By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting from China and BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Authorities in southeast China are telling Christians to believe in the Communist Party and its leader instead of Jesus Christ, BosNewsLife established.
Christians in an impoverished Chinese area have also been forced to remove images of Jesus and replace them with pictures of Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping if they want to receive government assistance, say several sources with close knowledge about the situation.
It is part of a government-led plan to discourage the spread of Christianity and other religious practices in the Communist-run nation, according to local Christians and officials.
At a recent meeting, Communist Party leaders in Yugan county described the presence of Christianity as a “crisis,” BosNewsLife learned.
"Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses,” said Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people’s congress. “But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing and that the people who can help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.”
Qi oversees Huangjinbu township with up to 6,000 Christian families. He reportedly noted that many of these rural people are ignorant. They think, he said, that "God is their Saviour. After our cadres’ work, they’ll realize their mistakes and think: 'We should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help'”
His comments came while thousands of Christians in southeast China have already been forced to remove crosses and images of Jesus, BosNewsLife learned.
One unidentified resident told journalists that impoverished Christian families who publicly expressed their faith faced cuts in government aid. “Some families put up Gospel couplets on their front doors during the Lunar New Year; some also hung paintings of the cross. But they’ve all been torn down,” he reportedly said.
“They all have their belief and, of course, they didn’t want to take them down. But there is no way out. If they don’t agree to do so, they won’t be given their quota from the poverty-relief fund,” the resident
was quoted as saying.
Religion is discouraged by officials such as Party leader Xi. He recently cemented his position as head of the Communist Party, seen as the most powerful role in China. During the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress in October, Xi said religion should become more Chinese and instilling it with Socialist values.
Christians in Yugan county of Jiangxi province are told that Xi's face best represents those values.
People in China used to hang pictures of Communist leader Mao Zedong at the center of their homes. Xi recently modified his official image to look more like the now famous headshot of Mao. Critics say that is a sign that he is attempting to build a personality cult
similar to that of the founding father of the People's Republic of China.
Despite these pressures, Christianity had been spreading in China since the end of Mao’s Cultural Revolution four decades ago.
Unofficial churches and places of worship have even emerged in people’s homes, and some estimates suggest that there are now more Christians in China than Communist Party members.
Around one-third of Christians or up to 130 million residents in China, belong to groups that face high levels of persecution, according to a report by advocacy group Freedom House.