China’s government forcibly removed crosses from more than 900 churches in a single province the first half of this year, warning church members that opposition would lead to dire consequences, according to a new report.
Bitter Winter, which monitors religious liberty violations within China, says 906 crosses were pulled down by cranes and other machines in the province of Anhui from January through July. Anhui has the second-largest Christian population in China, Bitter Winter said.
All 906 cross removals involved churches within the legal but heavily restricted Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
One church member said government officials warned Christians: “Protesting cross demolitions means protesting against the government.”
“I feel sad thinking that all crosses in our church have been demolished,” the church member told Bitter Winter. “Even though it is a symbol of our faith, who dares to disobey the central government order?”
Further, government officials said “all crosses taller than government buildings must be demolished because they overshadow state institutions,” the church member told Bitter Winter.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “does not allow churches to have Western crosses,” the church member said.
Churches who oppose the government’s action can lose their social benefits, such as “pensions and poverty-alleviation subsidies,” a church member from a different congregation said. It even can impact their children’s future employment, the member said.
Christians who worship within Three-Self churches feel powerless, Bitter Winter reported.
Some crosses were removed while church members were sleeping, according to a Christian from a third church.
“About 2 o’clock that night, the county government brought in three large cranes and dispatched hundreds of police officers,” the church member said. “They cordoned off the church, forbidding vehicles or pedestrians from approaching, and then stormed into the church having cut off an iron chain lock. An elderly believer who stepped forward to stop them had her hands injured.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images / Tinnakorn Jorruang
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.