China's government is ratcheting up a crackdown on Christian congregations, destroying crosses, burning Bibles, shutting churches, and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith, according to pastors and a group that monitors religion in China. The campaign corresponds with a drive to "Sinicize" religion by demanding loyalty to the atheist Communist Party. Bob Fu of the US-based group China Aid said that the recent closure of churches in Henan province and a prominent house church in Beijing is a "significant escalation" and that the "international community should be alarmed and outraged for this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief." Under President Xi Jinping, believers are seeing freedoms shrink dramatically even amid a religious revival. Activists say Xi is waging the most severe suppression of Christianity since religious freedom was written into the constitution in 1982.
Fu also provided video of piles of burning Bibles and forms stating that the signatories had renounced their Christian faith. He said that marked the first time since Mao's radical 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution that Christians had been compelled to make such declarations, under pain of expulsion from school and loss of welfare benefits. Chinese law requires believers to worship only in congregations registered with the authorities, but many millions belong to so-called underground or house churches. In Beijing, the Zion church was shut on Sunday by around 60 government workers, said Ezra Jin Mingri, the church's pastor. Zion is known as the largest house church in Beijing, with six branches. The officials declared the gatherings illegal and sealed off church properties, Jin said. "Churches will continue to develop. Blocking the sites will only intensify conflicts," Jin told the AP.