Wenzhou-area church leaders plan peaceful sit-in, release open letter regarding cross removals

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

China Aid Association

(Wenzhou, Zhejiang—June 25, 2014) Leaders from 135 government-sanctioned churches in Pingyang County, in China’s coastal Zhejiang, planned a peaceful sit-in in front of a Pingyang County government building on Monday, stating they would “only remove the cross from the church buildings when the Chinese Communist government removed the flag of the Chinese Communist Party from their office building,” a church leader said.

The church leader also told China Aid that authorities warned the group “not to get themselves in trouble.”

“The Pingyang County police called me and asked if I organized today’s protest; they also told me that the protest would cause us trouble because it was illegal,” an anonymous church leader told the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English newspaper, on Monday. The newspaper reported that local police made many similar calls to area Christians.

In addition, a Wenzhou-based news agency reported that the protest was very likely to be cancelled.

Another pastor from Pingyang County said, “For all Christians, the cross is holy and unbreakable. Seeing our cross being taken down brings us enormous humiliation. We are very angry, but the local government warned us not to go to Beijing to make a petition to the central government and not to speak to journalists from foreign countries. We decided to stage a silent sit-in protest because we don’t have other choices.”

Yet another leader told China Aid that the group “sent representatives to negotiate with the authorities many times to seek a solution [to the impending cross demolitions]. We asked them what regulations our church buildings violated, and we asked for an opportunity to make things right. But none of our requests were answered.”

The group said they were ready to guard the churches’ crosses on Monday, but a news source with ties to the county government reported that county officials plan to announce the cross removals on June 28. “That is why the authorities and police are watching us closely,” a leader said. “But we will spare no efforts to protect our cross. We will only remove the cross…when the government removes the flag of the Chinese Communist Party…”

Some sources claim that 360 Christian organizations have had their buildings demolished, crosses removed or received demolition notices since the beginning of the Zhejiang provincial “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign; however, China Aid’s current—and in no way comprehensive count—is closer to 100 (see http://www.chinaaid.org/2014/05/china-aid-receives-compilation-of-64.html and http://www.chinaaid.org/2014/04/exclusive-china-aid-receives-internal.html).

According to local Christians, the campaign is an example of religious persecution despite government claims that the campaign is directed at all illegal structures—religious or otherwise.

Below is a letter written by the group on June 17, documenting the actions of the government and themselves, and appealing for justice.

Open letter from Pingyang County church leaders

Recently, dozens of churches in Pingyang County have received the notice that their crosses would be demolished. The churches have not got any reasonable or legitimate explanations from the relevant government agencies during talks and negotiations. The local government’s unprovoked attempt to demolish Christian crosses is related to the Zhejiang provincial government’s policy of “Three Rectifications and One Demolition,” which has resulted in the great anxiety of nearly 100,000 believers in Pingyang County and various rumors coming and going in society. It has brought about a great deal of unrest. Under such circumstances, the churches in Pingyang County are forced to make the following public statement regarding the government’s demolition of Christian crosses:

1. The cross has been the symbol of love, forgiveness, humility and life-saving since ancient times. In the modern world, all organizations that use the cross as their symbol, such as commonly seen signs in hospitals and the symbols used by charities including the Red Cross, maintain the same meaning. Such a value is universally accepted. We believe that the Chinese society needs the spirit of the cross—that is, the love, forgiveness, humility, and life-saving.

2. The cross, as the only symbol of Christianity, is irreplaceable in the hearts of believers. The government should fully understand the believers’ religious sentiment and respect their religious feelings. When dealing with the cross, an issue with consequences affecting the believers’ core interest, the government should act cautiously, rather than recklessly, and should strictly comply with China’s religious policies, which have been in place for long time.

3. Pingyang County churches are not against the government’s “Three Recitfications and One Demolition” policy. However, crosses on Christian churches do not fall in the range of [structures specified as illegal by the] “Three Recitfications and One Demolition” campaign. Recently, crosses have been demolished in many places in Zhejiang. There have been many buildings construed without licenses in Zhejiang, and rather than making great efforts to deal with those buildings, some local governments have turned to demolishing Christian churches’ crosses. Such selective enforcement of laws is obvious discrimination against the Christian faith, which is totally unacceptable to our believers and in violation with the spirit of Article 36* of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

4. The political agenda of some individual government leaders is obviously behind the local governments’ demolition of Christian crosses in Zhejiang. It has been said that Christianity grew too fast, the number of the believers increased too rapidly, their activities were conducted too frequently, and their contact with foreign countries were too close. Aside from validity of the rumor, let us look at the facts. Adhering to the teachings of Jesus Christ, Christians are law-abiding, patriotic, cooperative with their neighbors, honest, loving, and actively engaged in various undertakings for public good, which is what Chinese Churches have been doing diligently for decades. The Chinese churches have had harsh times in the decades after the Communist Party came to power. But the churches adhered to the approach of no complaining, no involvement in politics, and doing no harm to the society.

Most Pingyang County churches, including those that received demolition notices, have responded positively to the state’s requirement that churches register with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, running their activities within the framework of the state’s policy and maintaining good relationships with the government for the economic development and social harmony of Pingyang County for many years. The Christian community believers are a positive force in every place, which is a fact known to all.

5. Chinese Christians and all Chinese citizens share the same values of loving their motherland and their people. Governments do not need to treat Christians discriminately. The knife cuts both ways. We have the same origin so why persecute us so heavily? It is the responsibility of the government to serve the public, be in touch with the people, and work for their best interests. Freedom of religion and believers’ right to participate in religious activities are granted by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which should be followed by governments at all levels.

6. The local governments’ demolitions of crosses not only hurts believers’ feelings and causes tension between religious organizations and the state, but also exerts tremendous pressure on the officials at all levels of the government. Many local government officials are living in the community in close contact with those affected by the demolitions. The crosses affected neither social stability nor the government’s ability to function. It is practically meaningless to have the crosses demolished in such a blatant way. Such acts cost dearly in terms of money and popular support, which does no good to anyone.

7. In light of the above, Pingyang County churches are unanimously against the demolition of Christian churches’ crosses. We urge the government at all levels to understand the situation and their people and to respond to the churches and believers reasonably and in a satisfactory fashion.

Pingyang County churches
June 17, 2014

*Constitution of the People’s Republic of China
Article 36. Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

Article 27. All state organs carry out the principle of simple and efficient administration, the system of responsibility for work and the system of training functionaries and appraising their work in order constantly to improve quality of work and efficiency and combat bureaucratism. All state organs and functionaries must rely on the support of the people, keep in close touch with them, heed their opinions and suggestions, accept their supervision, and work hard to serve them.

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Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
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