The Chinese government continues its attempts to snuff out Christianity within the country, most recently toppling crosses at two churches in the coastal province of Zhejiang.
On Monday, Chinese police the city of Wenzhou used a crane and blowtorch take down the red, 10-foot crucifix that had adorned the Longgang Township Gratitude Church. However, instead of resisting, this time parishioners simply watched the demolition in sadness.
"We didn't want to get in a fight with them, but obviously what they did was illegal," said the Rev. Qu Linuo, a pastor from a nearby church, who was among the group of Christians who held an overnight vigil before the police arrived.
According to one congregant who preferred to remain anonymous,Chinese Christians have decided to fight for their faith using a weapon stronger than physical force--prayer.
"We are simply not strong enough to physically oppose the government, and too many of our brothers and sisters have been injured or imprisoned," he stated. "Our weapon must now be prayer."
Last Monday, hundreds of members of Wenling Church in the city of Taizhou resisted over 4,000 police officers who attempted to remove two crosses from atop their building. However, the congregant's attempts failed, and as many as 40 people were detained during the standoff and several injured.
One congregant, Lemon Huang, said the show of force was overwhelming and unnecessary. "Some wore police uniforms, with helmets and shields, some were plainclothes police and some wore red armbands - just like the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution," Ms. Huang told Reuters.
Earlier this month, police attempted to remove a cross from a church in Pingyang county close to Wenzhou city. However, the congregation surrounded the church and prevented police from getting close, two witnesses said.
"We did not want them to get close, so we joined up to stop them getting in, but they came at us and beat us," one of the protesters, who gave his family name as Zhang, told Reuters by telephone, putting the number of police at about 500.
Another witness, who asked not to be identified, said the conflicts had started at 2 a.m. and went on for two hours. She mentioned at least five people who needed hospital treatment.
"We are Christians and are not looking for trouble, and if the government comes to us with reasonable requests, we will not oppose it. But using force on us at 2 a.m. is unacceptable and we cannot understand why they are doing it," she added.
Authorities in Zhejiang Province have issued demolition notices to more than 100 churches since early Spring, saying their structures violated zoning regulations.
While church steeples and their crosses have been targeted, authorities took the demolitions a step further in April, tearing down the Sanjiang Church, a highly visible landmark in Wenzhou, saying the entire structure violated building codes.
Many believe the government's recent actions are indicative of the Chinese leadership's displeasure at the growing number of Christians within the country. According to analysts, their numbers rival the 86 million members of the Communist Party.
"The number of Christians has grown to such an extent that there are now more Christians in China than party members and that scares them," said one evangelical minister from Wenzhou, who asked to be referred to as pastor "Joy."
"But Christians still have a negative image in China where there is a history of persecution. All that has played a part."