Over the past two millennia, brave men and women have gone out into parts of the world unknown to them in order to spread the good news, to proclaim the gospel to all of the creation as Jesus commanded. In this way, Christianity has spread and brought hope to many who had never heard of our everlasting God and creator. We here are immensely blessed that we are able to worship as we choose and the freedom of religion is granted to us by our constitution. Sadly, this is not the case everywhere. There are Christians out there who live in constant fear and are persecuted for their beliefs. One such place is China, where communist ideology and government dictates the lives of its citizens and grants them very few freedoms in terms of having and expressing beliefs that are contrary to communism. Christians are a very, very small minority in China, and life for them isn’t easy.
Yugan county in the Jiangxi province of China has a small population of Christians, about 10 percent. It has been reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that thousands of Christian believers in the county have been told by officials of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to take down any displays of Christian imagery, like representations of Jesus, crucifixes, and gospel verses, from their homes and to replace them with posters of President Xi Jinping, leader of the CPC. This is the latest in the Chinese government’s propaganda efforts to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party”. According to SCMP reports, more than 600 households removed Christian symbols displayed in their living rooms and around 453 hung up posters of the CPC leader. The SCMP reports that this campaign by the Chinese government is a part of their efforts to alleviate poverty in the region as the CPC believes that religious faith is to blame for their poor financial conditions. The communist party wants Yugan villagers to look to their leader for help and support rather than to God or Jesus. The head of the government campaign has been quoted as saying, “Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses. 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.” Christians in Yugan county have alleged that the CPC told them that they would not be eligible for any government assistance unless they replaced their religious posters with those of President Xi Jinping. The CPC, however, denies this claim. Prior to Yugan Christian households being asked to take down religious displays, the church in Yugan had taken down its cross, complying with government regulations as many other churches in the region have done in recent years. The CPC has been on a drive to consolidate power all across the country, having recently held its national congress where a historic measure was passed to include President Xi’s political philosophy into the nation’s constitution. SCMP has likened Xi to Mao Zedong who also propagated ideology and enforced a following by insisting on his portraits being hung in all Chinese homes, calling Xi “the country’s most powerful leader since Mao”. According to Brent Fulton, president of ChinaSource, President Xi’s actions are a continuation of a tradition long held by Chinese leaders to assert the state as the ultimate power and curb any social movements that may threaten it. In September 2017, the Chinese government had passed stricter restrictions on religious buildings, teachings, and gatherings that are to go into effect by February of 2018. There have more stringent crackdowns on religious activity recently with police detaining the leaders of a house church and a 3-year old child who were caught singing in a public park.
Fulton, in a piece for Christianity Today, wrote that the CPC exerts its control over religion not only through law but also by “reconciling religious doctrine with the party’s socialist values”. The CPC has long held the belief of “religion serving socialism” but putting it into direct practice has come into force more strongly under Xi Jinping, including the calls for the “Sinification” of Christian theology. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Derek Lam, a Chinese student, called out the “perverse” efforts of Xi’s political agenda to co-opt Christianity. Lam wrote that recent events suggest the CPC is “very close to completing its mission of bringing Christianity under its thumb”.