The Washington Free Beacon reported on Tuesday that the Chinese communist government has stepped up persecution of Chinese Christians. This seems to be in response to growing fears by Beijing that Christianity in China is becoming a direct threat to the Communist regime. The persecution has manifested itself with brutal actions, based on the creative use of zoning laws in some cases.
“Public security officials in recent days forcibly removed crosses from two churches in the southeastern coastal province of Zhejiang, the New York Times reported. Authorities have now issued orders to demolish more than 100 churches in the province—most of them state-approved, as opposed to the illegal underground communities suppressed by officials.
“Additionally, government officials have disrupted services, confiscated and destroyed church property, and in some cases detained members in the capital in Beijing, the eastern coastal province of Shandong, and the autonomous Xinjiang region in the northwest.
“At the Wenling Church in the coastal city of Taizhou, congregants told the Times that as many as 4,000 officers removed two crosses from the building on Friday and detained as many as 40 people—while most of the members sang hymns.”
The Chinese government is publically citing zoning laws as an excuse for demolishing churches and removing crosses. The Chinese are also using “illegal construction”: as a fig leaf for the crackdown. This has fooled no on. The reasons for the recent persecution has to do with some stark numbers concerning the rising strength of Christianity in China.
The Chinese communist party currently has 86 million members. But a Pew survey done in 2011 indicated that there were 67 million Christians in China. The numbers may be understated. Another analysis suggests that by 2030 China will become the most Christian country in the world, exceeding 247 million. In a reversal of the phenomenon in which western missionaries came to China starting in the 19th Century, Chinese Christians are sending missionaries outside of China, notably to North Korea.
It is not hard to recognize the reasons for the explosive growth of Christianity in China. Savagely suppressed during Mao’s reign, Christian churches in China provide a network of social services that the Communist regime has not been able to match. Furthermore the Christian movement has provided a great deal of spiritual solace that the culture of crony capitalism, lucrative to some but soulless to many, has lacked. While some Christian churches have been officially sanctioned, many Christians meet in unofficially forbidden home churches.
The persecution of Christians in China is part of a general policy stamping out religion, including Buddhists, Muslims, and the Falun Gong movement. The Chinese government seems bent on suppressing anything that might distract the loyalty of the Chinese people from itself. The move does come with considerable risks. It will further alienate other countries, including the United States, exacerbating tensions and threatening China with becoming a pariah state. With conflict brewing over Pacific islands with China’s neighbors that might be unavoidable in any case.