Govt efforts key to desensitizing religious management

By Zhang Yi Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-10 0:03:01

Thousands of Christians gathered last week outside the newly built Sanjiang Church in Yongjia county near the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province after it was ruled an illegal construction by the county government and ordered demolished days ago. Now the local government and the church have reportedly reached an agreement that only the illegal part of the church will be demolished.

The order to demolish Sanjiang Church, as many Christians believed, came from a provincial official who thought the cross atop the church too ostentatious. But local authorities denied the accusation. The speculation fueled social media and triggered a furious reaction in Wenzhou which is known for its vibrant Christian community.

It is reported that local Christians admitted Sanjiang Church occupies more than 10,000 square meters while it only has approval for about 2,000. Such a bypassing of regulations is commonplace in Zhejiang Province as the religious environment has been relatively relaxed in recent years.

Therefore, churches across Zhejiang have been asked to undergo a process of rectification and improvement.

Many foreign media picked up on the fury to underline the long-standing sensitivity between Chinese authorities and the country's rapidly growing Christian congregation and interpreted the demolition as a crackdown on freedom of religion.

The issue of demolition is a frequent source of friction between local government and the public. Many areas have experienced uproar triggered by local governments' forced demolition. It involves a complicated entanglement of interests when a valid interest distribution mechanism is absent.

This is especially the case when religion is involved in this process. Chinese authorities are often portrayed as having tight control over religious affairs. Christians can easily take authorities' moves as intrusion into their freedom of religion and initiate a backlash.

There have been individual cases of friction between China's local governments and religious activities, but they are not the whole picture of freedom of religion in China. To better manage religious activities according to law is the general trend.

Removing illegal construction of churches reflects a conundrum of social governance. Frictions could be unavoidable when religions are developing fast while social governance is not yet mature.

Local governments must approach sensitive issues such as those involving religion and ethnic groups in a more open and legitimate manner.

They should respect the customs of particular groups and take their concerns into consideration.

Authorities should also play their role in guiding social groups to raise their awareness and self-regulating ability under the framework of the law.

Posted in: Observer

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