The Chinese government has a historical tendency to try and manage all religious activities. Officially, the Communist Party permits Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Religious groups are supposed to be affiliated with a government-approved umbrella organization, but millions of Chinese have joined unsanctioned religious groups instead, a development that makes Chinese authorities nervous because many uprisings have sprung from quasi-Christian sects in the past.
This is not the first campaign targeted at religious groups. In May, another government campaign ostensibly aimed at demolishing illegally built churches spilled over to target legally registered churches in southern Zhejiang province. An anonymous worshipper at Xiaying Holy Love church in Ningbo told The Telegraph that a provincial official ordered the removal of a cross on top of the church because it “was too shiny, too tall and too big.” When the congregation refused, the officials told them the whole church would be torn down.
The country’s religious leaders and human rights advocates are worried that the campaigns targeting religious groups will affect doctrinally mainstream religious groups that are unsanctioned by the Communist Party. Wu Chi-wai, general secretary of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, said that doctrinally mainstream but unsanctioned house churches in Wenzhou have already experienced the effects of the crackdown as the government demolished religious buildings.
Wu also points out that the recent events resulted in “tighter control on religious politics” and the government’s fear for “the West’s use of religion to infiltrate into the politics of China means churches have been victimized.”
ABC News' Gloria Riviera contributed to this report