by WorldTribune Staff, February 11, 2020
The communist government in China has branded Christianity and Catholicism as “criminal cults” and labeled the Bible a “book of cults,” say Christians who have fled what they describe as the Xi Jinping regime’s brutal persecution of people of faith.
The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese Christian offshoot, is high on the Communist Party’s enemies list, columnist Donald Kirk noted in a Feb. 9 analysis for The Daily Beast.
Kirk, a WorldTribune.com contributing editor, noted that Christians who fled to South Korea fear torture and imprisonment if they are forced to return to China.
“If you say ‘Almighty God,’ they will arrest you. They criminalize code words,” Kirk cited a church member as saying.
J. Gordon Melton, professor of religious history at Baylor University, told Kirk he has visited both China and South Korea many times in recent years and sees the Church of Almighty God as the principal target of a massive campaign in which Xi has ordered portraits of himself and Mao to hang side by side in state-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant churches. “Xi wants them to remove crosses,” Melton says. “Xi doesn’t want them to look like churches. He doesn’t want you to know it’s a church as you’re walking by.”
About half of China’s 80 to 100 million Christians attend churches that have survived legally if uneasily under arrangements in which the government appoints or approves their leaders, Kirk noted.
In 2018, Pope Francis reached a “provisional agreement” with China, the details of which remain secret. It reportedly allows Beijing to name bishops, but supposedly leaves it to the pope to sign off on them.
Millions of Chinese worship in “house churches,” conducting services for small congregations in unmarked facilities, with or without the knowledge or tacit approval of authorities.
There are about 20 totally banned congregations in the communist nation, Kirk noted, adding that “the most prominent of which is the Church of Almighty God. They are labeled as criminal cults.”
Melton said the churches “challenge the government and the new Sinicization program that Xi has put out.” The campaign against the Church of Almighty God, he says, is similar to that against the Falun Gong, a Buddhist organization with a global following that’s been virtually annihilated inside China but thrives among Chinese communities worldwide.
The Church of Almighty God also figures prominently in the most recent U.S. State Department “Report on International Religious Freedom”, which is based on data compiled in 2018.
“The Church of Almighty God reported that CCP police secretly arrested and tortured one of its members for 25 days,” according to the State Department. “The individual was sent to the hospital with severe injuries to the skull and she died several months later. The Church of Almighty God also reported that two church members were arrested one of them was ‘persecuted to death’ in Chaoyang Municipal Detention Center.”
Members of the church who arrived recently in Seoul “tell harrowing tales of suffering, loneliness and separation from families with whom they now have no contact,” Kirk wrote.
A church member called Jason “describes having been imprisoned for three years, making shoes and weaving for 10 hours a day, eating moldy bread, drinking soup from a tureen in which dirt and sand were visible at the bottom. ‘They ordered prisoners to sing anthems,’ he says. ‘If you break regulations, they will beat you.’ ”
A middle-aged woman who goes by the name of Xiang Yi, meaning “belief in God,” described to Kirk a life on the run for 12 years inside China before fleeing to South Korea four years ago. “They went to my home to arrest me, but I had already left the house for my sister’s house. I risked my life to get my passport.” She had no time to say good-bye to her son, with whom she has not been in touch since coming to Korea, and she’s never seen her granddaughter born nearly two years ago.
Another adherent, who calls himself Jamie Chao, made it to South Korea at about the same time after having been arrested, held for a week, severely beaten on the head and legs, and then let go. “After I was released, my wife was arrested,” he told Kirk. “The police went to the house, confiscated material.” Now, he says, his wife is in hiding, afraid to go anywhere for fear the police will send her back to prison.
Suppression “is getting worse and worse,” says Jamie, while the CCP under Xi exerts near-total control. The Chinese Communist Party “is becoming more and more tyrannical,” he says. “The party has grassroots committees everywhere.”
“Things are as bad as they were at the end of the Cultural Revolution,” said Melton. From 1966 to 1976 as many as 80 million people were killed as Red Guards rampaged across the land in a revolutionary reform movement ordered by Mao Zedong.
“The Church of Almighty God is suffering most,” says Melton. “Any of those who return are arrested as soon as they get off the plane.”