The Communist government of China is continuing forcing Christians to replace posters of Jesus Christ with Communist leaders, and is turning pulpits into entertainment venues.
Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reports that Chinese authorities are going from town to town, demanding that Christian icons be replaced with pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping.
Initial reports of the initiative came out back in 2017, though several Christians have said it continues in full force in different provinces.
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Eighty-year-old Fei Zhongju from Xiayi county revealed what authorities told him after barging into his home in October 2018:
“If we come back for inspection and find that you haven’t put up Chairman Mao’s portrait, we’ll cancel your poverty alleviation benefits."
Fei’s wife revealed that her husband fell from the table and seriously injured himself as he attempted to get up and comply with the orders.
“What have we believers in the Lord done wrong,” the woman said. “The government is forcing us to tear up portraits of the Lord Jesus, and as a result, my husband was injured.”
Government officials have threatened citizens that if they don't take down their religious posters themselves, then the authorities will act.
Bitter Winter said that close to 1,400 Christian items have been destroyed all across the townships of Xiayi county since early February 2018. Some places, like Xin’an county, have been left entirely without any religious symbols, after the homes of 279 residents were raided within 15 days.
Christians in the central Henan Province have separately also complained that the government is forcefully turning churches into theaters, game rooms, and other types of entertainment venues.
Bitter Winter posted several photos and clips showing how pulpits across the country once meant to preach the Gospel have since been covered with Communist party propaganda, or turned into activity or entertainment centers.
The directive apparently stems from a government document titled Compilation of Special Operation Exemplary Cases in July 2018. Bitter Winter translated the directive as saying in order to “effectively curb Christianity’s excessive momentum,” authorities are demanding focused “regulation” of “privately established” Christian congregation sites.
The document further calls for the adoption of “various measures of transformation, repurposing, and closures, and exploring a unique approach to progressively transform them (Christian sites) into activity fronts for poverty alleviation for villagers and for enriching villagers’ leisure and recreational activities and spiritual and cultural lives.”
China's reported growth in its Christian population has been met with an ever-increasing rise in government-centered persecution. Watchdog group Open Doors USA ranked China number 27 on its newly released World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith, marking a 16-spot jump from its previous ranking.
Open Doors warned in its report that "the increased power of the government and the rule of Xi Jinping continue to make open worship difficult in some parts of the country."