impact of Christian faith in Zhejiang Province and beyond that.”
Does this hint at a cover up? A cover up implies secrecy. China’s actions are anything but secret in this case. Fu says, “In the past two years, the overall situation of human rights, religious freedom, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly–some factors are the worst since the Cultural Revolution.”
Last year, the local government announced a policy called san gai yi chai (three reforms, one demolition), which led to the destruction of many churches in the region as well as the removal of crosses from atop buildings near main roads. Fu says, “Some were taken multiple times, after the believers reinstalled [the crosses], [they were] re-destroyed, [then they were] reinstalled. I think Xi Jinping’s ideological shift from the Central Government has made this happen.”
To explain further, provincial leaders might be currying favor with China’s president Xi Jinping. Once governor of Zhejiang, he has since made statements indicating that he would like to “revive” Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in China in order to help strengthen the “moral fabric” of the nation.
There is also worry that this is merely a pretense for stamping out Christianity in the region. Fu explains, “The Chinese Communist Party issued the first-ever National Security Blue Book, and in that blue book Christianity is listed as a national security threat. These are not all local phenomenon. It’s definitely a top-down from the Central Government.”
Voice of the Martys USA notes that the policy has been problematic for people like Huang Yizi, a local pastor, who was one of 15 who was arrested for “endangering national security.” He drew scrutiny after protesting China’s increasingly stringent religious restrictions, both in Wenzhou and other parts of China.
At the same time, prominent Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Kai announced in July of 2015 the formation of a group that consists of 30 Christian lawyers. The group is known as “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross.” The group defends churches under attack under China’s newly implemented religion law. A few weeks ago, Chinese security forces conducted simultaneous night raids in Wenzhou, during which time they seized Zhang Kai, his assistant, and several Wenzhou pastors.
Pray for believers who have been affected by this latest crackdown, asking the Lord to encourage them to persevere under trial. May this outbreak of evil against His people somehow be turned to good (Romans 8:28), while opening the spiritual eyes and hearts of many more Chinese people so they will discover the truth and goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ.