China denies church ‘demolition campaign’ but says Christianity’s growth ‘excessive’

Communist Party in Zhejiang rejects claims of campaign against Protestant churches but one official describes Christianity’s growth as ‘excessive’

Thousands of Chinese Christians have mounted an extraordinary, round-the-clock defence of a church in a city known as the 'Jerusalem of the East'

One week ago thousands of Chinese Christians mounted an extraordinary defence of a church in a city known as the ‘Jerusalem of the East’

By , Shanghai

9:29AM BST 10 Apr 2014

Communist officials in China have denied waging a “demolition campaign” against churches in the country’s most Christian regions, after reportedly ordering a dozen to be destroyed.

The churches – in the eastern province of Zhejiang – are currently facing demolition or having their crosses removed, activists claim. Other churches are said to have been ordered to make themselves “less conspicuous” by turning their lights off at night.

Local preachers accuse Party officials in Zhejiang, a wealthy coastal province, of “gross interference” in Church affairs and have urged them to abandon what they believe is an orchestrated campaign.

Last week, Christians flocked to the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou – a rich port city known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its large Christian community – after its demolition was announced.

Officials denied launching a church demolition movement.

Feng Zhili, the chairman of Zhejiang’s ethnic and religious affairs committee, said Christianity’s growth had been “too excessive and too haphazard”.

China is an officially atheist state that only offers formal recognition to five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism.

Religious beliefs are officially discouraged, particularly among the Communist Party’s more than 85 million members.

However, support is offered to many officially sanctioned churches and some within the Communist Party view religion as a useful ally in maintaining social stability.

Xi Jinping, the president, has been quoted as saying that China is “losing its moral compass” and thinks “traditional” faiths such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism could “help fill a void that has allowed corruption to flourish,” Reuters reported last year, citing sources close to the leadership.

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