SHANXI, China (BP) — The bombing demolition of a megachurch in China is indicative of a rush to silence Christianity under new laws that will heighten religious persecution, according to human rights group ChinaAid.
The Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, Shanxi, was home to some 50,000 worshippers before the Chinese government bombed and demolished the church Jan. 9, according to news reports.
Religious persecution is at its harshest in communist China in perhaps 50 years, ChinaAid President Bob Fu told BBC News Jan. 11.
The bombing shows “the increasingly deteriorating situation of religious freedom and rule of law in China” under President Xi Jinping, “which many suggest is the worst since the end of the cultural revolution,” Fu told the BBC Jan. 11. “I mean, all the leaders of this church were arrested since this church was built in 2009, and they were sentenced from one to seven years’ imprisonment for building this church, and many of them were even tortured.
“And China is now imprisoning more prisoners of conscience than the number combined by the rest of the world,” Fu told the BBC.
Military police directed by the highest government officials detonated explosives in underground worship halls beneath the church and proceeded to demolished the above-ground building, ChinaAid said.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., in his Jan. 16 podcast The Briefing, called the bombing an admission of fear and weakness in a war the communist nation can never win.
“With 20 centuries of church history behind us, we can now assure the communist authorities in China that if they thought they could extinguish the Gospel of Jesus Christ by blowing up a building, they’ve deluded themselves,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “But we should also note that if the Chinese party in China thought that it was making a statement of its power by excluding this church, it was actually demonstrating its weakness and its paranoia.”
Stringent government control of churches, ministerial activities and religious education is delineated in the Religious Affairs Regulations 2017 law, which takes effect Feb. 1, according to ChinaAid. The Chinese government also destroyed a Catholic church in 2017, adding to fears of an established pattern as state control tightens.
The Golden Lampstand Church is among many Protestant congregations not registered under the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) that places congregations under total government control. Among the new guidelines, all churches or religious groups must register “their establishment, modification, or deregistration … in accordance with the relevant State provisions on the management of social groups,” according to a translation of the law provided by ChinaAid.
Churches which register with TSPM forego freedoms associated with Christianity, including evangelism beyond the church walls, the ability to baptize anyone under the age of 18, and the ability to choose church leaders without governmental oversight, Fu told BBC.
Jinping, in power since 2013, has increasingly persecuted not only unregistered churches, but also congregations registered with the TSPM, Fu said. Notably, the crosses of more than 2,000 churches have been destroyed in the past three years, Fu said, referencing a so-called governmental beautification campaign that was widely reported.
The U.S. State Department designates China as a “country of particular concern” regarding violations of religious freedom. Religious watchdog group Open Doors lists China as number 43 on its World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest for Christians to live.
While religious freedom is a concern in the U.S., Mohler noted, the subject in China concerns “something a good deal more deadly and a good deal more urgent.”