A dozen Protestant churches have defied a cross removal campaign by the provincial government in Zhejiang by replacing crosses already forcibly taken down.
Authorities removed 12 crosses in Lishui City near Wenzhou in just three days from May 7 to 9 without resistance from church members, according to US-based China Aid.
Many affected churches have responded by re-erecting crosses – some larger than those removed – in defiance of recently a circulated draft law that would ban crosses from the tops of churches and restrict their dimensions and color.
“Some churches elsewhere [in Zhejiang province] have also done this but collective action is more obvious in Lishui,” a Protestant preacher who declined to be named for security reasons told ucanews.com.
As many as 20 Protestant churches are also facing the threat of demolition in Anji County near Zhejiang’s provincial capital, Hangzhou, the preacher added.
Zhejiang authorities have forcibly removed at least 470 crosses and destroyed more than 35 churches since the end of 2013, often following violent exchanges with local Christians.
Last month, China Aid said that the true scale of the demolition campaign may be as many as 1,000 crosses removed and up to 50 churches destroyed based on unverified reports in local media.
The campaign appeared to be slowing at the start of the year but in recent weeks dozens of crosses have been reported removed coinciding with the circulation of new draft regulations.
A number of church leaders have expressed alarm at the draft law – both privately and publicly – with many arguing it enshrines state meddling in everything from cross size to what heating systems churches may use.
Zhejiang authorities asked for feedback on the draft regulations up to yesterday. So far there has been no official word on whether the proposed rules will be amended following strong objections or when they may come into effect.
On Tuesday, the Catholic Diocese of Wenzhou became the latest critic of the proposed legislation in a statement arguing that only new churches should be required to comply.
The preamble to the draft law states that any changes or expansion to existing religious buildings will fall under the new rules, a “sneaky term” that could apply to old structures previously permitted by authorities, the diocese added.
“How could these churches be built in the first place? It reflects the lack of supervision from the relevant government departments,” the statement said.
“But now it throws a historical burden at the Church. How can the faithful not complain and oppose it?”
The diocese consulted opinions from all of its priests before issuing the statement, according to a Wenzhou Catholic who declined to be named for security reasons.
A Catholic priest in the city’s underground Church who also declined to be identified praised the state-sanctioned Church for publicly voicing its concerns.
“It is impossible for us to do the same. We can only tell our grievances to God,” the source added. “But I doubt the government would ever listen to the Church.”