More church crosses taken down in China
Week-long parishioners' protest proves fruitless
Salvation Church, Wenzhou, before its cross was taken down. Picture: Charisma News
Crosses have been removed from two more Christian churches this week in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, part of a continuing campaign by the local authorities to lower the profile of the country’s fastest-growing religion.
On Thursday morning, the police in Wenzhou cut down the cross from Salvation Church, witnesses said, ending a weekslong standoff with parishioners who had stood guard around the building. On July 21, hundreds of police officers had failed to remove the cross after a confrontation with congregants that left more than 50 people injured.
On Tuesday, the police in the city of Hangzhou had brought down the cross from Gulou Church, according to a member of the church staff.
Following the melee at Salvation Church in July, parishioners had been taking turns guarding the church. But after the church’s director, Zhang Zhengchuang, reached an agreement with the local government, the authorities took away the keys to the church and cordoned off the area.
On Thursday, unlike during the bloody confrontation in July, the roughly 200 security personnel, including plainclothes police, were unarmed when they surrounded the church.
“We’re not able to go into the church because they have the keys,” said a parishioner who witnessed the removal of the cross. “So we just gathered outside, sang hymns and prayed.”
The parishioner, who asked that his name not be published for fear of government retaliation, said that more than 200 Christians had gathered outside Salvation Church on Thursday morning.
Since early this year, the Zhejiang provincial government has been carrying out a campaign against structures it says violate building and zoning codes. But, according to an internal government document, the campaign is directed specifically against Christian buildings and symbols, including crosses. Many of the churches that have received demolition orders or notices to remove crosses are government-sanctioned, not underground “house churches” that reject state controls.
In April, the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou was demolished, despite protests from local Christians. In June, Salvation Church along with two dozen other Protestant churches in Wenzhou received notices from the local authorities to take down their crosses.
People who answered the telephone at offices of the Pingyang County government in Wenzhou, where Salvation Church is located, said they would not comment on the removal of the church’s cross. Those who answered at the Pingyang police department said they did not know anything.
At least four people who were hospitalized for injuries received in the July confrontation have all been released by now, said Zhang Zhimin, a Salvation Church member, who said he was beaten on the head by the police and left the hospital on Thursday. “The government said they would meet our requirements” for compensation for the beatings, Mr. Zhang said by telephone. “But no action has been taken yet.”
Meanwhile, Huang Yizi, a pastor from Fengwo Church, also in Wenzhou, remains in police detention.
Mr. Huang was taken by the police on Aug. 3 and accused of “organizing crowds to attack government offices,” according to a detention letter issued by the police. But parishioners said Mr. Huang had gone to the local government office with several relatives of people who were beaten on July 21 to demand an explanation from the authorities.
On Thursday morning, the cross atop Salvation Church was cut at its base with an electric saw and taken down by crane, witnesses said by voice message. The removal took about an hour. When officials were about to take the cross away, parishioners stopped them. The officials agreed to leave it, and the cross was laid down inside the church.
“My heart was really saddened when I watched this,” said a Christian also surnamed Zhang, who is from a nearby congregation and spent the night outside Salvation Church.
At the site, another Christian said, “Many people were weeping and praying when they saw the cross being taken down.”
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