New government measures, which will include a database of church leaders, look set to introduce even more state control over Christian ministry in China.
It was confirmed this week that the Measures for the Administration of Religious Personnel issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), first announced in November 2020, will come into effect on 1 May 2021.
Key among the new measures, according to Article 33 of the document, is the creation by SARA of “a database of religious personnel” listing all those authorised by the state to perform religious ministry. Church leaders not registered in this database will not be permitted to undertake ministry.
In order to be registered church leaders must, according to Article 3, be those who “love the motherland, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, laws, regulations and rules, [and] practice the core values of socialism”.
The database will include “the basic information of religious personnel” and each pastor, or other religious leader, added will be given an identification number.
Churches told to apply “rewards and punishments”
The new rules obligate churches and religious organisations to conduct formal assessment of their pastors. The churches must use this assessment to apply “rewards and punishments”, which will also be recorded in the database.
Article 6 of the measures states that, among more specific obligations, ministers of religion must resist “illegal religious activities and religious extremism” as well as “infiltration by foreign forces using religion”.
Under Article 21 religious organisations, including churches, will be obliged to cancel the qualifications of a minister if they are “advised” to do so by SARA.
Articles 47 and 48 confirm that religious leaders or organisations that do not adhere to the regulations in a manner satisfactory to SARA may be liable to penalties including de-registration, fines, or criminal prosecution. Article 51 adds that SARA is “responsible for the interpretation of these measures”.
The new measures are an extension of the Regulations on Religious Affairs introduced in February 2020 which placed almost every aspect of religious life under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.