Authorities in China’s central Henan province will only allow churches to reopen following the Covid-19 lockdown if they demonstrate their loyalty to the communist party and intensify patriotic education.
On 14 June, the government of Yucheng, a county in the prefecture-level city of Shangqui, in Henan, ordered preachers of “three-self” (i.e. state registered) churches to give sermons in a unified style that extolled President Xi Jinping for “the right way to lead people in defeating the epidemic” while criticising the US and other countries.
“I had to preach as the state required, otherwise the church would not have reopened,” said a pastor.
The Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, issued a list in mid-June stating 42 demands that churches must meet in order to reopen. It required anyone entering a church to register online giving their name, gender, health code, ID card and phone number.
Churches were also ordered to step up patriotic education and promote policies that “sinicise” (i.e. make Chinese) religion, including preaching “core socialist values”.
“Instead of a normal sermon, the preacher talked about the patriotism of medical workers during the epidemic, and their sacrifice to the state,” said a member of a “three-self” church in Henan after its first meeting in six months. “Many believers complained,” the churchgoer added.
The Religious Affairs Bureau in the prefecture-level city of Luoyang in Henan refused a church permission to reopen after the preacher’s sermons on “heroes of the epidemic prevention”, which he had to hand in ahead of time, failed to be approved. Even when the preacher rewrote the sermons, the authorities still denied permission on the pretext that the “epidemic is severe in Beijing”.
“The nearby swimming pool already reopened in May,” said the preacher. “Why is it so difficult for the church to reopen?”
In February 2020, the government in China introduced stringent new regulations that put almost every aspect of religious life under the direct control of the communist party as part of its ongoing crackdown on Christianity. Increasingly repressive measures have included the closure of hundreds of “house churches” (i.e. unregistered congregations) and “three-self” churches, thousands of arrests and detentions, imprisonment of pastors and forced installation of surveillance cameras inside some churches.