China's latest church demolitions spark fear of wider campaign against Christians

Two recent church demolitions in China have sparked fears that the government could be launching a wider crackdown on Christianity as it gears up for tighter restrictions on religion.

(REUTERS / Jason Lee)A villager walks near a Catholic church on the outskirts of Taiyuan, North China's Shanxi province, December 24, 2016.

On Jan. 7, authorities set off explosives inside the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, Shanxi province, and tore at the remains with diggers and jackhammers. The incident came less than a month after a 20-year-old Catholic church in the nearby province of Shaanxi was demolished, The Guardian detailed.

A pastor, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, had witnessed the Golden Lampstand Church's demolition and said a large group of police officers had kept people and worshippers from coming close to the building. He added that the house of worship had been built in 2008 and that there was no reason for it to be destroyed.

"I think this might be a new pattern against any independent house churches with an existing building or intention to build one," said China Aid founder Bob Fu of the incident. "It also could be a prelude to enforcing the new regulation on religious affairs that will take effect in February."

Although the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, authorities implement strict regulations when it comes to that matter. Churches and pastors must be officially sanctioned by the state and are required to abide with the government's rules. Those that gather without official permission are subjected to arrests and church demolitions.

Meanwhile, in the city of Wenzhou, Christians are fighting back against the government's ban on Sunday School that was implemented last year. Some churches moved the lessons to private homes, while others rescheduled the classes to Saturdays, Reuters reported.

A number of Christians in Wenzhou feel that their faith is more important than their children's grades. One mother told Reuters that Christian lessons were very important because the youth nowadays are more vulnerable than ever to the influence of drugs, pornography, gambling ,violence, video games, and other socially destructive behaviors.