State-sponsored churches in parts of China that were forced to close due to COVID-19 lockdowns are only permitted to reopen if they hand money over to the Chinese Communist Party, according to a new report.
A Three-Self church director from Heze, a prefecture-level city in the eastern province of Shandong, told Bitter Winter that state-run churches in the area have been ordered to collect money for coronavirus-affected areas. According to the director, officials from the local Religious Affairs Bureau threatened to shut down many churches if they did not donate.
Authorities in Zhangcun town issued donation quotas ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 RMB (between $560 and $1,400) to Three-Self churches, while Christians in Xianju were ordered to donate 100 RMB (about $14) to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Churchgoers in Zhejiang’s Hangzhou city were also forced to donate,” according to a Three-Self church director. “Some elderly congregation members live alone and have no sources of income, but are also forced to give money.”
When Christians requested to give their money directly to victims of the pandemic instead of filtering it through the government, officials from religious affairs departments refused.
While the CCP has exploited places of worship amid the coronavirus pandemic, Christians are also targeted during regular times. Bitter Winter notes that last year, believers were forced to contribute to poverty alleviation or other government’s “charity” projects.
“Last year, the Religious Affairs Bureau demanded us to collect money to fix a slide on a kindergarten playground,” a deacon from a Three-Self church in Henan’s Zhumadian city told Bitter Winter. “Government departments ask us for charitable donations every year. If we refuse, our church will be closed.”
The CCP has also targeted Buddhist temples, demanding they donate to the areas hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak or remain closed.
According to the China Religion Survey 2015, conducted by the Renmin University of China, clergy members of the five official religions in China — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism — receive about $70 as a monthly salary, and 41% don’t have old-age insurance.
Numerous reports have revealed how the coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity for the CCP to ramp up persecution of Christians.
An earlier report detailed how China's state-approved churches that were forced to close due to COVID-19 were permitted to reopen if they praised the Chinese Communist Party in sermons and extol President Xi Jinping.
Churches were also ordered to promote the “four requirements,” a nationwide campaign launched in 2018 to promote the “sinicization” of religion. The campaign involves requiring religious communities to ritually raise the national flag; promoting the Chinese Constitution and laws, core socialist values, and "China’s excellent traditional culture.”
It was also reported that amid the coronavirus outbreak, poor Christian villagers in several provinces were ordered to renounce their faith and replace displays of Jesus with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi or risk losing their welfare benefits.
Officials in Jiangsu province used the lockdown as an opportunity to demolish Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing city, according to a video shared by Bob Fu, the founder of China Aid.
Open Doors ranks China 23rd on its list of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The nonprofit notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.