The Chinese communist government is allowing some churches to reopen in the wake of COVID-19, but the congregations must follow certain rules.
The congregations were informed that they must raise the Chinese flag, sing the national anthem, and tell "moving stories about China's battle with the pandemic," Bitter Winter reports.
Those churches that have reopened are run by the state, and government officials were on hand to oversee the ceremonies as they opened their doors again.
A member at Guangxi Christian Church in the Shunhe district of Kaifeng described the reopening of their church as "completely contrary to our belief."
"The church finally reopened after five months, 147 days, or 21 Sundays, 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.'"
More than 20 members of the Quannan Church, the largest Christian church in Quanzhou city in the southeastern province of Fujian, attended a flag-raising ceremony in their courtyard. A phrase that supports the core communist values was displayed behind the flagpole, according to Bitter Winter.
"The United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau demand to hold flag-raising ceremonies and promote patriotism," one churchgoer said. "From now on, all churches have to do so, or they will be shut down, and their leaders dismissed."
A pastor from Henan's Zhumadian city said that in order to reopen the church, he had to attend a meeting and study Chinese President Xi Jinping's speeches on controlling COVID-19.
"The government demands to promote these things to congregations after churches reopen," the pastor explained. "These texts are published in a booklet, over 100 pages long. Preachers must mainly talk about the state's policies. Those who disobey will be arrested."
Another pastor believes that the government seeks "to make all people believe in communism only, to 'sinicize' Christianity."
Requiring churches to abide by specific standards in order to reopen is "disturbing the minds of believers to transform their ideologies and change the essence of their beliefs," the pastor added.