By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
One of northern China’s largest churches has been destroyed and new rules are set to go into effect in February that appear to escalate the communist government’s clampdown on the nearly 100 million Christians in the country.
Golden Lampstand Church, Linfen, Shanxi — a multimillion dollar facility where more than 50,000 worshipped — was demolished Jan. 9 by explosives placed in underground worship halls, according to ChinaAid, an international nonprofit dedicated to promoting religious freedom and human rights for Christians in China. ChinaAid said the church was “serially persecuted” and called for international attention to the actions of Chinese authorities.
“The repeated persecution of Golden Lampstand Church demonstrates that the Chinese government has no respect for religious freedom or human rights,” ChinaAid Founder and President Bob Fu said. “ChinaAid calls on the international community to openly condemn the bombing of this church building and urge the Chinese government to fairly compensate the Christians who paid for it and immediately cease these alarming demolitions of churches.”
Golden Lampstand Church, like many house churches in China, opted out of registration, which brings government monitoring. ChinaAid said officials often prosecute churches that fail to register, and some of Golden Lampstand Church’s leaders have been imprisoned for serving at their church.
The destruction of Golden Lampstand Church is the most recent in several church demolitions that have taken place in the past year. A Catholic church in the province of Shaanxi was demolished and another Protestant church in the northwestern Xinjiang region shut down, according to reports in December 2017 by World Watch Monitor, a news site that reports on Christian persecution.
ChinaAid also reported that a Christian church in China’s Henan province was destroyed in May 2017. Parishioners who tried to stop the demolition were beaten and 40 were detained, according to reports.
The Chinese government’s actions come ahead of new rules set to go into effect Feb. 2 that place new restrictions and oversight on religious teachings. The rules increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to specifically ban teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings. They also place new oversight on religious gatherings, the construction of religious buildings, the establishment of religious colleges and online discussions of religious matters.
One Christian missionary to China said he was forced to leave chat groups with high school and college friends because he was known to be a Christian. Fines for violations increase under the new rules as well.
The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the new rules specifically mention security threats from religious groups. The ruling Communist Party of China is officially atheist and claims to protect freedom of religion while keeping a tight rein on religious activities, including allowing only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken out against foreign infiltration through religion, Reuters reported. And in November 2017, The Washington Post reported that local officials told thousands of villagers in southeastern China to take down pictures of Jesus and put up a photo of Xi instead. The Post noted that “a social media account in Jiangxi province’s Yugan county said villagers had ‘willingly’ removed 624 posters showing Christian religious sayings and images and replaced them with 453 images of Xi,” a move reminiscent of the adoration expected for China’s first communist leader, Mao Zedong, whose picture was in every home.
ChinaAid said the recent moves are prompting Christians to worry that the central government will begin ordering the mass destruction of church buildings nationwide and pave the way for escalated persecution. World Watch Monitor has reported cases of Christian leaders who disappeared, were imprisoned and tortured, or harassed.
China is 42nd on the newly released Open Doors 2018 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.