Thousands of Chinese Christians have camped in and around Sanjiang Christian Church in eastern China to prevent it from being demolished under a provincial campaign to curb the spread of Christianity, Charisma News reports.
Concerned that Christianity was growing too fast, local officials in the providence of Zhejiang began a campaign in February to demolish any church buildings that violated local regulations. Friday evening, the Telegraph reported that hundreds of Christians had stationed themselves inside the church to block access to demolition teams during the night.
"I slept here last night and I will do the same again tonight. We pulled two pews together so it was quite all right. We feel at peace and fearless when we are with our God," He Hongying, an 81-year-old church member, told the Telegraph.
According to the Washington Post, officials are most perturbed by the prominent crosses that many churches use to advertise their presence. At least six crosses have been taken down, and churches were told to instead hand smaller ones inside the buildings. At Sanjiang Church, officials also demanded the church remove several spires on the rooftop. Threats to tear down the church began when church leaders refused to comply.
“From what they discussed during negotiations, the point isn’t about the illegal construction, but about the cross,” said a local Christian leader told the Post, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
But a local government official, who was not authorized to speak by name to the media, said authorities were trying to resolve the impasse peacefully and had never threatened to demolish the structures by force. "We've asked them to leave out of concern for their own safety, but some local followers still slept inside the building," he said. "The government is still negotiating with the people to figure out how to handle this smoothly."
Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern's (ICC) regional manager for East Asia, says, "We call on the authorities in Zhejiang province to immediately rescind their orders for the demolition of Sanjiang Christian Church. This church was legally constructed and has every right to exist in a nation which strongly claims, at least in the international community, to respect the religious freedom of its citizens.”
Publication Date: April 8, 2014.