Culture

Churches in China Reopen After COVID, But They're Not Singing 'Amazing Grace.'

YouTube screenshot of Chinese church choir singing the Chinese National Anthem, Bitter Winter.

The first thing Chinese state-run churches sing after reopening from coronavirus lockdown won’t be “Amazing Grace.” According to reports from the Middle Kingdom, the Chinese Communist Party will only allow churches to reopen if they preach “patriotism” to President Xi Jinping, spread propaganda (sorry, stories of CCP valor in fighting the virus) and sing the National Anthem.

The Gangxi Christian Church in the city of Kaifeng reopened on June 14 after a five-month lockdown. “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 told the religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter. “This is completely contrary to our belief.”

Bitter Winter shared a video of the choir singing the National Anthem as church members raised the Chinese Communist flag.

 

The Lishiting Catholic Church also reopened on June 14. “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 Chinese Communist Party officials.

A video of the church’s reopening shows the raising of the flag while the National Anthem plays in the background.

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Other public venues in China had long returned to normal before state-run places of worship were finally allowed to reopen in June. Even then, only churches that committed to endorsing “patriotism” have been allowed to reopen. The Two Chinese Christian Councils in Henan, Zhejiang, and other provinces demanded that on the day of reopening, churches must promote patriotism, raise the flag, sing the National Anthem, and tell believers propaganda “moving stories about China’s battle with the pandemic.”

A preacher from 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 President Xi’s speeches on preventing and controlling the coronavirus outbreak and they had to listen to “heroic stories of fighting the pandemic.”

“The government demands to promote these things to congregations after churches reopen,” the preacher recalled. “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 Seventh-day Adventist pastor told Bitter Winter that these requirements are aimed at “disturbing the minds of believers to transform their ideologies and change the essence of their beliefs.” Xi has ordered that religion in China should be “Chinese in orientation.” The Communist Party has attempted to rewrite the Bible in order to “update” it for socialism and “create a new version of Christianity.”

The Adventist pastor predicted that the Chinese Communist Party will force more indoctrination on people of faith. “Its ultimate goal is to make all people believe in communism only, to ‘sinicize’ Christianity,” he insisted. The pastor urged Christians to “stand guard against the CCP’s vicious intentions, not to become prisoners of communism.”

He suggested that it would be better for churches to go underground than to embrace CCP propaganda. “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,” he said.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reported similar restrictions for reopening.

The Chinese Communist Party has directed priests to “preach on patriotism” as a condition for reopening from lockdowns, UCA News reported.

Father Liu of Hebei celebrated the end of the lockdown, but he opposed the requirement to spread propaganda. “The first requirement in the notice is to teach a good lesson on patriotism. It is wrong,” he told UCA News. “As members of the universal Catholic Church, we cannot accept and glorify what communists consider patriotic education.”

Jacob Chung, a Wenzhou parishioner, said the government’s move “has seriously interfered in the internal affairs of religion.”

An anonymous church observer told UCA News that the government’s move to require propaganda in churches is an attempt to prevent a counter-revolution.

Citing the ongoing trade war and the economic slowdown from the coronavirus, the anonymous observer said the CCP “is afraid of a counter-revolution. So they want to people to hold on to patriotism.” He said the CCP wants to “suppress and transform” the church, requiring Catholics to sing the communist National Anthem to prevent Christians from criticizing the regime.

Xi Lian, a professor at Duke University Divinity School, has reported that the Chinese Communist Party sees Christianity as a threat, so the CCP is attempting to co-opt Christianity for its own purposes.

According to sociologist Rodney Stark and co-author Xiuhua Wang in A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China, there has been a 7 percent increase in Christians every year in China. In 1980, there were approximately 10 million Christians there. In 2007, that number had climbed to 61.1 million. By 2030, they estimated, there will be 294.6 million Christians — nearly the entire population of the United States.

As a Christian who enjoys the company of Chinese-Americans in my Bible study group, I personally appreciate the international nature of the Jesus movement. I also believe Christianity introduced a new concern for the poor and a new way of living into the world — a way of life that transformed the West and helped form the foundation of modern freedom and prosperity.

The Holy Spirit and the way Christianity changes the hearts of believers represents a powerful threat to oppressive totalitarian governments like the Chinese Communist Party. I pray that Christians are savvy enough to resist these nefarious efforts to bend Christianity to communism.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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