Protestant leader lauds Sinicization of religion

Chinese religious official claims Western powers trying to subvert nation's politics using Christianity as a vehicle
Protestant leader lauds Sinicization of religion

Chinese leaders including (second row left to right) Politburo Standing Committee members Zhao Leji, Li Zhanshu, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning during the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 13. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)

The head of China's state-sanctioned Protestant church has warned that Chinese churches must rid themselves of the "Western imprint" and "imperialist influence" in order to align with the country's socialist system.

Reverend Xu Xiaohong, chair of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, also lauded the Sinicization of Christianity and said Western powers were using religion to undermine China's political power.

"Anti-China forces in the West are trying to continue to influence China's social stability and even subvert our country's political power through Christianity, and it is doomed to fail," Xu said while attending the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing on March 11.

"Chinese churches are surnamed 'Zhong' (China), not 'Xi' (the West)," he added as he delivered a speech titled "Adherence to the Sinicization of Christianity, proactive adaption to a socialist society."

Xu said Christianity in China had been tainted by foreign powers, which spread the religion to the country when they appeared as colonial invaders.

This pushed the Chinese Church to embark on an "independence movement" that triggered a "localized thinking," he added.

During his speech, he presented the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as clawing Christianity back from the grip of the West and interpreting it in a way more suited to Chinese culture with respect for Chinese traditions.

Quoting Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic of China, he said the Protestant Church of China must have "its own (characteristics), which must eliminate the imperialist influence and power so as to raise the national consciousness according to the three-self principles."

He cited overseas infiltration, unregistered religious venues, a lack of patriotism among pastors, and a low awareness of legal issues among believers as the main obstacles to the Sinicization of Christianity.

Moreover, anyone individual who challenges China's national security in the name of religion must be brought to justice, he noted.

China has taken flak for stepping up its crackdown on religious freedom under the stewardship of President Xi Jinping — considered the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong — especially targeting Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims in far western Xinjiang province.

Buddhist monasteries have recently been ordered to hang up portraits of CCP heroes, Bibles sales are banned in parts of China, and hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are being detained in "political re-education camps."

Reverend Kiven Choy Siu-Kai, president of the Alliance Bible Seminary in Hong Kong, said this has alarmed Christian leaders around the world.

Xu's speech represented the stance of the Chinese government and has concerned Chinese church communities overseas, he noted.

"We should learn from what the apostles told us, 'We must obey God, not men,'" the seminary rector added.

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The party does not trust democracy and its chokehold on society and all religions would likely continue to tighten, he said.

Last June, the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCC) and the Chinese Patriotic Association (CCPA) issued the Five-Year Plan on Carrying Forward the Chinese Catholic Church's Adherence to the Direction of Sinicization (2018-2022) to all dioceses.

It asked them to formulate their own five-year plans and forward them to the two bodies later that summer.

Among the major goals listed in the document were "constantly consolidate harmonious relations between our country's Catholic Church and the party, government, society, other religions and non-believers."

It also said the rules and doctrines of the Catholic Church must be interpreted in line with "the development and progress of contemporary China and Chinese traditional culture."

"To love the motherland and obey the state regime is a responsibility and obligation for each Christian," it added.

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