Chinese Christians across several congregations are facing the choice of voluntarily dismantling the crosses on their own churches, or seeing government officials come in and forcibly demolish them, reports have said.
China Aid reported that the number of church crosses demolished in Zhejiang since the beginning of 2016 has risen to 49, as the Communist Party continues to send soldiers to churches across several provinces to take down their crosses.
Churches in Zhejiang have been given official notices telling them that they have to comply to the orders and take down the crosses, which the government argues is due to building code violations.
ChinaAid and several other persecution watchdog groups have pointed out, however, that the cross removal campaign, which has led to several pastors and hundreds of Christians being temporarily arrested, is in reality linked to the government’s attempts to control the rising Christian population in the country.
The report detailed several instances of churches receiving similar notices, and the consequences they have suffered for refusing to comply. Zhongchang Church in Wenzhou for instance has had its water and electricity cut.
Hai’an Church, also in Wenzhou, refused to take down its cross, which led to the local government sending 100 officers to forcefully demolish the cross on March 4.
In some cases, however, such as Luxi Church, the congregants blocked the entrance and stayed together and prayed, singing Christian songs, which on March 1 forced the demolition crew to cancel the demolition in order to avoid an accident.
The Chinese government has been tightening its grip on Christianity in a number of different ways. Earlier in March it was revealed that Roman Catholic officials will soon be required to carry around ID cards stating their faith, which groups such as the International Christian Concern have compared to “Nazi-like” requirements.
China’s two government-controlled Catholic organizations have also agreed to ordain bishops “under the leadership of the government,” something with the Vatican strongly opposes, as it argues that church leaders should be chosen by the church, and not by the ruling government.
The crackdown on church crosses has also led to very high-profile arrests, such as the formal charge against Pastor Gu Yuese of Hangzhou’s Chongyi Church, the largest government sanctioned church in China.
While Gu has officially been charged with embezzling church finds, China Aid President Bob Fu told The Christian Post in February that in reality Gu is being punished for speaking out against the removal of crosses.
“It will shake the spirit of the government-sanctioned church leaders and the congregations throughout China. All these factors will have a ripple effect,” Fu told CP about the megachurch leader’s arrest.
He added about the Communist Party: “The top leadership is increasingly worried about the rapid growth of Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence.”