Some state-run churches were allowed to reopen in China after a 5-month lockdown. But only after proving their loyalty to the Communist Party.
(Bitterwinter) The Lishiting Catholic Church in the Shunhe district of Kaifeng, a prefecture-level city in the central province of Henan, reopened on June 14, after staying closed for five months. “We solemnly raise the national flag here today after the epidemic, witnessing the fruits of all people working together under the leadership of Xi Jinping who directs the government and the Party,” a priest told a gathering of about 20 people, supervised by government officials.
The Gangxi Christian Church in the district was also reopened at 8 o’clock that same morning. “The church finally reopened after five months, 147 days, or 21 Sundays, but instead of singing hymns to praise God, the government required us to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem, praising Xi Jinping’s ‘victory in fighting the epidemic,’” a congregation member commented. “This is completely contrary to our belief.”
Some state-run places of worship were allowed to reopen in June, long after other public venues in China returned to normal after coronavirus restrictions have been lifted. But only those who commit to endorsing patriotism are permitted to open their doors to congregations.
The Two Chinese Christian Councils in Henan, Zhejiang, and other provinces demanded that on the relaunch day, churches must promote patriotism, raise the national flag, sing the country’s anthem, and tell believers “moving stories about China’s battle with the pandemic.”
At 7 a.m. on June 13, over 20 clergy members of the Quannan Church, the largest Christian church in Quanzhou city in the southeastern province of Fujian, held a flag-raising ceremony in its courtyard. An eye-catching slogan promoting the core socialist values was posted on the wall behind the flagpole. (see top photo, Quannan Christian Church)
That day, under the supervision of officials from the city’s United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau, the church pastor praised President Xi Jinping’s achievements in fighting the epidemic.
“We should love the socialist system and the Communist Party,” he said, going on to promote the “superiority of the socialist system” and criticizing the United States for its efforts battling the pandemic.
“The United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau demand to hold flag-raising ceremonies and promote patriotism,” a church member commented. “From now on, all churches have to do so, or they will be shut down, and their leaders dismissed.”
A preacher from Henan’s Zhumadian city told Bitter Winter that before his church reopened, he had to attend a conference organized by the local Two Chinese Christian Councils. Participants had to study Xi Jinping’s major speeches on preventing and controlling the coronavirus outbreak and listen to “heroic stories of fighting the epidemic.”
“The government demands to promote these things to congregations after churches reopen,” the preacher explained. “These texts are published in a booklet, over 100 pages long. Preachers must mainly talk about the state’s policies. Those who disobey will be arrested.”
A pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church thinks that the requirement to raise the national flag and promote patriotism on the day churches reopen is aimed at “disturbing the minds of believers to transform their ideologies and change the essence of their beliefs.” He is concerned that the CCP will further intensify its control over people of faith through patriotic education and indoctrination.
“Its ultimate goal is to make all people believe in communism only, to ‘sinicize’ Christianity,” the pastor added, calling on believers to “stand guard against the CCP’s vicious intentions, not to become prisoners of communism.”
“Three-Self churches should follow the path of house churches and hold meetings in secret, to avoid being controlled by the CCP and save their pure faith,” the pastor concluded.
VOP NOTE: In a repeat of history, the Chinese government has been implementing tactics to remove not only Christianity but all religion from society. Pressure is being put on Chinese citizens to pledge allegiance and have faith solely in President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China.
Threatening and intimidating Muslims, the CCP implemented forced rectifications of mosques in Hui-populated areas in Henan, Hebei, and Ningxia. According to an imam from Shangqiu city, five mosques were forcibly rectified in the city’s Minquan county in April, following the central government’s orders to “sinicize” over 1,000 mosques across the province. Mosques in Bodang township’s Zhaizhuang village and Huji township’s Zhangzhuang village were among the targeted places of worship. The imam added that officials threatened to arrest anyone who dared to protest or oppose the state’s policies.
“The state won’t allow temples to spring up all over the country,” a government employee from the southeastern province of Jiangxi told Bitter Winter. “Religion is certainly restricted in China. People can believe in nothing other than the Communist Party, which will resolutely crack down on anything not supported by it.”
The Chinese government is expanding the scope of crackdowns on religions by stifling businesses that produce religious items.
Quyang county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Baoding in the northern province of Hebei, is renowned across China for stone carving crafts. During the reign of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), Emperor Wu (157 BC-87 BC) named the area the “carving town.” Religious statues made in the county are sold all over China and also in Taiwan, but amid the CCP’s campaigns against people of faith, even those who make religion-related items are not spared.
(Bitter Winter) By Even though China’s economy has been severely affected by the coronavirus, and many residents suffer financial difficulties, the CCP threatens to take away the last means of survival from elderly believers—government-issued subsidies. To keep them, they must stop believing in God.
