Taking advantage of the economic recession amid the pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pressuring low-income Christians in China to lose their faith or give up welfare benefits.

According to the human rights magazine, Bitter Winter, access to welfare benefits has become increasingly restricted for Christian communities that have been affected by the pandemic’s economy, as they now have first to renounce their faith to access regime assistance.

Last April, in the northern city of Linfen, Shanxi Province, the CCP asked (ordered) all local city officials to remove religious symbols and images from the homes of those who profess the Christian faith and receive welfare payments. The spiritual images and icons were to be replaced with images of the Chinese dictators Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping.

A member of a church permitted by the CCP told Bitter Winter that during April, officials visiting the city of Lymphen “tore down all religious couplets and a calendar with an image of Jesus … and posted a portrait of Mao Zedong instead.

“Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing—they must obey the Communist party for the money they receive,” the man said, recalling what he had told by a CCP official.

In April, the municipal government in Xinyu city in southeastern Jiangxi province “withdrew a disabled Christian [man’s] minimum living subsidy and a monthly disability allowance of 100 RMB (about $14),” according to Bitter Winter.

Breitbart News reports, a mother living in Weihu city, Henan province, had social assistance her two children were receiving in April canceled, after refusing to sign a declaration renouncing her faith and destroying all religious symbols in her home.

According to the media quoted in 2017, the CCP threatened to withhold poverty relief packages for rural Christians if they did not replace religious iconography in their homes and worship places with pictures of CCP leaders such as Xi Jinping.

In China, it is impossible to speak of religious freedom since the CCP, under the doctrine of atheism, imposes the idea of a secularized society governed only by the regime’s guidelines.

As for Christians, it is only possible for believers to affiliate themselves with the Three-Authored Patriotic Church, which is governed under the parameters of the CCP. According to Christian Post, last year, the Chinese authorities closed down several well-known churches, such as the Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, the Xunsiding Church in Xiamen, and the 5,000-member Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.

Other religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, or Islam are also suppressed, and their ability to act within China is minimal. The discipline of the Buddha school known as Falun Gong has since July 20, 1999, become a target of brutal persecution until today, raising the concern of human rights experts at the international level.

As for the Chinese regime’s crusade to remove Christian symbols, it has not ceased. International Christian Concern reported on July 7 that government officials moved cranes into Zhejiang province to forcibly remove the crosses of two state-approved churches.