CCP is invading Three-Self churches: propaganda introduced into sermons, communist symbols replace crosses; even architectural style of buildings is changed.
by Li Guang
Under the CCP’s crackdown campaign on religions, the most intense since the Cultural Revolution, even state-controlled Three-Self churches are suffering: thousands of crosses demolished, numerous churches destroyed. The churches that were spared are being forced to undergo “sinicization,” essentially turning them into patriotic education bases.
Politicized and secularized sermons
For a while, the preacher at the government-controlled Xinzhuang Church in Jinshui district of Zhengzhou city, in the central province of Henan, has been integrating a 10-minute discourse on traditional Chinese culture into each of his sermons, as required by the Religious Affairs Bureau.
This did not seem to be enough to satisfy the authorities: On May 13, the director of Jinshui district’s Religious Affairs Bureau ordered the preacher to add presentations about all main Chinese traditional festivals, such as Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. Besides, he is also required to talk on traditional culture when explaining the Bible, and each talk cannot be limited to only 10 minutes. He must also deliver sermons on the topic of patriotism.
Demands to replace the words of God with CCP ideology in Three-Self churches are spreading across the country. On May 25, the United Front Work Department and Two Chinese Christian Councils in Dandong, a city in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning, bordering North Korea, held a contest for preachers on the topic of “guiding religion to adapt to socialism and patriotism.”
According to a local preacher, the contest’s scoring criteria were based on factors such as the promotion of the core socialist values and the incorporation into sermons of traditional Chinese culture – the more the speech was in line with the socialist ideology and the more sinicized it was, the higher the score received.
“Such sermons are not given following the Bible but are adulterated with human desires. The Party’s ideology and traditional culture are intruding into the church, to make us slowly deviate from our faith,” commented the preacher.
Propaganda slogans replace religious symbols
The changes of symbols also reinforce the “sinicization” of Protestant churches. On April 30, China’s national flag was hung on top of the cross behind the podium in Xinzhuang Church, the Chinese characters for “Immanuel” were replaced with “Love your country, love your religion,” and the Chinese character for “love,” which had been posted in various parts of the church, were taken down.
The church walls are now festooned with propaganda posters on Chinese literature, traditional virtues, and patriotic education. The slogan “Love your country, love your religion, and obey the Party’s command” was added to the church’s design.
The architecture of churches de-Westernized
The Christian Association and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association of Hualong district in Henan’s Puyang city seem to have been exceptionally proactive in implementing the “sinicization” policy. They launched a joint initiative to carry out a “Four Unifications” activity: i.e., uniform clothing and apparel, unified sermon content, unified religious visuals (such as posters and prints), and a unified architectural style.
To unify the content of sermons, the clergy are required to reinterpret religious doctrines and canons to the norms of “sinicization” and following traditional Chinese culture, promoting a unified model text to explain the Bible.
As for the creation of the “unified architectural style,” the initiative seeks to decrease the amounts of religious symbols in places of worship. Congregation members should be exposed to more Chinese culture, officials believe. Therefore, colored paintings of traditional-style Chinese gardens as well as elements of Chinese architecture, such as traditional ancient windows and dougong – interlocking wooden brackets, one of the most important elements in traditional Chinese architecture – should be added to the style of churches to deepen the Chinese feel of believers.
In April, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Yiyang county in Henan’s Luoyang city, ordered to remove all European-style architectural elements from Christian churches, replacing them with Chinese-style ones.
On April 19, the director of the county’s Religious Affairs Bureau visited a Three-Self church in Liuquan town, under the jurisdiction of Luoyang, and threatened to close down the place of worship if it were not properly “rectified.” Four days later, village officials brought six workers to forcibly demolish the cross and elements of European-style architecture, replacing 18 European-style windows inside the church with Chinese-style windows.
Around the same time, a Three-Self church in the county’s Jinping town was also forcibly given a “facelift.” The European-style steeple on the roof was dismantled, a five-pointed star – one of the symbols of communism – was hung in the center, and the Chinese characters for “Chinese virtues” and “respect the old, cherish the young” were posted on either side. A sign reading “Elderly Care Service Center” was hung at the entrance.
“Now, not only have crosses and European-style steeples been removed from Christian churches but even Buddhist and Taoist temples – religions advocated by the state – have been torn down in the same way,” lamented a local preacher. “Plainclothes officers from the State Office of Stability Maintenance have visited each village for unannounced inspections. The government has sent specially-appointed persons to inspect the work of this campaign to transform churches and then report their findings to the county’s Religious Affairs Bureau. The current situation is even more dreadful than it was during the Cultural Revolution.”
Similar purges of Western-style architecture in churches were carried out in Luoyang city already earlier in the year.