Last month, Chinese workers tore down one of the largest churches in Wenzhou, a city on China’s southeast coast. Church members had clashed with officials over the planned destruction of the building. The government says the religious center violated safety rules. But activists say the case is part of a wider campaign against Christianity.
The number of Christians in China is unclear. But the Pew Research Center made an estimate in 2010. The group said about five percent of the population, or about 67 million people, identified themselves as Christian. Many observers say that number continues to rise.
The city of Wenzhou is known as “China’s Jerusalem” for its high percentage of Chinese Christians. The Sanjiang church cost more than $4 million and took 12 years to complete. But after it was finished, officials told church members that it was in violation of building requirements.
American Dennis Balcombe is a Christian clergyman. He says the Chinese government has increasingly accepted Christianity over the past few years. He says the destruction of the church was an unusual step.
“I was just up in, you know, just this last week, and spoke to a church that had several thousand people in it and (had) no problem whatsoever. And so it would seem to me like this is an isolated incident.”
However, other clergymen and religious groups say the destruction of religious centers is part of a wider campaign against organized religion.
Last week, the government released a national security alert on terrorism. The security alert raised concerns over spreading religious beliefs in the country. The government said that the “infiltration of religion has constituted a threat to Chinese identification with socialist belief.”
Bob Fu is president of the Christian Aid Association. His group provides legal advice to Christians in China. He links the church demolitions with official policy aimed at limiting the growth of the church.
“This really shows the Chinese government are worried about the uncontrollable growth of the Christianity in China.”
China’s government has long sought to control religious communities. It does this through state-approved organizations and requiring religious groups to register places of worship. These policies have brought the government into conflict with religious groups. Some of them have resisted state control and set up religious services and gatherings without informing the government.