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Legal defence of crosses tumbles

HONG KONG (SE): While some counsel caution for Churches affected by the government war on crosses in Zhejiang province in China, other communities have been aggressively pro-active in defence of the sacred symbol that adorns the spires and walls of their houses of worship.

The Hong Kong-based Initium Media reported on September 2 that a gathering of around 100 pastors, ministers and Church elders at an undisclosed venue in Wenzhou on August 16, sat in stony silence as they listened to Beijing lawyer, Zhang Kai, outline a plan that came to be known as defence as offence to defend the crosses with legal suits.

A translation prepared with permission of Initium Media’s report by Foreign Policy Blog says that the unusually quiet gathering decided to add Zhang’s suggestions to their already pro-active human walls and other siege-like defence tactics that had been utilised to keep demolition teams away from their buildings.

For some time, seven Churches in Pingyang, including Xianqiao Church and Zengshan Church, had resisted the onslaught of the demolition teams. They mobilised people from surrounding areas to come and protect their crosses day and night.

A pastor from neighbouring Cangnan county related how every day the parish would arrange for people to be bussed to each church and every day there were hundreds of people stationed at each threatened church. This method, however, largely failed.

Zhengshan Church, where local parishioners had been resisting for 100 days, was the last standing and a meeting decided on October 11 last year to concentrate the resources of the whole county on protecting this one last-standing cross.

In what was dubbed God’s United Front, over 1,000 people came every day to mill around the Church property and block all entrances.

Large stones were placed in front of the main gate, the entrance was covered with a black cloth to obscure the view of the church, small structures were built in the entrance way for people to sleep in at night and barbed wire, as well as surveillance cameras topped fences.

Loudspeaker and warning systems became part of the fortifications and some people were trained to physically block any intruder.

But on December 2 the Church received an ultimatum, vacate or face force.

At that point Zhang was consulted. He suggested an array of legal moves that could be employed, which he explained would cost upwards of 60,000 yuan ($73,800). The Church agreed to borrow the money if necessary.

A week later four lawsuits were lodged, one for compensation over damaged stairs, one for switching off the power and water at the church without explanation, one for threatening what had been termed by the government an illegal structure and one demanding public disclosure of information relating to the demolitions.

A week-long dialogue resulted and a tacit understanding reached; withdraw the law suits and the cross will be left alone.

With this triumph, Zhang became famous and by August this year he was representing over 100 Churches.

One Church had invented a game it called whack a mole. People gathered around the church in the middle of the day, heads titled upwards, as two red wooden boards nailed into cruciform shape were raised to the top of the small chapel to replace the one that had been torn down.

They said around one quarter of all crosses removed in the countryside had been replaced in this fashion, some several times.

They sang an old song, seldom heard these days, Near the Cross. It became an anthem, sung at every defensive gathering. 

This Church too signed Zhang as their lawyer and they began to open up their meetings to the media.

In May this year, Zhejiang introduced the five enters five changes policy, demanding religion to localised, management standardised, theology localised, finances transparent and doctrine adapted.

Then on August 24, the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee in Zhejiang issued a draft policy saying that violations of the five enters five changes would be subject to fines or confiscation of property, although exactly what a violation might be was not described.

On August 25 Zhang was arrested. At the August 16 meeting he may have had a sense that the game was nearly up, as he told the gathering, “It is only through completing this test that Wenzhou’s Churches will be able to assume the leadership of the mission of the Church in China and deserve the title of China’s Jerusalem.”

One pastor was later quoted as saying, “Most Churches cannot hold up under this. But such Churches are no longer God’s Churches.”

This has struck a heavy blow for what had become known as defence as offence, and one minister noted with a hint of resignation to fate, “We were surprised, but it was not beyond our expectations. We were angry, but we also feel compassion for the ignorant people who have done this. We are always prepared; what will come will come.”


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