State-Run Church Destroyed for Refusing to Raise National Flag

The government harassed this Three-Self church in Henan Province for nearly a year because its pastor opposed religion “sinicization” requirements.

by Han Sheng

On December 6, 2019, deafening sounds of falling debris and heavy dust filled the air in the area of Henan Province’s Yuanyang county, where excavators and bulldozers were demolishing a large building that occupied 2.3 acres (about 9,333 square meters) of land. The building was a government-approved Three-Self church, built in 2007.

The Three-Self church in Yuanyang county was razed to the ground.

That day, all roads leading to the church were cordoned off, more than 300 officers, including the special and anti-riot police, as well as urban management personnel, guarded the area, prohibiting people from approaching. Specially-assigned plainclothes officers closely monitored nearby shops and residential buildings, preventing anyone from recording the demolition. By 4 p.m., as government officials started leaving the area, only parts of the church’s perimeter walls remained standing.

Armed police and urban management officers guard the church.

Congregation members posted appeals on social media, hoping to attract attention to the persecution their church was facing from the government and calling fellow believers to pray for them. According to the information in one of the messages, the church was built at the cost of 30 million RMB (about $ 4,344,500) donated by believers and had all required land use, planning, and activity permits. The post also mentions that the Yuanyang county government has sold the church land to a developer.

A video message posted by a believer about the persecuted church:

Article 50 of the new Regulations on Religious Affairs, enforced in 2018, stipulates that religious activity sites’ lawful use of land and ownership or use of buildings, structures, and facilities are protected by law, and their legitimate assets must not be plundered or damaged by any organization or individual. Why then this government-approved church, which had all legally-required permits, was not protected by the law and demolished instead?

Congregation members told Bitter Winter that the government started persecuting their church at the beginning of 2019, when Pastor Li, who was in charge of the place of worship, refused to remove the cross and raise the national flag in the church. The latter is one of the so-called “four requirements” imposed on certified places of worship as part of the religion “sinicization” campaign.

“On February 21, 2019, the police detained Pastor Li, accusing him of ‘interfering with public function and disobeying the government,’” one of the believers explained.

In July, the local government closed down the church, prohibiting believers from gathering, and on November 15, it took over its management entirely. On November 21, the county’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau issued an administrative decision to revoke the church’s registration certificate, stating that “the long-term chaotic financial management amounted to an especially serious illegal act.”

The church’s religious activity venue registration certificate.(screenshot of a WeChat video)

“This is an official order, and you must accept it,” congregation members were told when they pleaded with the Bureau to reconsider the decision to revoke the certificate. Officials explained that these measures had been implemented because Pastor Li refused to obey government orders.

Two weeks after the certificate was revoked, the county government took possession of all the items in the church and ordered to demolish it.

The Three-Self church in Yuanyang county before and after it was demolished.

“The church was built with believers’ money, and it was legal. Why did the government demolish it?” a resident, who is not religious, was angered by the destruction. “I’ll post the photos I took online to show how evil the government is.”

“The government destroyed the church to make us stop practicing our faith,” a congregation member told Bitter Winter. “They can demolish places of worship, but they can’t wipe out God from our hearts.”

Source: Bitter Winter