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Chinese Communist Party officials ordered dozens of churches to replace crosses with the five-pointed star, the symbol featured on the country’s flag to represent the CCP and its role in the nation.
Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reports that in August, the Two Chinese Christian Councils in a county administered by the prefecture-level city of Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province ordered its more than 70 affiliated churches to remove the cross from their official seals.
Churches were ordered to erect the five-pointed star, which is used in all other state-run institutions, in its place.
In early September, Jiujiang’s Religious Affairs Bureau ordered official churches to remove Chinese characters for “Christianity” from church seals.
“All official churches were ordered to replace their seals so that believers accept the Party as the main leader and follow only it,” a Three-Self Church venue director from Jiujiang said.
“The cross is the symbol of our faith, and that is why it has been inscribed in churches’ seals,” another Three-Self venue director said. “The government replaces it with the five-pointed star to show its power.”
The latest orders are part of President Xi Jinping’s religious sinicization policy, which requires Christianity and other religions to embrace socialism and the leadership of the CCP.
In July, the government of Lanling county’s Dazhongcun, administered by the prefecture-level city of Linyi in Shandong Province, removed crosses from “numerous state-approved Three-Self Church venues,” according to Bitter Winter. Other religious symbols and slogans were also removed from the buildings.
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Amid the demolition, one of the town officials told onlookers that “crosses must be removed from all churches because Christianity does not belong in China.”
In April, the municipal United Front Work Department convened an emergency meeting for Linyi city’s Three-Self Church pastors, informing them that because “there were too many Christians in Linyi,” the provincial government would further restrict places of worship.
All official venues were ordered to remove crosses from atop their buildings. Churches that refused to comply would be leveled to the ground, officials warned.
“The number of believers is growing, which could turn into a serious force,” a Linyi city government official said. “That’s why authorities want to stifle the development of Christianity.”
China officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. While China’s constitution states that citizens have freedom of religious belief," it "limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.”
In the first half of 2020, over 900 crosses were removed from state-run churches, according to estimates. On several occasions, Christians who attempted to stop cross removals were injured by authorities or detained.
Bob Fu of China Aid, a U.S.-based Christian rights group, previously explained that China’s cross removal campaign — which began in 2013 — “demonstrates the Chinese regime’s determination to contain the rapid growth of Christianity in China.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, impoverished Christian villagers in China were ordered to renounce their faith and replace displays of Jesus with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi or risk losing their welfare benefits.
The CCP also reportedly intends to undertake its own, state-approved “translation” of the Bible. According to Xinhua News Agency, the CCP recently recruited “scholars” late last year and charged them with “making accurate and authoritative interpretations of classical doctrines to keep pace with the times.”
The CCP also recently rewrote the biblical account found in John 8:3–11, falsely claiming that Jesus Christ stoned to death the woman caught in adultery.
Speaking during a session at the Values Voter Summit in September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the U.S. to stand up for religious freedom worldwide, warning that where it fails, totalitarianism soon follows.
“We watch today the challenge that Christians and Catholics have to practice their faith inside of China,” he said. “Authoritarianism almost always follows the oppression of religion. Pushing religion out of the public square drives oppression, drives authoritarian regimes. And so we have made that a priority."
He added: "The Chinese Communist Party is seeking hegemony across the world, and we have an obligation to do our best to make sure that the freedoms that we value and the capacity to exercise our human rights aren’t trampled upon by whether that’s their predatory economic activity or their military might or their misinformation campaigns here in the U.S.”
“We work hard to make sure that we maximize religious freedom for every human being all across the world.”
On Open Doors USA’s World Watch List, China is ranked No. 23 on its list of countries known for persecuting Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.