After easing the COVID-19 lockdown, the communist government of China has intensified its crackdown on state-controlled churches, removing crosses from their rooftops and closing them down in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, according to a report.
In Yugan county, authorities shut down at least 48 Three-Self churches and meeting venues between April 18 and 30, according to Bitter Winter, an Italy-based online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, published by the Center for Studies on New Religions.
Of the more than 1 million people who live in Yugan county, over 10 percent are Protestants who attend over 300 officially registered Three-Self churches.
A member of a local Three-Self church, who was not identified, said that officials, including the mayor, of the Shegeng town stormed the church in April and forcibly removed its podium, cross and all other religious symbols.
“Some congregation members wept in distress,” the believer said. “If you try to protest, they will accuse you of fighting against the Communist Party and the central government.”
A believer in Yugan’s Daxi township told the magazine that a village Party secretary told area Christians that authorities wanted to shut down churches and demolish crosses because “there were too many believers in the county.”
“When so many believe in God, who will listen to the Communist Party? There is no other choice but to remove crosses from your churches,” he quoted the secretary as saying.
On Open Doors USA’s World Watch List, China is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to persecution of Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.
Bitter Winter reported that “countless number of churches” were ordered to remove their crosses in Jiujiang, Fuzhou, Fengcheng, Shangrao, and a few other cities in the province in April.
A believer in the Yangbu town said local authorities in mid-April demolished the cross of a Three-Self church, with plans to convert the 300-square-meter church into a facility for the elderly.
The churches that are outside of the government-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement are considered illegal by the Chinese Communist Party, and are, therefore, persecuted more severely.
Gina Goh, a regional manager for Southeast Asia at International Christian Concern, recently said that China has clearly resumed its crackdown on Christianity after the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic has reduced.
“In recent weeks, we have seen an increased number of church demolitions and cross removals on state-sanctioned churches across China, as house church gatherings continue to face interruption and harassment. It is deplorable that the local authorities not only conducted this raid without proper procedure but deployed excessive use of force against church members and bystanders,” she said.
The crackdown on churches has been underway since before the pandemic began.
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA who was in China on a fact-finding trip days before COVID-19 emerged from Wuhan province, “witnessed firsthand how the Chinese government is using mass surveillance and data modeling to monitor and punish citizens who choose to attend church or share religious material.”
“The forced closure of thousands of churches and the removal of crosses from buildings are now-commonplace tactics by the Chinese government in order to limit, if not extinguish, Christian practice,” Curry wrote in an op-ed for The Christian Post. Even charitable coronavirus relief provided by people of faith is strongly discouraged by the regime.
Last December, at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, numerous crosses were removed from Three-Self churches in Hegang, a prefecture-level city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
In November, government officials ordered the removal of the cross from the Ranfang Church in Gushi county in the central province of Henan, telling believers that it’s “the Communist Party that gives you food and money, not God.”