Acton Institute Powerblog

China: Remove pictures of Jesus or lose government aid

The Chinese government demands a small price in exchange for your monthly check: apostasy.

Chinese Communist Party officials have ordered impoverished Christians to remove pictures of Jesus from their walls or lose the government aid that’s keeping them alive.

Crosses, images of Jesus or verses from the Bible must be replaced with pictures of President Xi Jinping or the greatest mass murderer in history, former dictator Mao Tse-tung.

In some cases, party functionaries even require believers who receive poverty relief funds from the government to recant their faith in Christ. “Officials were instructed to annul the subsidies [of] those who protest the order,” according to Bitter Winter magazine.

“Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing,” said a Communist official as he tore a calendar with a picture of Jesus off a Protestant pastor’s wall. “They must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive.”

The latest campaign, which began in April, targeted those receiving social welfare assistance in Shanxi province but also includes other regions.

An octogenarian Protestant in Jiangxi’s Poyang county said she lost her government benefits when she said, “Thank God,” upon receiving the $28 payment, because “they expected me to praise the kindness of the Communist Party instead.”

The government enforced a similar campaign of religious suppression three years ago in Jiangxi province. A social media account stated that villagers “willingly” removed 624 religious images and put up 453 pictures of Xi Jinping in their place in March 2017. But villagers confirmed that government officials used force — including threatening the loss of welfare payments — to replace Jesus with Xi.

“Of course, they didn’t want to take them down. But there is no way out,” one man told the South China Morning Post. “If they don’t agree to do so, they won’t be given their quota from the poverty-relief fund.”

Communist officials explicitly stated that they intended to replace faith in Christ with faith in Communism. Qi Yan, who oversaw the Jiangxi campaign, explained:

Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their savior. After our cadres’ work, they’ll realize their mistakes and think: We should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.

Officials reported their efforts the same way evangelists would describe missionary work. One account from the CCP said its coercion campaign “melted the hard ice in [believers’] hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party.”

Qi later insisted that his cadres only relegated Christ to second-class status. Communists graciously allowed Christians to keep images of Jesus “in other rooms,” he said. “What we require is for them not to forget about the party’s kindness at the center of their living rooms. They still have the freedom to believe in religion, but in their minds they should [also] trust our party.”

These atheistic crusades build on President Xi Jinping’s policy to “Sinicize” all religions by requiring Chinese clergy to interpret “religious thought, doctrines, and teachings in a way that conforms with the needs of the progress of the times” — that is, to tell their congregations that Christianity is compatible with socialism.

Since Xi announced the policy in 2015, the Chinese government has destroyed church crosses, replaced the Ten Commandments with socialist propaganda and erased the First Commandment of the Decalogue to “have no other gods.” No church has been spared. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports:

Chinese authorities raided or closed down hundreds of Protestant house churches in 2019, including Rock Church in Henan Province and Shouwang Church in Beijing. The government released some of the Early Rain Covenant Church congregants who had been arrested in December 2018, but in December 2019 a court charged Pastor Wang Yi with “subversion of state power” and sentenced him to nine years imprisonment. Local authorities continued to harass and detain bishops, including Guo Xijin and Cui Tai, who refused to join the state-affiliated Catholic association. Several local governments, including Guangzho city, offered cash bounties for individuals who informed on underground churches. In addition, authorities across the country have removed crosses from churches, banned youth under the age of 18 from participating in religious services, and replaced images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary with pictures of President Xi Jinping.

“The government is trying to eliminate our belief and wants to become God instead of Jesus,” said a house church pastor in Shanxi after this year’s reverse-missionary campaign.

The Communist government’s attempt to blackmail Christians into abandoning their faith — by withholding their own tax dollars — should underscore three lessons:

1. Socialists use welfare as a weapon. Government dependence can prove deadly. From pagan emperors in the fourth century, to Adolf Hitler ordering “the disbanding of all private welfare institutions,” to Venezuelan officials denying food to the enemies of autocrat Nicolás Maduro, socialists have a long history of weaponizing government programs. Some of history’s greatest monsters have used starvation as a political tool, because government pressure is most effective when deployed against its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. For that reason, Christians and other religious believers should do everything in their power to avoid becoming dependent on the government. By contrast, the biblical vision of the kingdom promises a time of peace, when “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.”

2. Communism will co-exist with Christians … temporarily. Marxism is atheistic by definition. However, Marxists are more than willing to have Christians act as foot soldiers of the revolution. They may even allow limited, controlled expressions of the faith — as Qi said, as long as the Communist Party holds the central allegiance in their lives. However, they would prefer faith evaporate altogether, given that “socialist” Christians always have the danger of backsliding into authentic biblical faith. It is no coincidence that President Xi’s subjugation of the Church comes as multiple sources now estimate that Christians outnumber the 90 million members of the Chinese Communist Party. Should they become too insistent in their faith, they could easily suffer the fate of China’s Uighur Muslim minority.

3. Socialism is a false religion. Socialism offers a false understanding of the human person, a substitute and conditional morality, sham compassion, and an earthly utopia in place of the kingdom of God. One Chinese Communist official in Shandong confronted a Christian with pictures of Xi and Mao, uttering words strikingly similar to those spoken before the Golden Calf: “These are the greatest gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones.” Communism, wrote Whittaker Chambers, is the “second oldest faith,” the promise “whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’” This is why every major Christian tradition — Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox — has condemned socialism. (For more, see “How socialism causes atheism” in the Summer 2019 issue of Religion & Liberty.)

This final point tells Christians something heartening, namely that at least one core Christian doctrine is right: The human heart cannot live without faith. Each human being is lovingly created for relationship, intimacy, and worship. Ultimately, each soul must choose whom he will serve. This truth should incentivize us to worship the one, true God — and to recognize pretenders to the throne for the malign influences they are.

(Photo credit: thierry ehrmann. CC BY 2.0.)

 

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.