In China, the government allowed some churches to reopen last month after coronavirus lockdowns, but only if church leaders raised the Chinese flag, declared stories of government success fighting the pandemic, and sang the national anthem, reports news outlet Bitter Winter.
The churches allowed to reopen are those run by the state, called Three-Self Churches. Government officials oversaw the ceremonies as the churches opened their doors again.
One parishioner at Guangxi Christian Church described the reopening of their church:
"The church finally reopened after five months, 147 days, or 21 Sundays," the person said, "but 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.' This is completely contrary to our belief."
At one church in the city of Quanzhou, attendees had to attend a flag-raising ceremony outside the church. One exterior wall of the church had been painted with a socialist slogan. The pastor also praised socialism's superiority. A member of the church reported that the United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau will shutter any churches that do not hold such ceremonies and advance pro-Communist Chinese Party messages.
A pastor of another church said the government required him to attend a conference to study Chinese President Xi Jinping's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and were presented with a 100-page document on the topic.
"Preachers must mainly talk about the state's policies," he said. "Those who disobey will be arrested."
Another pastor stated his belief that the government seeks "to make all people believe in communism only, to ‘sinicize' Christianity."
"Three-Self churches should follow the path of house churches," he added, "and hold meetings in secret, to avoid being controlled by the CCP and save their pure faith."