Another Chinese church set to be demolished
As fears surrounding the right to religious freedom in China rise, yet another church has been officially marked for demolition by government officials.
Xiaying Holy Love church in Ningbo, a seaport city in Zhejiang province, has been ordered to close by a party representative after being deemed "disturbingly eye-catching".
Officially an atheist state, the right to freedom of religious belief is guaranteed under Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution but protections are limited to those who worship within state-sanctioned bodies.
Chinese Christians often suffer at the hands of government authorities, and the Asian superpower is ranked the 37th worst country in the world for Christian persecution by the World Watch List.
Despite this, reports suggest that between 3,000 and 10,000 people are converting to Christianity every single day in China, and while there were just one million believers in total when the Communist party came to power in 1949, there are now thought to be around 100 million.
It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the government is said to be stepping up its defences against those who practice the religion, and around twelve churches in Zhejiang province are currently thought to be facing demolition, with several already having been reduced to rubble.
On April 28, Sanjiang church in Wenzhou was torn down amid accusations of illegally exceeding building regulations; the colossal building was a staggering seven stories high and totalled 100,000 square feet.
Holy Love church is even bigger, though it is reported to be state-approved; costing £2.4million to build, it boasts10 storeys and a large cross on the roof.
It was this cross that has been lambasted as offensive by Communist officials; one unnamed local source told The Telegraph that church leaders were told it was "too shiny, too tall and too big".
"At first they asked us to put it on the wall. We refused. Now they have told us they will tear the whole church down," he said.
The Telegraph reports that the church held its last service on Sunday May 11, and has since removed all belongings from inside the building ahead of the impending demolition.
Another member of Holy Love's 1,000-strong congregation says the Chinese ruling party is "afraid that as the number of Christian increases they will come into conflict with their policies and governance".
"The reality is that we are patriots," the church member contended, adding that many fear persecution against Christians will only continue to increase across the country.
Communist authorities have countered claims that they are launching an offensive against church buildings, however. The official government line states that they are cracking down on illegal constructions – both religious and secular - but the chairman of Zhejiang's ethnic and religious affair committee is reported to have denounced the growth of Christianity as "too excessive and too haphazard" in a recent speech.
The committee's website notes that Feng Zhili also criticised "deep-rooted" problems in the development of Christianity in the region, and has condemned the way in which it has apparently caused "social friction".
Despite the unsettling situation, during his final sermon at Holy Love, the church's pastor is said to have preached on a passage found in Romans 8: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of all those who love him , who have been called according to his purpose".