Amid the coronavirus outbreak, poor Christian villagers in China have been ordered to renounce their faith and replace displays of Jesus with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping or risk losing their welfare benefits.
Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reports that in April, officials with China's Communist Party visited believers’ homes in Linfen, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi. While there, they ordered residents who receive social welfare payments from the government to replace crosses, religious symbols, and images in their homes with portraits of China's communist leaders.
If Christians resisted the order, officials annulled their subsidies.
“All impoverished households in the town were told to display Mao Zedong images,” a local pastor told Bitter Winter. “The government is trying to eliminate our belief and wants to become God instead of Jesus.”
A member of a state-sponsored Three-Self church in one of the villages recounted how local officials tore down all religious images and a calendar with an image of Jesus in his home and posted a portrait of Mao Zedong instead.
“Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing — they must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive,” the believer quoted an official as stating.
In May, an official in the eastern province of Shandong stormed into the home of a local Christian. While inside the Christian's home, the official posted portraits of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping and reportedly said, “These are the greatest gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones."
In April, the government of Xinyu city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi canceled a disabled Christian’s minimum living subsidy and a monthly disability allowance of 100 RMB (about $14) because the believer continued to attend worship services despite government orders.
Similarly, in Jiangxi’s Poyang county, a Christian woman in her 80s was removed from the government’s aid list because she said “Thank God” after receiving her monthly 200 RMB (about $28) subsidy in mid-January.
“They expected me to praise the kindness of the Communist Party instead,” she said.
Another elderly Christian woman from Henan’s Shangqiu city had her minimum living allowance canceled after government officials found a cross image posted on the door of her home.
“They tore it down immediately,” she said. “Afterward, both my minimum living allowance and poverty alleviation subsidy were canceled. I am being driven to a dead end. I have diabetes and need injections regularly.”
The Communist Party previously targeted images and photos of Jesus as part of its campaign to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”
In 2017, The South China Morning Post reported that CCP officials removed more than 600 Christian symbols from the living rooms of believers in Yugan county of Jiangxi province, and 453 hung portraits of the communist dictator.
SCMP, a newspaper that kowtows to the communist regime, claimed the move was part of a state-sponsored campaign to alleviate poverty in the region since some CCP members believe families’ faith is to blame for poverty.
“Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses,” the head of the government campaign told SCMP. “But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing, and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, rights groups, and the U.S. State Department have condemned China’s continued crackdown on religion and religious minorities.
In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF called upon the Trump administration to impose targeted sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for severe religious freedom violations. It noted that Chinese authorities not only removed crosses from churches across the nation but also banned youth age 18 and younger from participating in religious services.
In June, a Christian man was arrested and at least two women were injured in China’s Henan province after 200 communist officials stormed into Sunzhuang Church and demolished the structure using cranes and heavy-duty machinery.
On Open Doors USA’s World Watch List, China is ranked No. 23 on its list of countries known for persecuting Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.