Published: Sun, January 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

China govt destroys mega-church with dynamite, silences congregants

China govt destroys mega-church with dynamite, silences congregants

Authorities in China demolished a large church in the city of Linfen, Shanxi province on January 9, despite efforts by worshippers to halt the demolition and who were then pressured to remain silent, according to witnesses.

Authorities in northern China's coal country this week demolished a well-known Christian mega-church, underscoring long-standing tensions between religious groups and the officially atheistic Communist Party.

A pastor, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, had witnessed the Golden Lampstand Church's demolition and said a large group of police officers had kept people and worshippers from coming close to the building. "Officials often prosecute such choices, however, and some of Golden Lampstand Church's leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church", the organization said in a statement on Tuesday. These regulations grant the Chinese Communist Party increased power over religion, paving the way for escalated persecution.

China has been targeting unregistered churches such as Golden Lampstand. This indicates that the order to destroy the church came from China's top officials instead of the less-powerful local authorities.

The Chinese constitution technically guarantees freedom of religion, but non-state registered religious groups such as Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and evangelical Christians (the latter frequently meeting in "underground" house churches) are a frequent government target. Officials launched a sweeping crackdown on churches in Zhejiang province that accelerated in 2015, and more than 1,200 crosses have been removed, according to activists.

"A Christian offered his farmland to a local Christian association and they secretly built a church using the cover of building a warehouse", a government department official was quoted as saying. Churches that refuse to register do so in order to opt out of government monitoring.

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Chinese authorities detonated explosives in an underground worship hall earlier this week, ChinaAid, a US -based Christian advocacy group, reports.

"The repeated persecution of the Golden Lampstand Church demonstrates that the Chinese government has no respect for religious freedom or human rights", said Bob Fu, the founder and president of ChinaAid, who called for the global community to openly condemn the bombing of the church.

The Golden Lampstand Church was built by husband and wife evangelists Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli as a permanent home for their followers.

The couple had been preaching around Linfen since 1992, establishing congregations in improvised spaces such as factory dormitories and greenhouses. In 2009, leaders of the church were sentenced to prison on such charges as obstructing traffic. Many members of the church, though, witnessed the demolition from a distance and wept for their church's destruction.

ChinaAid said authorities also demolished a Catholic church in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, on 27 December.

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