China: Churches shuttered, turned into cultural centers promoting socialist values

A Chinese Catholic woman prays at the government sanctioned Xishiku Catholic Church on August 14, 2014 in Beijing, China.
A Chinese Catholic woman prays at the government sanctioned Xishiku Catholic Church on August 14, 2014 in Beijing, China. | Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

As part of China’s ongoing crackdown on Christianity, Communist authorities have converted a number of state-approved Three-Self churches into cultural centers promoting President Xi Jinping's socialist values. 

Persecution watchdog China Aid reports that recently, Flowing Stream Church in Funing County’s Yangzai township, Jiangsu province was forcibly occupied by officials with China's Communist Party and converted to “Yangzai Township Flowing Stream Village Cultural Service Center.” 

The church had previously been disbanded by the local United Front Department and was accused of “occupying village’s cultural base.”

A local villager told China Aid that now, the building is used to promote President Xi’s core socialist values and spread “positive energy” instead of the Gospel. 

Another church in the vicinity, Beizhouzhuang Church, was converted to “Beizhouzhuang Cultural Compound” after the members “voluntarily donated the venue for the village (according to the government).” The church was also first disbanded last October for not having the right registration, according to China Aid. 

In recent years, numerous reports have emerged of Chinese authorities replacing crosses with the CCP flag and images of Jesus Christ with President Xi, and converting churches into buildings for political activities. 

These activities are part of a larger strategy on the part of the CCP to shut down any kind of organizing outside of the party, according to persecution watchdog Open Doors USA. 

The organization, which ranks China 23rd on its list of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.

In April, a believer in the Yangbu town said local authorities demolished the cross of a Three-Self church, with plans to convert the 300-square-meter church into a facility for the elderly.

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.

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA who was in China on a fact-finding trip days before COVID-19 emerged from Wuhan province, “witnessed firsthand how the Chinese government is using mass surveillance and data modeling to monitor and punish citizens who choose to attend church or share religious material.”

“The forced closure of thousands of churches and the removal of crosses from buildings are now-commonplace tactics by the Chinese government in order to limit, if not extinguish, Christian practice,” Curry wrote in an op-ed. “China’s totalitarian ambition to build a god-as-government state is motivating the steady eradication of religious practice, at any cost.”

China, an officially atheist country, has also been accused of engaging in human rights crimes against other religious minority groups, including Uighur Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners, and Tibetan Buddhists. 

Last year, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said during a trip to Hong Kong that the CCP “is at war with faith.”

“It’s a war they will not win,” Brownback declared, according to reports. “The Chinese Communist Party must hear the cry of its people for religious freedom.”

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