A Catholic from Fuzhou city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi has been receiving monthly 250 RMB (about $ 35) from the government since 2018, the year her husband died. At the end of 2019, local government officials threatened the woman, in her 60s, that the subsidy would be withdrawn unless she removes images of Jesus from her home. “Because the Communist Party feeds you,” they told the woman, “you must only believe in it, not God.” Two months later, the pension was canceled because she refused to remove the symbols.
“It has become difficult to maintain belief in God because of religious persecution,” the woman told Bitter Winter helplessly.
On April 30, community officials in Fuzhou forced to cover up a cross image in the home of an 80-plus-year-old Christian, threatening to scrap her subsistence allowance otherwise.
In late April, the Fuzhou city government intensified religious investigations through “return” inspections—visits to the places that have previously been stifled to make sure that people don’t resume practicing their faith. During one of them, Civil Affairs Bureau officials threatened a Sola Fide believer in a nursing home, who has been paralyzed for eight years, to drive him out of the residence if he continued his belief. His “five-guarantees”—government aid in the form of housing, food, clothing, medical care, and funeral expenses to people who cannot work and have no income—would also be revoked. Officials tore down images of Jesus in his room already last autumn.
“The officials said that I am supposed to believe in the Communist Party since it feeds me, or else all my social benefits would be canceled,” the believer said. “I won’t give up my faith no matter how the government pursues me. If it cancels my benefits, I will meet God earlier.”
On January 19, officials from Jiangxi’s Yingtan city deprived a local Christian of her government aid for hosting religious meetings at home, even though the woman was immobile from an illness. In March, officials from the city’s Yujiang district destroyed religious calendars in the homes of two believers who receive government benefits.
On January 23, Taian city officials in the eastern province of Shandong harassed a Catholic, in her 70s, because of religious symbols in her home. The woman told Bitter Winter that they told her to replace the tokens with portraits of Xi Jinping or Mao Zedong since “she lives on the Communist Party’s welfare,” which might be canceled if she didn’t listen to them.
“By forcing me to remove the portrait of the Lord Jesus, the government tried to stop my belief in God, but they cannot take away my belief from my heart,” she said.
In late April, officials from Heze city’s Cao county in Shandong destroyed crosses and other religious symbols in the homes of several elderly believers who were also receiving poverty alleviation subsidies. A local churchgoer said that these state representatives claimed that no poverty alleviation resources should be given to the people who have religious symbols at home; they must believe in the Communist Party to enjoy aid from the state.
In April, officials from Kaifeng city’s Lankao county in the central province of Henan removed a religious calendar and couplets with cross images from the home of a poor Christian and scratched her poverty alleviation aid. They also ordered her to renovate the house and install a toilet ahead of an inspection by higher-ups. The demand was against poverty alleviation regulations, which stipulate that the state should cover such expenses.
“What should I do without my income? How can I reason with them? It’s just like the Cultural Revolution,” the distraught believer lamented.
(Bitter Winter) By – Venues of the old Local Church (Laodifangjiaohui, 老地方教會)—unregistered Christian congregations that follow the teachings of the Chinese minister Watchman Nee (1903-1972)— were among many other victims of China’s religious persecution in the past few months. More than 40 churches were suppressed in four cities of the southeastern province of Jiangxi: Shangrao, Jingde, Yichun, and Fuzhou. Some were demolished, while others closed or repurposed by the government.
At least 28 venues were stifled in Shangrao city’s Guangfeng and Guangxin districts and Yugan county. A local government employee revealed to Bitter Winter that the CCP is fighting Christianity for “ideological territory and people’s hearts” in rural areas and wants to limit its development. To achieve this goal, the municipal government requires localities under its jurisdiction to strengthen atheist propaganda, demolish unregistered places of worship, and intensively “sinicize” the state-run venues.
On April 27, as local government officials oversaw the demolition of an old Local Church venue in the Guangxin district, they warned its congregation that “believing in Jesus is believing in a foreign god.” And “since the coronavirus was brought to China from abroad, believing in Jesus means going against the Party.”
“If believers protested against the demolition, they would be labeled as reactionary elements,” a local believer said helplessly. “The Communist Party is so unreasonable!”
On the morning of May 22, an old Local Church in Guangfeng district’s Hengshan town was cleared out on orders from the local government. Its chairs and tables were confiscated. [Without warning,] officials brought in a crane to remove the church’s cross.
In late April, another old Local Church meeting venue in the district’s Shatian town had its cross, the Ten Commandments, and other religious symbols removed. “The government is like a stone, and we are like an egg—we cannot defeat them!” a church preacher told Bitter Winter.
