A few weeks ago, it was reported that the church and local officials had reached an agreement to spare the church, but that agreement appears to have broken down. Tom Phillips, of the Telegraph reports:
Demolition teams began destroying parts of a Chinese church that has become a symbol of resistance to the Communist Party's draconian clutch on religion, activists and witnesses said on Monday.
Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, a wealthy coastal city known as the "Jerusalem of the East", made headlines earlier this month when thousands of Christians formed a human shield around its entrance after plans for its demolition were announced.
Church members accused Communist leaders in Zhejiang province of ordering an anti-church crackdown and claimed there were plans to completely or partially demolish at least 10 places of worship.
Officials rejected those accusations, alleging the church had violated building codes.
After mounting their high-profile occupation in early April, many protesters withdrew from Sanjiang church after its leaders appeared to have negotiated a compromise with the government.
However, that deal appears to have broken down in recent days with reports that some church leaders and worshippers had been harassed and detained by security agents and officials.
On Monday morning demolition teams began tearing down parts of the church in Wenzhou, a city around 230 miles south of Shanghai that has one of the country's largest congregations.
It's hard to know exactly what triggered this apparent reversal. I can think of four possibilities, all plausible, and not necessarily mutually exclusive:
- The agreement from a few weeks ago was just a stall tactic on the part of the local officials to get the spotlight turned off of them; they never intended to abide by it.
- The worldwide publicity a few weeks ago caused the local officials to lose so much face that they felt they must take action to avoid appearing weak. (Local officials are nothing, if not petty.)
- The local officials have a quota of how many illegally built structures they are supposed to "rectify," and this helps meet that quota.
- The local officials really are worried about the explosive growth of Christianity in Zhejiang.
Again, these possibilities are all plausible and not mutually exclusive; in other words the answer to the question of "what in the world is going on?" is most likely "all of the above."
We do know for certain this morning that a congregation in Wenzhou is losing their church. Please keep these brothers and sisters in your prayers. Pray also that cooler heads within the government will prevail.