China to Tighten Control of Churches, Including Database of State-Approved Church Leaders

The Chinese Communist Party is set to introduce tighter regulations and more state control of Christian ministry in China, including a database of authorised church leaders with strict requirements.

The Chinese Communist Party is set to introduce tighter regulations and more state control of Christian ministry in China, including a database of authorised church leaders with strict requirements.

According to the Barnabas Fund, it was confirmed last week that the Measures for the Administration of Religious Personnel issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), which was first announced in November 2020, will come into effect on May 1, 2021.

The new measures include the creation of a “database of religious personnel” authorised by the state to perform religious ministry.

In order to qualify, church leaders must be those who “love the motherland, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, law, regulations and rules, [and] practice the core values of socialism.”

Authorised religious personnel are obligated to resist “illegal religious activities and religious extremism” as well as “infiltration by foreign forces using religion.”

Churches and religious organisations will also be required to conduct formal assessments of their pastors by applying a “reward and punishment” system, recorded in the database.

Religious leaders and organisations that fail to satisfactorily adhere to the regulations may face de-registration, fines, or criminal prosecution.

In December, international Christian watchdog organisation, Release International, warned that persecution of Christians in China is set to rise in 2021, following President Xi Jingping’s efforts to ‘clean up’ anything that does not advance the Communist agenda.

“Tough new laws controlling religion have been imposed. Non-registered churches have been raided and closed in 2020, and increasing numbers of registered churches have been made to install CCTV cameras and put up posters proclaiming communist ideals and beliefs,” the organisation’s annual Persecution Trends survey notes.

In 2018, the pastor of one of China’s largest unregistered protestant house churches made international news headlines after he, and dozens of church members were arrested for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ and ‘illegally operating a business.’

According to a statement from Early Rain Covenant Church, Pastor Wang Yi was secretly tried on December 26, 2019, at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. Four days later, the court found him guilty and sentenced him to nine years imprisonment.

“From the perspective of society, he is exercising his freedoms of religion and speech, rights granted to Chinese citizens by the Constitution and laws of China,” the church said.

China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.

The Christian church has seen explosive growth in China over the past several decades. Before 1949 there were only 4 million Christians in the country. Today, that figure is reaching 67 million. More than three times the population of Australia.

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