Since quarantine measures were relaxed, authorities throughout Jiangxi intensified crackdowns on Christian churches, even those administered by the state. In the past few months, crosses were removed from at least 26 Three-Self churches in Duchang, a county in Jiujiang city. From April 18 to 30, 48 Three-Self venues were shut down in Shangrao’s Yugan county.
On May 12, an old Local Church venue in Yugan county was repurposed for an activity center for the elderly. A congregation member recalled that the government arranged people to climb over the church’s courtyard wall to remove its cross. They later used shovels to take off the venue’s signboard.
A local official revealed to Bitter Winter that the government is eliminating unregistered churches now, and state-approved Three-Self churches will soon be targeted for elimination too.
On May 17, seven police officers and village officials raided an old Local Church venue in Taqian, a town in Leping city. They tore down Biblical verses and religious symbols from the walls and burned them, as well as smashed the church’s donation box.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that the local government pressured the church to register with the state, or the congregation would not be allowed to hold gatherings. They could even be arrested, or the venue could be destroyed. “We won’t register,” the believer explained. “If we surrender, we’ll be controlled by the government, forced to raise the national flag, and sing the national anthem. It means believing in the Communist Party, not God. But gatherings can’t be organized unless we register. By doing so, the government aims to eliminate our faith.”
Stephen Tong, a reformed Chinese pastor based out of Indonesia, has influenced the Chinese house church perhaps more than any other pastor in this generation. In the video below, he shares at the KL2020 conference in Kuala Lumpur some of his thoughts about Pastor Wang Yi. To prevent him from boldly sharing the Gospel, Yi was given a 9 year prison sentence by the government. Please continue to pray for this pastor and our Chinese brothers and sisters being persecuted for their faith in Christ.
Holding religious meetings at home is against the new Regulations on Religious Affairs.
(Bitterwinter) Throughout 2019, authorities in the southeastern province of Jiangxi forcibly demolished numerous house churches, looted their property, and arrested clergy members under the pretext of the nationwide campaign to “clean up gang crime and eliminate evil.” Bitter Winter continues to receive more reports about such CCP-organized suppression attacks to force house churches into joining the Three-Self Church.
Ever since the central government’s religious work inspection team arrived in Jiangxi’s Fuzhou city in November 2019, clampdowns on house churches noticeably increased.
On January 5, local government officials came to a house church venue in Fuzhou’s Nancheng county to close it down. They took photos of the believers who were present at the time and registered their personal information. The church’s preacher was accused of holding religious meetings at home, which is against the new Regulations on Religious Affairs, the officials said. Afterward, police officers escorted the preacher to the county’s Public Security Bureau for questioning; he was detained for five days for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
A source who talked to the preacher after he was released told Bitter Winter that during detention, officers were saying that the state is cracking down on Christianity because it worries about the rapid increase in the number of believers who might unite with foreigners against the CCP.
On December 28, a Sola Fide venue in Fuzhou’s Lean county was celebrating Christmas when several police officers stormed in and drove away all congregation members, threatening to arrest and imprison them if they gathered again. Police officers confiscated Bibles, hymnbooks, audio equipment, and other valuables, and also removed Christmas decorations. Two church directors were escorted to the local police station for questioning, where they were forced to write statements promising not to hold private meetings anymore.
A month before that, another Sola Fide venue in the county had its religious symbols destroyed, and the gate sealed off, preventing anyone from getting inside.
Between December and January, at least three house church venues in Fuzhou’s Lichuan county were closed down.
In mid-December, the Shangrao city’s government ordered to close a house church venue, which had 20 congregation members. Officials threatened the believers that their children’s future would be affected if they didn’t stop assembling. The church director was detained for 15 days for “holding illegal meetings.”
On January 10, the local government cleared out and shut down a house church venue in Dexing city. Officials threatened to demolish the venue if its director held meetings there again.
On December 11, local government officials broke into a house church venue in Jiujiang city’s Xiushui county and took down and burned the cross and other religious symbols. The same day, four other venues in the county were subjected to similar crackdowns. The host of one of them was taken to the police station for questioning and was later forced to sign a statement pledging never to host religious gatherings at home.
In December, over ten government officials raided a house church venue in the Nankang district of Ganzhou city after a community committee official reported it. The police arrested and questioned the preacher for “holding illegal meetings” and summoned the venue’s landlord, ordered him to clear out the church.
Dear Prayer Warriors, 800,00 Syrians have fled in three months. Christians have been abducted and attacked in the largest Bangladesh refugee camp. Gunmen killed a pastor and 23 others in an attack near a church in Burkina Faso. We will continue to lift up our dear precious Leah Sharibu and Alice, who are continuing to suffer as captives of the Islamic Boko Haram group in Nigeria. Also for Pastor Wang Yi from China, who has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for boldly sharing the love of God.
