China govt destroys mega-church with dynamite, silences congregants

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According to religious freedom charity China Aid, police demolished Golden Lampstand Church on Tuesday.

The Golden Lampstand Church in the city of Linfen in the northern Shanxi province was destroyed with dynamite and heavy machinery, witnesses and overseas campaign groups said.

ChinaAid, a US-based Christian advocacy group, said local authorities planted explosives in an underground worship hall to demolish the building following, constructed with almost $2.6m (£1.9m) in contributions from local worshippers in one of China's poorest regions.

The charity said this is not the first time the church has faced persecution.

Congregation members were beaten by 400 officials during an incident in September 2009, which resulted in church leaders receiving lengthy prison sentences on nonsense charges such as assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic and illegally occupying agricultural land, according to the statement. The Chinese constitution technically guarantees freedom of religion, but non-state registered religious groups such as Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and evangelical Christians (the latter frequently meeting in "underground" house churches) are a frequent government target.

A pastor of a nearby church said that there were "more police than I could count" preventing worshippers from approaching the site. Some of Golden Lampstand Church's leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church. The state-run Global Times newspaper cited an unidentified local official claiming the church did not hold the necessary permits.

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The Golden Lampstand Church was built by husband and wife evangelists Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli as a permanent home for their followers. Patrol wagons guarded the church.

There are an estimated 60 million Christians in China, many of whom worship in independent congregations like the Golden Lampstand. Workers smashed the church's glass.

The church was surrounded by the authorities beginning Sunday, Jan. 7, with its congregation blocked from entering the building and warned by local police to "stay away". "At this point, excavators are digging into the church, but we are not allowed to enter or watch". Last December, the only Catholic Church in Zhifang, a village near Shaanxi, was destroyed for no apparent reason, 20 years after it opened, according to Asia News.

Founder of China Aid Bob Fu said that he perceived the government strategy behind pulverizing church buildings is to stop people from constructing more churches in China or it might be preliminary for implementing new religious laws next month.

"A Christian offered his farmland to a local Christian association and they secretly built a church using the cover of building a warehouse", a government department official was quoted as saying.