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China demands ‘total loyalty’ from state-run churches

The annual inspection of churches and license renewal are seen as measures to 'governing religion according to the law'

Catholic worshipers attend a morning mass on Easter Sunday at a Catholic church in a village near Beijing on April 4, 2021

Catholic worshipers attend a morning mass on Easter Sunday at a Catholic church in a village near Beijing on April 4, 2021. (Photo: JADE GAO/AFP)

Published: May 12, 2023 10:14 AM GMT

Updated: May 12, 2023 10:56 AM GMT

Leaders of two pro-government Christian groups in southeast China organized a conference with the aim to strengthen the re-evaluation of state-controlled churches and control of religious clergy on annual inspection and license renewal for the clergy.

The conference in mid-April by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Fujian Christian Council at the Fujian Theological Seminary insisted on efforts and activities by church groups and clergy based on social principles of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and direction for religious groups by President Xi Jinping, ChinaAid reported on May 10.  

Zhang Huarong, a professor at Fujian Normal University, delivered a lecture on “The Generational Implications and Contemporary Values of Chinese Path to Modernization.”

He also shared his experience studying the report of the 20th National Congress of the CCP last October.

Pastor Zhang Jiyou, deputy president of the Fujian Christian Council, pointed out that the license renewal process is “a significant reflection of the governing religion according to the law.”

“It is a crucial measure for the information management of religious clergy and an important channel for the Fujian Churches to strengthen its self-management,” he said.

He asked the clergy of the churches to take the opportunity of this license renewal work to be strict with themselves.

State-sanctioned groups should implement every regulation conscientiously and govern their churches strictly, he urged.

In recent years, government-controlled Christian groups across China have organized annual inspections, reviews, and license renewals of religious clergy, ChinaAid reported.

Before the annual inspection, assessment, and certificate renewal, the religious clergy needs training lectures, self-assessments, and examinations.

An official government-controlled organization will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the religious clergy who participate in training courses on religious policies and regulations, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches, and the Sinicization of Christianity.

Recently, the training courses for religious clergy incorporated Xi Jinping’s thoughts, such as “love the motherland, love the Communist Party of China, and love socialism.”

ChinaAid reported that the primary aim of the annual inspection is “to reinforce their [CCP] ideology on religious clergy to better serve Communism.”

Political loyalty is above all else, so annual inspections also operate as an excuse to remove the unqualified “dissidents” – religious clergy who are evaluated as “not patriotic enough,” the report said.

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the Chinese regime has intensified its efforts to tighten control over Christian religious groups, reports rights groups.

In the past years, the authorities have adopted several laws and policies to make Christianity and Christian groups more subservient, such as Regulations on Religious Affairs, Administrative Measures for the Administration of Religious Institutions, Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services, and Measures on the Management of Religious Clergy.

These regulations conflict with the Chinese constitution that nominally guarantees freedom of religion for all citizens.

The annual inspection and license renewal of China’s Christian clergy is part of “the effort to nationalize Christianity in China completely,” ChinaAid reported.

Though China recognizes the legal entity of five organized religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam, it has seven state-sanctioned bodies to oversee the affairs of these religious groups.

As per Chinese regulations, all religious groups, affiliated institutes, and religious clergy must register with the government to run activities or face the risks of crackdown including raids, harassment, detention, and closure.

In the past years, dozens of “unauthorized” churches and church-run facilities have been raided and shut, and crosses were demolished. Hundreds of Christians who belong to unregistered churches have been arrested, fined, and jailed.

The US-based rights group, Open Doors, ranks China among the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.

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