Christian leaders in China are speaking out against a government campaign to remove more than 1,000 crosses from churches, the New York Times reports.
Local authorities have targeted Christian churches in Zhejiang, a coastal province in eastern China. China’s Communist Party has become increasingly alarmed about the growing popularity of Christianity in the country, which it views as a threat to the government’s ideological dominance.
Even churches sanctioned by the government have protested the removal of crosses, the Times reports:
More surprising has been the growing boldness of government-approved churches. About half of the estimated 60 million Christians in China attend churches approved by the government. Last year, two prominent theologians at government seminaries spoke out against the campaign. Now, public appeals have added to the opposition.
An open letter, signed by the bishop of Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang Province, and 26 priests, said, "Recently the situation has intensified." The government, they said, "has stopped using the pretext of ‘demolishing illegal structures’ and is rushing to take down the crosses of every single church." […]
The provincial branch of the government Protestant association, the China Christian Council, also objected to the campaign. It said in a letter that 1,200 crosses had been removed over the past year and a half, "severely hurting the feelings of the province’s more than two million believers."
"It completely violates the party’s and the nation’s ideology and spirit of ‘ruling the country according to laws,’ and ‘ruling the country according to the constitution,’ " said the letter, which was addressed to local religious affairs officials and copied to leaders in Beijing.
Xi Jinping, China’s president and party leader, has instituted a broad crackdown against any form of dissent in the country since rising to power in 2012. He was formerly a party leader in Zhejiang, leading some to speculate that he approved the campaign against churches.