At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, churches within China’s government-approved network were forced to shut their doors. Now, if they want to reopen, they must first agree to praise President Xi Jinping and extol his communist regime.
According to Bitter Winter, a magazine covering religious liberty issues in China, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhengzhou released a 42-item list of prerequisites for churches seeking to reopen to congregants.
The list includes orders to “intensify patriotic education” and “study China’s religious policies.” Churches are also compelled to promote the so-called “four requirements” campaign that began in 2018 to advance the “sinicization” of religion, in which non-Chinese cultures assimilate to Chinese influence.
Bitter Winter defined the “four requirements” this way: “ritually raising the national flag, often while singing the national anthem; teaching beliefs about, and promoting, the Chinese constitution, laws, and regulations; preaching and promoting the ‘core socialist values’; and promoting ‘China’s excellent traditional culture.’”
“Instead of a normal sermon, the preacher talked about the patriotism of medical workers during the epidemic, and their sacrifice to the state,” a member of a Three-Self (or government-backed) church told Bitter Winter. “These things are important, but political things were discussed for half of the time. Many believers complained afterward.”
Churches, though, that fail to comply with the dozens of government-mandated requirements are not allowed to reopen.
One church in Henan was barred from holding services because communist officials didn’t approve the pastor’s sermon, even though it praised medical workers for their heroism at the height of the epidemic.
From Bitter Winter:
Congregations in the prefecture-level city of Luoyang were exhilarated even for the smallest glimpse of hope to gather again, despite strict provisions. A member of a local Three-Self church told Bitter Winter that she cried from excitement because she “had to stay from the church for six months.”
Despite many preparations, her church was not allowed to reopen because the Religious Affairs Bureau did not approve the preacher’s sermons about the heroes of the epidemic prevention, which he had to hand in ahead of time. When the preacher rewrote the sermons, fulfilling all the requirements, the reopening was still canceled. This time, the authorities claimed that it was because “the epidemic is severe in Beijing.”
The preacher, though, pointed out that a “nearby swimming pool already reopened in May.”
“Why is it so difficult for the church to reopen?” he asked.
One church deacon told the magazine: “None of the 11 places of worship in our area was approved for reopening. We were busy preparing to meet the requirements for reopening, but the government made things difficult for us in every respect.”
In addition to praising China, its one-party rule, and Xi’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic, ministers of government-backed churches have also been mandated to slander the United States. One pastor admitted he “had to preach as the state required” because, if he hadn’t, “the church would not have reopened.”
“The government said that churches must preach about national affairs if they want to reopen,” one church-goer from Sanmenxia said. “With Xi Jinping’s speeches as the main content, it’s better for churches not to reopen.”
Meanwhile, as Faithwire has reported at length, the Chinese government is continuing its assault on Christianity, tearing down crosses from churches and destroying worship centers around the country.
The country’s communist leadership is also committing what some have called genocide against its minority Muslim population, forcing them into concentration camps Xi’s regime has dubbed “re-education camps.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), though, thinks China is “a respectable nation among nations.” You can read more about that here and listen to my conversation about it with Faithwire Managing Editor Dan Andros here.