To accelerate the “sinicization” of religion, China’s regime compels preachers to indoctrinate congregations and turns places of worship into propaganda centers.
by Zhou Xiaolu
Disqualified for “disobeying”
In early November, the president of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Jianli county in Jingzhou city in the central province of Hubei announced at a conference that 12 local preachers had been banned from preaching for “giving sermons against government regulations.” Meaning, they didn’t follow the Religious Affairs Bureau’s requirements.
A preacher in the area explained that, as demanded by the Bureau, the Three-Self Church clergy members must preach about the core socialist values and Chinese traditional culture, which are two of the “four requirements” to “sinicize” religion, issued by the CCP in 2018. Ever since then, clerics across China have been subjected to mandatory indoctrination and training.
Later in the month, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Dancheng county, administered by Zhoukou city in the central province of Henan, organized a 5-day training for more than 200 local preachers about integrating Chinese traditional culture into sermons.
According to an official in charge of the training, the CCP seeks to control the spread of religion because the increasing number of believers threatens its regime. The state tries every means possible, the source added, to make all believers accept the Party’s leadership and mobilize around the Central Committee with President Xi Jinping at the core.
A Three-Self church in Henan’s Sanmenxia city planned an internal training for its clerical staff on November 10. After the local Religious Affairs Bureau got wind of that, they arranged an instructor to join in and talk about Chinese traditional culture.
“Now every church must give sermons according to the government’s requirements,” a local preacher said helplessly. “After surveillance equipment has been installed in every church, the Religious Affairs Bureau can monitor the content of each sermon. Those who do not preach as the government requires will be punished.”
The preacher also told Bitter Winter that a Three-Self preacher from the county-level city of Lingbao in Sanmenxia was disallowed to preach from the Bible after Bureau’s officials deemed her sermon on Revelation inappropriate. She was only allowed to talk about patriotism and China’s traditional culture. If she disobeyed, the church could be closed down. With no other choice, the preacher had to take part in a government-organized training even though she firmly believes that places of worship should only be used for worshiping God.
Attempting to evade persecution and please the government, some clergy members’ preaching makes congregations laugh. A Three-Self pastor from Changchun city in the northeastern province of Jilin stated during a sermon in September that “the core socialist values are the will of God.”
Christian symbols forcibly removed
“The government indoctrinates people and erodes our teachings, aiming to eradicate Christianity,” an elderly Christian from Changchun commented.
To speed up this eradication process, authorities continue to replace religious symbols with CCP’s slogans and Xi Jinping’s quotations in places of worship and believers’ homes.
A Three-Self church member from Changchun told Bitter Winter that the government set up a Culture Book House in the church in October 2018 and filled it with propaganda materials promoting Xi Jinping thought and Maoism, while religious paintings and crosses have been removed.
In September 2019, Yongfeng Church in Luonan county in the northwestern province of Shaanxi had the sign “Almighty God the Creator of All Things” on its outer wall replaced with the Chinese characters for “love the country.” The church was forced to display the new Regulations on Religious Affairs inside the church. Congregation members were angry about the way the church had been rectified. “It looks like a government agency, not a church,” believers lamented.
In December 2018, crosses, paintings depicting Jesus, and Bible verses were removed from a Three-Self church in Tongdi village of Heyang county in Shaanxi’s Weinan city.
In October 2019, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhuji city in the eastern province of Zhejiang posted a slogan promoting the core socialist values and placed copies of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the CCP Central Committee, and other materials quoting Xi Jinping in a local Seventh-day Adventist church. Bureau’s officials proclaimed it a “harmonious church.”