Chinese Christians battle to save Wenzhou church
Government crackdown on Christianity continues
- Kiki Zhao for The New York Times
- July 24, 2014
As rain brought by Tropical Storm Matmo poured down around them on Thursday, several dozen Christians, weary after a bloody confrontation with the police earlier in the week, stood guard at Salvation Church in Wenzhou, determined that the authorities would not take down their cross.
The standoff at Salvation Church is just the latest incident in the eastern city sometimes dubbed “China’s Jerusalem” for its many churches, as the local authorities have pressed forward with a campaign of “regulating religious sites and activities.” In recent months, according to ChinaAid, a Christian organization based in the United States, scores of churches in Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located, have lost crosses, been demolished or received demolition notices.
Although officials have often cited violations of zoning regulations, an internal provincial policy statement indicates that the campaign is aimed specifically at Christian institutions and symbols. The statement says to remove crosses, first those by highways, then “over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
In April, the landmark Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou was torn down, despite protests from thousands of local Christians. In June, Salvation and about two dozen other Protestant churches received notices from the county government to remove their crosses. Since then, local Christians have resisted and taken turns guarding their churches.
“Each night we have several dozen brothers staying in every one of these churches, guarding them,” a man who would give only his surname, Chen, said by voice message. Chen, 27, said he regularly attends services at Salvation Church.
On Thursday, however, the mood among the congregants at Salvation was somber as word came that the director of the church, under pressure from the government, had agreed to remove the cross.
“My heart is broken,” said another man who has been guarding the church every night since the Monday morning melee with the police and strongly opposes removing the cross. “It’s so disappointing,” said the man, also surnamed Chen. “We’ve defended the church and we shed blood, but he compromised to agree that the cross be removed. May God have mercy on him.”
He said he was afraid that the police would return after the storm passes, and try once again to bring down the cross. “The storm came here today; they didn’t come,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll come back tomorrow. We will defend the cross to the death.”
Source: The New York Times