China intensifies anti-church campaign as faithful risk lives in defying state orders

A cross on an underground Catholic church is silhouetted in Tianjin, China. Church leaders are pledging to 'make the cross flourish throughout China' despite the ongoing government crackdown.Reuters

The Chinese government's crackdown on Christian churches is getting worse as it now includes even state-sanctioned churches, religious authorities in China revealed.

But the campaign is being boldly challenged by the faithful who risk their lives to defy state orders, with one bishop urging Christians to "defend" the right to religion, CBN wrote.

State workers are now forcibly removing more and more crosses from church buildings, with the latest crackdown targeting a lower Dafei Catholic Church in Wenzhou.

Church-goers sang Christian hymns as their church cross came down, one of the parishioners said.

"(The) cross is in our hearts. The demolition is impossible to bear," the parishioner who identified himself as Chen said.

"Why do they not let us believe?" Chen asked. "Have we ever opposed the government?"

The steel cross was sliced off with a cutting torch and toppled with a thud, sending about a dozen believers into tears, reports said.

"Aren't you ashamed of what you have done?" shouted a teary woman at the more than 100 security guards who, along with police and state workers, kept the parishioners from protecting the cross.

More than 1,500 crosses, mostly in the Zhejiang province, have been removed, even as the government claimed that there is religious freedom in China.

The faithful are now risking possible arrest by resisting the state's cross removal activities, with some even strapping themselves to crosses to prevent them from being torn down, while others stand atop their churches and surround steeples to keep the cranes from working.

Earlier this month, Chinese authorities removed a cross from a church after members of the congregation at Ya Village Church in Huzhou city ended a month-long sit-in on the church's roof to protect their cross from being removed, reports said.

"The government had no right to do this today. They have broken our hearts," said Gu Yajian, a protester. "Shouldn't they be catching the bad guys and getting rid of corrupt officials? Why come to our church?"

Chinese Catholic bishop Zhu Weifang publicly denounced the government's cross removal activities.

In a recent letter, he and two dozen other Catholic officials encouraged the faithful to "fight by law of reason to defend our very basic right to our religion."

Semi-official Christian groups in China, who were supposed to ensure that the Communist Party maintains control over Protestant and Catholic groups, have also slammed the state campaign as unconstitutional and humiliating, cautioning against turning the faithful into enemies of the party, reports said.

"The crackdown has alienated the Christians in China, who are otherwise law-abiding citizens," said Yang Fenggang, an expert on China's religions at Purdue University.

Yang noted that the party may have miscalculated and could be creating instability which ironically is the very same thing it is trying to prevent.

The state campaign—which came a year after the provincial authorities ordered the razing of some churches and hundreds of rooftop crosses which were deemed illegal structures—has been met with resistance as the faithful kept vigils and attempted to block entrances to church grounds with cargo trucks.

Many churches re-erected crosses in defiance to the state.

The campaign against Christians "reflects the top political leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, especially even President Xi Jinping," said Bob Fu, president of Texas-based China Aid, which monitors Christian persecution and human rights violations in China.

"They are increasingly nervous about the political and economic instability and insecurity," Fu said.