Communist officials throughout China are using regulations that restrict religious freedom to also prohibit religious-themed funerals, even going so far as to arresting family members and stopping ceremonies mid-service.
“The situation is quite adverse, and some believers don’t even dare to accompany the deceased to the graveyard,” an elder of a government-sanctioned Three-Self church told Bitter Winter, a religious watchdog.
For example, in one city in the province of Henan, government officials passed regulations prohibiting “visiting groups, choirs, orchestras, and other groups” from holding religious services anywhere except in a church. Such regulations are used to ban religious-themed funerals.
“The government prohibits religious funerals, and doesn’t allow church choirs or orchestras to perform during them,” the Three-self church elder told Bitter Winter. “Pastors can only sneak into believers’ homes for a hurried prayer.”
Similar stories of persecution have been related throughout China.
In another village in the province of Henan, officials passed regulations that say ministers and other religious personnel should be “stopped from using religion to intervene in citizens’ weddings and funerals or other activities in their lives.”
The funeral of a preacher in yet another location in Henan was stopped when policemen stormed the event and accused family members and friends of spreading “religious propaganda.”
In Wuhan, the capital of the province of Hubei, the daughter of a woman who had just died was arrested while the family was arranging the funeral, Bitter Winter reported. Apparently, someone had reported the family to authorities. The daughter was released two days later -- but only after the funeral had been held. The family was not allowed to include Christian customs and rituals in the ceremony. The woman had been a member of a state-sanctioned Three-Self church.
“When my father died, village officials threatened to arrest us if we didn’t conduct a secular funeral. We did not dare to go against them,” a villager in Henan told Bitter Winter. “My father had been a believer for several decades. He is persecuted even after death.”
In one city in the province of Zhejiang, communist officials passed new regulations that “get rid of bad funeral customs and establish a scientific, civilized, and economical way of funerals,” according to the text of the new rules, which went into effect Dec. 1. One specific regulation says that “clerical personnel are not allowed to participate in funerals,” and “no more than ten family members of the deceased are allowed to read scriptures or sing hymns in a low voice,” Bitter Winter reported.
“Officials said that state laws prohibit religious funerals. We even didn’t set up a cross on the tomb,” a Three-Self church member said.
Churches within China must register either with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (if they’re Protestant) or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Because such congregations face extreme regulations, millions of Christians in the country worship in underground congregations.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/MagMos
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.