Throughout the province, local authorities cracked down on state-run Protestant churches to implement the central government’s order to eliminate crosses.
by Lu An
Bitter Winter reported on June 9 that crosses had been removed from over 250 state-run Three-Self churches in the eastern province of Anhui in the first four months of the year. According to the newly received information, an additional 656 state-run Protestant venues in the province had lost their crosses during the first half of this year, the total exceeding 900.
Anhui has the second-largest Christian population in China, concentrated in the prefecture-level cities of Lu’an, Fuyang, Suzhou, and Chuzhou. Naturally, these cities have been severely affected by the forced removal of crosses. According to the latest numbers, from January to July, crosses have been removed from 271 Three-Self churches in Lu’an, 168 in Fuyang, 106 in Suzhou, and 98 in Chuzhou. Besides, crosses were toppled from 266 Protestant venues in Bengbu, Huainan, Ma’anshan, and Hefei cities.
In April, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Fuyang-administered Taihe county ordered to remove the cross from one of the Three-Self churches and threatened to close it down if the congregation disobeyed.
“The cross is a church symbol, and if it is removed, who could distinguish it from other buildings?” a church member commented.
A Three-Self church in the city’s Yingdong district, which can accommodate gatherings of 1,000 believers, lost its cross also in April. Officials informed the congregation that the cross- demolition campaign was part of national policy.
“If a church refuses to remove its cross, congregation members may lose their social benefits, like pensions and poverty-alleviation subsidies, and possibilities for their children’s future employment will be affected,” a church member explained.
On April 28, workers removed the Hancheng Church cross in Hanshan county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Ma’anshan. The head of the local United Front Work Department supervised the proceedings.
“United Front Work Department officials said that all crosses taller than government buildings must be demolished because they overshadow state institutions,” a church member told Bitter Winter. “Only churches that look like enterprises are considered legal. To ‘sinicize’ Christianity, Xi Jinping does not allow churches to have Western crosses.”
The believer also revealed that government officials warned an elder in the church that “protesting cross demolitions means protesting against the government.” “I feel sad thinking that all crosses in our church have been demolished,” the believer added. “Even though it is a symbol of our faith, who dares to disobey the central government order?”
Other believers also feel powerless, unable to resist hundreds of police officers. On May 12, the government of Ma’anshan-administered Dangtu county removed crosses from the Lingyunshan Christian Church.
“About 2 o’clock that night, the county government brought in three large cranes and dispatched hundreds of police officers,” a church member recounted events of the night. “They cordoned off the church, forbidding vehicles or pedestrians from approaching, and then stormed into the church having cut off an iron chain lock. An elderly believer who stepped forward to stop them had her hands injured.”
The woman added that officials tried to remove the crosses already on April 20, but congregation members managed to stop the demolition. Afterward, church deacons and elderly believers took turns guarding the church for 22 days. On the eve of the cross removal, the police detained the church director overnight to implement their plan.