China turns churches into factories, 'cultural centers' to ensure Christians can't meet

A woman wears a protective mask as she passes a church on February 8, 2020, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. The number of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, in China climbed to 724.
A woman wears a protective mask as she passes a church on February 8, 2020, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. The number of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, in China climbed to 724. | Getty Images

To ensure Christians are unable to meet, China’s Communist Party reportedly demolishes churches and repurposes places of worship, turning them into entertainment venues, factories, or “cultural centers” promoting President Xi Jinping's socialist values. 

Bitter Winter, a publication that monitors religious liberty violations in China, reports that in April, the Guangxin district government in Shangrao city shut down an old local church venue for “organizing illegal gathering” and refusing to join the Three-Self Church.

The next month, it was converted into a “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era,” a nationwide project launched by the CCP in July 2018 to encourage people of faith to abandon religions and follow the Party.

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“Party propaganda posters were posted everywhere in the venue, and table-tennis tables were brought inside,” a church member told Bitter Winter, adding that the church congregation is now forced to gather in homes of believers.

The church was just one of many shuttered by the CCP in recent months. 

According to Bitter Winter, last year, more than 70 Protestant venues — including state-approved Three-Self churches — were shut down in Jiangsu Province’s prefecture-level cities of Lianyungang and Suqian. 

In August, at a meeting of Three-Self Church directors in Bailu, a town in Lianyungang’s Guannan county, town officials explained that empty churches must be rented or sold.

One of the churches, which had been unused since its closure in June last year, was rented out in August, while another was sold the same month. Another church, Chenzhuang Church was sold for a mere 20,000 RMB (about $ 3,000.)

“The government is eradicating churches,” the church director said.

In Suqian city’s Shuyang county, a shut-down church was converted into a memorial hall for China’s revolutionary heroes. Government-hired workers removed a cross from the building, replacing it with a large pillar with a sign “God loves the world.” A signboard, saying “Huaihai District’s Military and Political Auditorium,” was displayed above the church entrance.

“The church will now be used to teach the young generation about China’s revolutionary spirit,” a village official explained.

In Suqian’s Siyang county, at least three shut-down Three-Self churches were demolished, and a clinic and clothing factory were built in their place. 

“People of faith outnumber Communist Party members, and the Party is not winning people’s hearts,” a village official explained. “The government fears that this will bring instability. Churches are eradicated to ensure that there are more CCP members than believers.”

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

The CCP has also increasingly pressured church leaders to infuse their sermons with political ideology. Additionally, censors have begun removing the words “Christ” and “Jesus” from some publications, including on Chinese social media networks.

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, which ranks China 23rd on its list of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. According to estimates, there are more than 60 million Christians in China. 

Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, recently stressed that it’s increasingly clear that the “CCP is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency nor to freedom of navigation.”

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