Three-Self churches ordered to change extensively, replacing religious symbols with communist paraphernalia. If the Party is not satisfied, they risk being closed.
by Han Sheng
In recent years, as the CCP brutally cracks down on Christianity in the name of “sinicization” of religion, even state-controlled Three-Self churches have been subjected to unprecedented persecution and control. More and more invasive control measures are being applied on the churches, infiltrating every aspect of their daily lives: Everything – from the content of sermons to the total control over the churches’ money – is controlled by the CCP.
Three-Self churches, which have already been “sinicized,” not only have become a propaganda front for the CCP but must also undergo tests of their loyalty to the Party at irregular intervals.
The cross of Xiguan Three-Self Church has long since disappeared. On the church’s freshly whitewashed exterior wall, the slogan “Support the Communist Party, follow the Party forever” is displayed.
According to a believer who wished to remain anonymous, on the afternoon of June 14, the director of the Religious Affairs Bureau of Henan Province’s Yongcheng city, along with some other government officials, paid an unexpected visit to Xiguan Church. The officials claimed that in a few days, senior officials from Henan and Anhui provinces would be inspecting the church. They demanded the person in charge to repaint the church, replace the national flag with a new one, and renew all the political propaganda posters.
“Make sure to give satisfactory answers to the higher authorities,” the officials said, threatening to shut down the church if any problems were to be found.
Three days later, under the oversight and direction of personnel from the Religious Affairs Bureau, the church was given a “new look.” A brand-new Chinese flag fluttered in the church’s courtyard. An extra-large Party flag was printed on the church’s exterior wall, with the ten Chinese characters for “Support the Communist Party, follow the Party forever” written on two sides of it, just like the oath of admission to the Party, as if the church itself was pledging to be loyal to the CCP.
Some books on traditional Chinese culture were also put on display on the second floor of the church, and a form containing the information of all the congregation members was placed on a newly purchased table.
On the afternoon of June 18, the traffic police blocked off the streets leading to the church, neither people nor vehicles were allowed to pass. Business as usual, when CCP’s higher-ups are visiting in China.
Thirty visiting officials arrived at the church. Upon seeing the freshly painted “sinicized” church, they were delighted and praised the local bureaucrats. Except for one thing. “You did very well, but you should replace the Party flag on the wall with the list of core socialist values,” the visiting leaders ordered. Having the values displayed publicly in churches, the officials claimed, is one of the cornerstones for the “sinicization” of religion.
The “rectified” church didn’t please members of the congregation. “A perfectly good church was redecorated and rearranged just to welcome the inspection by the higher authorities,” a believer commented. “They casually squandered the church’s money, but what could we do? The government controls the church’s money. They can spend it however they want. If we don’t agree, they will shut down our church. For this inspection, 12,000 RMB [about $ 1,700] of the church’s donation money was squandered. In the end, it is always the church that suffers!”
“The CCP is in power now, and the church has to do whatever they say. If you don’t listen to them, they will shut the church down, or even arrest and imprison you,” another believer said helplessly. “The objective of these repeated inspections and ‘rectifications’ is to impose all possible means to eradicate religious belief and to extinguish God from people’s hearts. In China, believing in God is becoming more and more difficult!”
The CCP’ high-handed control over Three-Self churches is resulting in human tragedy and even death. On July 17, Song Yongsheng, president of the local China Christian Council of Henan’s Shangqiu city, committed suicide by jumping from his office building. In his suicide note, he wrote: “I wanted to work with the government, but it was a failure. I want to be the first martyr of this terrible situation”. Song Yongsheng also wrote in the note that churches had been put under the control of the local government, which has caused churches to turn into “four unlikes”: unlike a church, unlike a government agency, unlike an association, and unlike a company. “My heart is practically exhausted,” he wrote. “When the higher-ups come to conduct inspections, I even have to bear responsibility for any problems that arise.”