Numerous crosses atop churches in China were recently removed by the Chinese Communist government which asserted that religious symbols cannot be raised “higher” than the Chinese national flag.
Even the deadly coronavirus outbreak did not reduce the speed of the cross-demolition campaign sweeping through China.
In mid-March, crosses were removed from multiple churches in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui. In the neighboring Shandong, the prefecture-level city of Linyi is no exception: On top of at least 70 crosses removed from churches since last spring, more have been taken down during the epidemic, according to Bitter Winter.
Churches approved by the Chinese government are not exempt.
In February, officials removed a cross from a government-approved Three-Self church in Hexi village. In 2007, the church was built in compliance with state regulations, implementing the four requirements of the government’s religion “sinicization” campaign.
Despite canceled church gatherings because of COVID-19, churches were still removed.
“The government does not provide enough help during the epidemic but instead demolishes crosses,” a local believer told Bitter Winter.
In December, additional crosses from Three-Self churches were removed in Hegang, out in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
One church member in the city’s Dongshan district told Bitter Winter that a local official threatened to close down the church if the cross was not removed because “it was higher than the national flag.”
In the same month, crosses of Christ Gospel Church and Luobei Christian Church in Hegang’s Luobei county were removed as one county government employee explained that the crosses “were too eye-catching,” and they would “attract people into the churches.”
In November, the cross from the Ranfang Church in Gushi county in the central Henan province was removed as government officials told believers that it’s “the Communist Party that gives you food and money, not God.”
Pastor Jian Zhu, director of the China Institute at Lincoln Christian University in Illinois, recently warned that China’s persecution against house churches is now the worst he has seen since 1979.
“The Chinese government now has placed severe restrictions and policies on the house churches, asking neighbors to spy on one another, pressures schoolteachers and college professors to betray and sign a statement to denounce their faith as well as to do the same to the students,” Zhu said.
“Now, they are trying to eliminate Christianity from public life,” he continued. “Cameras are all over to watch church and Christians go to Sunday service. Families are threatened to not go to church or they will be punished or their relatives could be in trouble.”
China ranks 23th on persecution watchdog Open Door’s list of top 50 countries where it is most deadly to be a christian.
Churches are seen as a threat if they become “too large, too political or invite foreign guests.”