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Dec 11th, 2009

China Cracks Down on Christian Churches

Image: Golden Lamp Church
The huge Golden Lamp Church towers over the fields around in Linfen, Shanxi province, China. It was built to house a fast-growing congregation in gritty heart of China’s coal country, but now it sits empty, its doors fastened with bicycle locks and its top leaders in prison. (Photo credit: Andy Wong / AP)

Dec. 10, 2009

LINFEN, China — Towering eight stories over wheat fields, the Golden Lamp Church was built to serve nearly 50,000 worshippers in the gritty heart of China’s coal country.

But that was before hundreds of police and hired thugs descended on the mega-church, smashing doors and windows, seizing Bibles and sending dozens of worshippers to hospitals with serious injuries, members and activists say.

Today, the church’s co-pastors are in jail. The gates to the church complex in the northern province of Shanxi are locked and a police armored personnel vehicle sits outside.

The closure of what may be China’s first mega-church is the most visible sign that the communist government is determined to rein in the rapid spread of Christianity, with a crackdown in recent months that church leaders call the harshest in years.

Evangelical outlook

Authorities describe the actions against churches as stemming from land disputes, but the congregations under attack are among the most successful in China’s growing “house church” movement, which rejects the state-controlled church in favor of liturgical independence and a more passionate, evangelical outlook.

While the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Christians are required to worship in churches run by state-controlled organizations: The Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestants and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association for Roman Catholics.

But more and more Chinese are opting to choose their own churches, despite them being technically illegal and subject to police harassment. Christians worshipping in China’s independent churches are believed to number upwards of 60 million, compared to about 20 million who worship in the state church, according to numbers provided by scholars and church activists. …

Christianity was long associated with foreign interference in traditionally Buddhist and Taoist China, and came under heavy attack after the 1949 Communist revolution.

The most onerous restrictions were lifted after the death of communist leader Mao Zedong in 1976. Although Christians still account for a less than 10 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people, recent years have seen rapid growth in house churches in both cities and rural areas.

Missionary work is illegal

Adding to official concerns about their numbers, house-church Christians also emphasize missionary work — illegal in China — and some have even operated an underground network to help smuggle North Korean refugees and Uighurs out of China in defiance of the security forces.

The Golden Lamp Church was built by husband and wife evangelists Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli as a permanent home for their followers, whose numbers had soared to more than 50,000. …

On a rainy Sunday in mid-September, some 400 police officers and hired thugs descended on more than a dozen church properties around Linfen, smashing doors and windows and hauling off computers, Bibles, and church funds, according to accounts posted online by church members and their allies.

Those accounts said worshippers who resisted were beaten, with dozens hospitalized with serious injuries. …


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 11, 2008

MN-06 ‘Most Embarrassing’ Honors

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s 2008 Most Embarrassing Re-Elected Members of Congress report — which lists elected officials who have misused their position through illegal, unethical, or just plain outrageous conduct — featured U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

According to the report, “Rep. Bachmann gained notoriety for claiming God had told her to run for Congress, and for grabbing President Bush’s shoulder after the 2007 State of the Union and holding him there until he kissed her, as well as calling for investigation into the anti-American views of fellow members of Congress.”

2 Responses to “Christians Persecuted in China”
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