Pastors in China report that they've been forced to integrate President Xi Jinping’s words into the biblical account of Jesus feeding the five thousand as the Chinese Communist Party increasingly pressures church leaders to infuse their sermons with political ideology.
According to the Italian-based magazine Bitter Winter, the CCP has continued to use the novel coronavirus pandemic to further control and politicize religions.
In September, the Two Chinese Christian Councils of Quanzhou, a prefecture-level city in Fujian's southeastern province, demanded all Three-Self churches integrate President Xi’s ideas on curbing food waste into their sermons, so that “the policy reaches everyone in society.”
To implement the order, some pastors integrated the leader's words into the biblical story about Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves and two fish.
In the spring, officials also ordered the pastor of a church in Shengzhou, a county-level city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, to preach to the congregation that Americans brought COVID-19 to China.
A pastor from another Three-Self church in Shengzhou revealed that government officials increasingly supervise pastors' sermons. This makes clergy members increasingly anxious, he said, as the CCP has threatened to close religious venues that refuse to comply with their demands.
“This is how the government sinicizes Christianity,” a Shengzhou pastor commented.
In August, the Two Chinese Christian Councils in the central province of Henan issued the "Notice on Organizing and Launching Peace Prayer Activities to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World’s Anti-Fascist War."
The notices required churches across Henan to “organize commemorative activities in churches, deliver themed sermons, hold seminars, visit war memorials, and pay tribute to China’s revolutionary martyrs,” according to Bitter Winter.
Also this year, the Two Chinese Christian Councils of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang issued a document asserting that “the Chinese people, under the Communist Party’s leadership, showed the world the incomparable advantages of the socialist political system” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to the document, this provoked “the Western society, headed by the United States, to despise China’s achievements and hinder its economic and military development. Under this backdrop, the spirit of patriotism exhibited during the war of resistance against Japanese aggression should be carried forward.”
“The Religious Affairs Bureau forced us to preach about this and ordered to integrate aspects of traditional Chinese culture and the Constitution into our sermons,” a Three-Self church pastor from Henan said. “Churches that disobeyed were threatened to be closed, and congregations suppressed.”
The pastor was also ordered to promote Xi Jinping’s “achievements” in ending the pandemic before he was permitted to reopen his church.
“We were looking forward to listening to sermons after the church was reopened following a long break,” a congregation member told the outlet. “But all of them praise Xi Jinping. Isn’t this Communist Party faith? If this goes on, what’s the point of our religion?”
“The CCP hopes to spread its propaganda with our help and test if we obey the government,” a Three-Self clergy member from Fujian Province said. “They want to control Christianity because it grows most rapidly in China.”
Numerous reports have documented how the CCP has exploited Christians and places of worship amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhengzhou, the capital of the province of Henan, released a list of 42 prerequisites for churches that sought to reopen. Among the requirements, churches were ordered to “intensify patriotic education” and “study China’s religious policies.”
In August, it was reported that state-sponsored churches in parts of China that were forced to close due to COVID-19 lockdowns were only permitted to reopen if they handed money over to the CCP.
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 Xi or risk losing their welfare benefits.
Officials in Jiangsu province also 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 No. 23 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.