In the midst of it all, where there seems to be no way, we know our hope is in the Lord. We do not despair for we do not worship the creation but the Creator, the Lord of all, the King of all kings.
* Jesus prayer for God to be glorified (John 17:1-5)
* Jesus prays for His disciples (John 17:6-19)
* Jesus prays for all believers (John 17:20-26)
* “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)
* “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34)
* “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46)
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matthew 11:25-26 ESV)
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42
Jesus’ prayer after entering Jerusalem
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)
Tonight on Persecution Watch, we will pray in the Spirit to our Abba Father! Lord willing, we are look forward to praying with you on the prayer conference call.
In Christ love,
Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Leader
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What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own. With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.
On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.
Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!
NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers. Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. Since the passing of Brother Blaine Scogin, we thank you for your patience as we have transitioned into this new season. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.
Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today and join the team!
Rules and regulations prohibiting religious funerary rituals are being adopted across China, as the government promotes “civilized secular” traditions.
by Li Guang
(Bitter Winter) Expanding the measures to suppress people of faith, authorities throughout China are enforcing policies that prohibit religious customs and rituals to be used during funerals. Xinjiang Muslims have been banned from commemorating the dead according to their faith, and Christians ordered to stay away from religion during burials. More reports from across China on the implementation of these oppressive rules.
Only “civilized” funerals allowed
The Regulations on Centralized Funeral Arrangement, adopted by the government of Wenzhou city’s Pingyang county in the eastern province of Zhejiang, came into effect on December 1, 2019. The new rules aim to “get rid of bad funeral customs and establish a scientific, civilized, and economical way of funerals.” One of the regulations states that “clerical personnel are not allowed to participate in funerals,” and only “no more than ten family members of the deceased are allowed to read scriptures or sing hymns in a low voice.”
Similar policies are being adopted elsewhere in the country. A village official from the central province of Henan who requested anonymity told Bitter Winter that the local government convened a meeting for religious work assistants in April, informing them that all religious funerals are restricted. Soon after, the Management Measures for Village (or Community) and Township (or Town) Religious Work Assistants were issued. The document stipulates that clerical personnel should be “timely stopped from using religion to intervene in citizens’ weddings and funerals or other activities in their lives.”
Christians denied dying wishes
When a member of the state-run Three-Self Church from Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei, died in October, her family arranged a Christian funeral. While the family and friends were saying goodbye to the deceased, the police stormed in and arrested her daughter, who was praying for her mother at the time. As it turned out, somebody has reported the family to the authorities. The daughter was only released after the deceased was buried without Christian rituals two days later.
“When my father died, village officials threatened to arrest us if we didn’t conduct a secular funeral. We did not dare to go against them,” a villager from Gucheng town in Henan’s county-level city of Yuzhou said with anger. “My father had been a believer for several decades. He is persecuted even after death.”
The funeral of a well-known preacher from Wen county in Henan’s Jiaozuo city, who passed away on June 27, was stopped after government officials and six policemen came to the venue and accused the gathered people of spreading “religious propaganda.”
In November 2018, in Suiping county under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Zhumadian city, a Christian in his nineties passed away. A believer for more than 40 years, the man’s dying wish was to have a Christian funeral. Only ten minutes into the proceedings, a few government officials stormed in and harshly rebuked the family for having “a religious gathering disguised as a funeral.” No religious activities outside the church were allowed, the officials claimed. If the family wanted to sing spiritual songs, “they should go to the church and sing the national anthem instead.”
No to church choirs, and no religious symbols
In 2018, the government of a locality in Henan issued the Negative List of Persons in Charge and Clerical Personnel of Religious Activity Venue Management Committees, which stipulates that visiting groups, choirs, orchestras, and other groups are prohibited from privately holding religious activities outside places of worship. The government often uses such requirements as an excuse to intrude or disperse Christian weddings and funerals.
“The government prohibits religious funerals, and doesn’t allow church choirs or orchestras to perform during them,” said an elder of a Three-self church in Henan’s Shangqiu city. “Pastors can only sneak into believers’ homes for a hurried prayer. The situation is quite adverse, and some believers don’t even dare to accompany the deceased to the graveyard.”
In April last year, government officials commanded to stop a Christian funeral procession in Fangcheng county in Henan’s Nanyang city. They ordered the church choir and believers to leave immediately and hide the cross and other religious symbols, or else, they would be arrested. All except for the family of the deceased left, and all symbols of crosses were removed from wreaths.
In June, at a funeral in Song county under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Luoyang city, a village official demanded to remove the cross symbol from the cloth covering the coffin.
“Officials said that state laws prohibit religious funerals. We even didn’t set up a cross on the tomb,” said a Three-self church believer who arranged a funeral for her husband in Henan’s Luohe city.