Thousands of Chinese Christians have united in the city of Wenzhou to form a 24-hour human shield around the Sanjiang Christian Church, amidst threats from the Communist authorities to demolish the building. The three-story Church is one of ten places of worship to have been listed for demolition in the Zhejiang province, considered China’s most Christian region. This is the second time in two weeks the Christians of Zhejiang have flocked to protect their Church from the machinations of the local Communist party.
Though attempts to close down Christian Churches are nothing new in China, the Sanjiang Church stands as an officially-sanctioned place of worship by the Communist government, and is, in theory, entitled to the legal protection of Article 36 of the Chinese constitution:
“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities.”
In spite of a mounting campaign of intimidation and suppression, China’s thriving Christian community is growing at an exuberant rate, with research from the University of Purdue foreseeing an estimated 247 million Christians living in China by 2030. Under the rule of Mao Zedong, China was declared an atheist state, and a campaign of violence was waged against the mere one million Christians that then lived in China. When the Cultural Revolution was brought to an end in 1976, a degree of tolerance began to take form. Nevertheless, heavy restrictions remain on Christian worship. Only the state-approved, state-monitored, state-restricted ‘Three Self Patriotic Movement’ is considered a legal form of Christianity, with non-conformist congregations and underground ‘house Churches’ subjected to brutal recriminations.
Speaking in support of the Christians defending Sanjiang Church, Luca Volontè, Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute said:
“All the lessons of history demonstrate to China the futility of forcing Christians to choose between faith and country. The Christian awakening of millions of Chinese citizens is not a form of political process but rather the peaceful desire to learn and to worship Our Lord. After bold statements from Western leaders – including David Cameron and Angela Merkel – on the duty to defend Christians from persecution, the international community cannot abandon the Christians of Whenzou to this very public campaign of coercion and suppression.”