The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is taking advantage of the global pandemic to tighten its stranglehold on churches in that country. As China begins to open back up—allowing businesses, schools, and public transportation to resume—houses of worship have been among the last to be given the go-ahead. But before churches can reopen, they must jump through whatever hoop the local authorities deem necessary. For churches in northern China’s Hebei province, that means agreeing to keep its doors shut to children. For others, it means holding patriotic flag-raising ceremonies designed to sing the CCP’s (and President Xi Jinping’s) praises.
“All parishes are required to sign a pledge that they will not allow minors to enter their churches or officials will not allow them to open churches,” a Catholic named Paul from Zhengding, Hebei Province, told UCA News.
Specifically, local authorities told Bishop Jia Zhiguo (the leader of the non-state-run, or underground, Catholic church in Zhengding) that he must sign a document banning children below the age of 18 from entering churches before their services can resume. The local authorities are also threatening to take over control of a church-run orphanage which houses several children with disabilities. Additionally, they have demanded that nuns who take care of the babies at the orphanage register with the state-run (three-self) Catholic church in order to continue their work with the children.
An unnamed source told UCA News that if Bishop Jia refuses to sign the document, they will take over his house and the orphanage. However, Bishop Jia doesn’t want to sign because, according to his reasoning, “the doors of the Church are open to all,” the unnamed source said.
The churches in Hebei province aren’t the only Chinese churches to see their reopening status being held for ransom. Bitter Winter reports some state-run churches were required to hold patriotic services designed to praise President Xi Jinping before they could resume their services.
For instance, the Lishiting Catholic Church in central China’s Henan province was required to hold a flag-raising ceremony which was supervised by government officials. The priest told the crowd gathered, “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.”
Another church in the same area, Gangxi Christian Church, reopened the same day after holding their own flag-raising ceremony. One church member commented on the anti-Christian nature of the ceremony. “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 third example in southern China’s Fujian province establishes a pattern among all these flag-raising ceremonies: They were each supervised by a CCP official. At Quannan Church in Quanzhou city, the pastor not only praised President Xi’s efforts to fight the pandemic, but also criticized the United States for its response to the pandemic. “We should love the socialist system and the Communist Party,” the pastor told the group of clergy members attending the ceremony.
As dire as the situation in China seems for Christians, one priest is not deterred. Father Chang in Hubei province says, “If the government closes the churches, they will gather in the homes of the faithful.”