China vs. the cross

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Communist authorities are attempting to remove the cross from China. But Chinese Christians are responding in dramatic ways.

The cross is, of course, the universal symbol of Christianity, and it speaks powerfully to God’s justice, mercy, power, and love. The late John Stott once said, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.  The only God I believe in,” he said, “is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

How indeed?

The cross has undeniable power to draw us to the Savior. In China, by some estimates, more than 130 million people have embraced the cross and become Christians. Journalist David Aikman, in his book “Jesus in Beijing,” predicts that as many as one-third of China’s population may become Christian within the next 30 years.

Perhaps that’s why the cross is under attack in eastern China right now. For the last two years, the government in the province of Zhejiang has torn down or otherwise destroyed at least 1,200 giant red crosses from church buildings. The city of Wenzhou is at the epicenter of the action. Wenzhou is known as “China’s Jerusalem” and it’s no exaggeration. The city is home to a million Protestants and more than 300,000 Catholics. And so the visibility of the city’s nearly ubiquitous crosses, no doubt, has been a huge embarrassment to Communist Party rulers.

So it’s no surprise that they’re attempting to remove them. According to The Guardian, “Towering red church crosses—visible for miles around—once dotted the city’s skyline but many of the most prominent [have] been forcibly removed since the campaign began. In some cases, entire churches have been reduced to rubble.”

One anonymous church leader told the British newspaper that authorities were attempting to transform Christianity “into a tool that serves the [Communist] Party,” adding, “What they are doing feels like something from the Cultural Revolution era.”

But Christians in China aren’t taking it lying down. Many are writing letters of protest; some have begun engaging in civil disobedience. Christianity Today reports that members of one church where the cross was removed staged a sit-in, holding banners with the words “lift up the cross” and “protect religious freedom.” Last month, 20 priests protested outside government offices, unfurling a banner that said, “Maintaining religious dignity and opposing the forced removal of crosses.”

Others are noticing, too.

Mervyn Thomas of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said, “The ongoing campaign to forcibly remove crosses and demolish churches in Zhejiang has had a profoundly negative effect on Catholic and Protestant churches in the province . . . Many church leaders,” he continues, “have patiently and repeatedly tried to negotiate and enter into dialogue with the local authorities; the protests and petitions … are a sign that their concerns have not been addressed.”

That’s not all. Christianity Today also reports: “Now Chinese Protestants and Catholics are joining together to put red crosses—albeit much smaller ones—back in the public eye. … In an online campaign, church leaders in … Zhejiang have called on Christians to craft hundreds of small wooden crosses, paint them red, and display them at home or on their cars.” One church leader told The Guardian, “Each time they take a cross down, we will put more up. We are even considering making flags and clothes with cross patterns. We will make the cross flourish throughout China.”

But doing this is risky. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that more than 100 people were detained or arrested in connection with cross removals last year, and another 38 were beaten or injured during protests. When Chinese Christians say they’re going to take up their crosses, they really mean it.

So what about us? The Bible tells us that when one member of Christ’s body suffers, we all do. We can stand with our brave brothers and sisters in China by praying, and urging our elected leaders to make an issue of religious freedom in all of their dealings with China. Chinese Christians are willing to take a stand for the cross. The question is, are we?

John Stonestreet

 

— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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