Authorities blow up Evangelical megachurch in Linfen
A renowned Evangelical mega-church in Linfen Shanxi province, northern China’s coal district, was demolished last week. The Golden Lampstand church was built a decade ago and cost a total of 17m yuan (£1.9m) at the time. This was the second church to be demolished in less than a month – a Catholic church in the neighbouring province of Shaanxi was destroyed on 27 Dec 2017 – sparking fears of harsher crackdowns against Christians as authorities prepare to enforce new laws on religion. This latest action underscores long-standing tensions between Christian groups and the officially atheistic Communist Party that strives for complete political and social control.
Witnesses including the head pastor say paramilitary People’s Armed Police forces cordoned off the area around the Golden Lampstand Church church on Sunday before placing explosives in underground worship halls beneath the church. After the initial explosion on Tuesday, construction workers broke apart the remaining pieces with diggers and jackhammers.
A pastor at a nearby church who arrived after the blast at the Golden Lampstand church watched construction crews break apart the remains of the building. There were “more police than I could count” preventing a crowd of onlookers and worshipers from approaching the site, the pastor said. “My heart was sad to see this demolition and now I worry about more churches being demolished, even my own,” he said. “This church was built in 2008, there’s no reason for them to destroy it now.” The pastor’s name has been withheld for fear of retaliation by the authorities.
According to religious freedom charity China Aid, this is not the first time Golden Lampstand Church has faced persecution. Some of the church’s leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church. Head pastor Yang Rongli spent seven years in jail on charges of “assembling a crowd to disturb traffic order” and has been under police surveillance since her release in October 2016. Also, when the church was being built in September 2009, church members who slept at the construction site were beaten by officials.
China has been targeting “underground” churches such as Golden Lampstand that refuse to register in order to opt out of government monitoring. Although China claims to guarantee freedom of religion, in practice the authorities heavily regulate many aspects of religious life. Churches must be officially sanctioned and pastors must adhere to a host of rules imposed by the government.
The restrictive policies have given rise to “house” churches, independent places of worship that exist outside official channels. Authorities periodically arrest pastors or demolish buildings used by unsanctioned congregations. Since 2013 the authorities have taken a harder line against towering crosses and large cathedrals. In Zhejiang province that accelerated in 2015, and more than 1,200 crosses have been removed since a crackdown started in 2015.