Last week security officials demolished the Jindeng Tai Church building in the coal-mining city of Linfen, Shanxi province. It didn’t take long for the news and shocking pictures of the destruction to make its way into the news worldwide.
Here are some things we know and don’t know about the church and the incident.
What We Know
The name of the church that was demolished is Jindeng Tai (金灯台), which translates “Golden Lampstand.” It is an unregistered church, which means that it is not affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the China Christian Council. Being unregistered means that it has no legal status, even though it claims to have 50,000 members, or followers. It is led by husband/wife pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli, who started the church in 1992.
This is not the first time the church has had a run-in with the authorities. Andrew Kaiser, in his book about the history of Christian missions in China, The Rushing on of the Purposes of God, writes:
In the post-Olympic years, however, state resistance to the increasingly vocal and confident Christian community became more and more common. The September 2009 detention and imprisonment of several pastors at Fushan and Golden Lampstand (Jin Dengtai) churches from the unregistered Linfen Church garnered international attention. The violence of the confrontations, with supposedly hundreds of thugs representing the security forces beating worshipers and destroying property at both sites, was particularly egregious. Nevertheless, the buildings had not received construction approval and the fifty-thousand member church was not legally registered, and so with little or no due process the church leaders received long sentences. (p. 251)
Local authorities claim that demolition is part of a campaign against “illegal buildings,” and that the church never secured the necessary permits to build.
What We Don’t Know
We don’t know what triggered the incident at this time. Campaigns against illegal structures are common in China so it is certainly possible that this church and its building are caught up in that.
It is also possible that, given the tighter religious regulations that are scheduled to go into effect on February 1, officials (illegal structure campaign or not) felt emboldened to go after the church. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both.
While this may not be a popular thing to say, we probably won’t know which of those two contexts and factors is the main driver of this incident. I suspect it is a combination of both.
At ChinaSource we will continue to monitor the situation in China as these new regulations begin to take effect, and pray for our brothers and sisters there who face an increasingly tight environment.
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio