State-run churches in China are allegedly under orders from the country's communist leadership to praise Chinese President Xi Jinping before being permitted to reopen, according to religious liberty watchdog reports.
A publication on Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, reported that the Lishiting Catholic Church in the Shunhe district of Kaifeng reopened on June 14 after five months of being closed, but only after proving its loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
"We solemnly raise the national flag here today after the epidemic, witnessing the fruits of all people working together under the leadership of Xi Jinping who directs the government and the Party," a priest reportedly told a gathering of about 20 people as government officials looked on.
A similar occurrence took place at the Gangxi Christian Church nearby when it opened its doors for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
"Instead of singing hymns to praise God, the government required us to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem, praising Xi Jinping's 'victory in fighting the epidemic,'" commented one anonymous congregant. "This is completely contrary to our belief."
The Gangxi Christian Church Sing The National Anthem During A Flag-raising Ceremony youtu.be
A pastor from Quannan Church, the largest Christian church in Quanzhou city said he was told by officials that, in addition to promoting the "socialist system and the Communist Party," he had to criticize the United States' handling of the virus, according to Fox News.
The demands were reportedly issued by the United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau. Churches who refuse risk being shut down and having their leaders dismissed, one church member said.
Marco Respinti, the director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, told Fox News the move is yet another example of the CCP trying to "sinicize."
Which means, he said, that "everything must become truly Chinese, but what they really mean is that everything must become puppets of the Communist regime ... even at the cost of obliging people to blasphemous things."
Respinti added that many churches have also been ordered to remove Christian symbols and replace them with portraits of the Chinese president.
"They were saying they were able to defeat the coronavirus," he noted, arguing that the CCP used the coronavirus as propaganda. "They sold this lie to the world and also tried to sell the so-called Chinese model offering to help ... all the while oppressing religious and ethnic groups."
(H/T: Fox News)