Officials in China’s third largest province are training pastors to include communist ideology in their weekly sermons, according to a new report from a religious liberty watchdog.
The same officials also are forcing pastors to affirm traditional Chinese beliefs – such as ancestral worship – that conflict with Scripture.
At issue is the approval of pastors within the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the government-approved Protestant body that faces severe restrictions.
Pastors who failed a test on communist beliefs weren’t approved.
Last year the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs in Henan province – the third-largest province with 94 million people – began applying Communist Party membership standards to screen Three-Self preachers, according to Bitter Winter, an organization that monitors religious liberty.
The assessment included two parts: a sample sermon and a questionnaire.
The Bureau told the pastors to write a sample sermon that must include “national policy, traditional culture and the core socialist values” in the text, Bitter Winter reported. Christian doctrines such as eternal life, heaven and hell were prohibited from being included.
“The preachers are worried that churches in China will eventually become the CCP’s political propaganda agencies,” Bitter Winter’s Jiang Tao wrote.
One pastor was told to prepare a sermon on the subject, “Christians must love their country.”
To gauge a pastor’s political standing, the questionnaire included questions about Chinese and communist beliefs. A pastor only passed if the answers corresponded with the beliefs of the government.
The question, “How do you regard tomb-sweeping and offering sacrifices to ancestors?” would need to include the answer, “This is part of China’s traditional culture; Christians can sweep tombs and offer sacrifices to their ancestors; it is not against the Bible.”
The question, “Why are minors not allowed to go to church?” should be followed by the answer, “This is a national policy; not letting children enter churches is to ensure their physical and mental health.”
In one major city, Xinzheng (population 600,000), only 58 out of 100 pastors passed. In Luolong district, nearly 50 out of 80 pastors failed the assessment.
“[T]e test for a preaching certificate is used to examine participants on their political thinking. Government officials don’t understand the Bible,” one pastor told Bitter Winter. “As long as you flatter the Communist Party and support it, you can pass the assessment. Otherwise, no matter how well you can talk about the Bible, it would still be useless.”
Said another pastor, who is in his 80s, “The government’s goal of training young preachers is to indoctrinate and infiltrate them, so that they use the CCP’s methods when giving sermons at gatherings, and, in the end, they will become more than willing to serve the CCP.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Ralf Leineweber/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.