China’s state-approved churches that were forced to close due to COVID-19 are only permitted to reopen if they praise the Chinese Communist Party in sermons and extol President Xi Jinping, according to a new report. Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reports that the Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhengzhou, the capital of the province of Henan, released in mid-June 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,” Bitter Winter reported.

Additionally, churches were ordered to promote the “four requirements,” a nationwide campaign launched in 2018 to promote the “sinicization” of religion. The campaign involves requiring religious communities to ritually raise the national flag; promoting the Chinese Constitution and laws, core socialist values, and “China’s excellent traditional culture”.

“Instead of a normal sermon, the preacher talked about the patriotism of medical workers during the epidemic, and their sacrifice to the state,” a member of a Three-Self church told Bitter Winter. “These things are important, but political things were discussed for half of the time. Many believers complained afterward.”

Churches that refused to comply with the CCP’s demands were not permitted to reopen. In Henan, one church was not allowed to reopen because officials didn’t approve the pastor’s sermons. “None of the 11 places of worship in our area was approved for reopening,” a deacon in the church told Bitter Winter. “We were busy preparing to meet the requirements for reopening, but the government made things difficult for us in every respect.”

Bitter Winter