Thousands of Christians in China formed a human wall Friday evening to protect the newly built Sanjiang Christian Church in Zhejiang province from government plans to demolish it. Believers in the region say the Christian faith is having a very positive effect on their lives.
"We are not seeking a violent confrontation," said one Christian protester, South China Morning Post reported. "We are holding a peaceful sit-in, praying to God for help."
The Protestant church cost an estimated $4.6 million to build over a six-year period in the city of Wenzhou, which has one of China's largest Christian populations. The Chinese government is claiming, however, that it used illegal structures and violated its building codes.
After the government announced plans to demolish the building within 15 days on April 3, Christians mobilized together and began a campaign to save the church, holding sit-ins, marching on Saturday in front of the church, and holding prayer vigils inside.
"There are bad people out there trying to damage our church so we must defend it," said another one of the protesters, 56-year-old Li Jingliu, according to The Telegraph.
"I've come here today to show my support. A church is a sacred place and we are all brothers and sisters," commented 55-year-old Jin Yufu. "Christianity has made a big contribution to society in many ways. Thanks to Church we don't smoke, gamble or drink. Christians are good people."
Persecution watchdog groups have called on the government to let the church be.
"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," said Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern's regional manager for East Asia
"No one of any faith should have to place their life between a bulldozer and their house of worship. ICC stands with the Christians of Zhejiang Province as they take this courageous stand to protect their rights."
Watchdog group Open Doors, ranks China as the 37th most oppressive country in the world for Christians, noting that the government keeps a close watch on Christian activities.
Sanjiang Christian Church is government-approved, however, and is part of the official protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which The Telegraph noted makes the stand-off a highly unusual situation.
Some believers have said that the church came under scrutiny after Xia Baolong, the provincial Party chief, objected to a church which could house thousands of worshipers.
"His behavior is illegal. He has abused his power. The construction of the church is not against the law," said Wang Jianfeng, a 47-year-old man who joined Friday's demonstration.