After new provisions were enforced at the start of last year, the government appoints its representatives to administrative committees in places of worship.
by Ye Ling
On March 28 last year, a notice appeared at the entrance to the mosque of Gaoer village in Gaobeidian, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of the prefecture-level city of Baoding in Hebei Province. “To strengthen the Party committee’s management of ethnic and religious affairs,” the notice read, “Liu Junjie, vice secretary of the Gaoer village’s Party branch, was appointed as the director of the mosque’s administrative committee.” It also listed other committee members “responsible for all mosque affairs.” As per the notice, the appointments were “discussed by the village Party branch committee and the villagers’ self-governance committee, accountable to the Heping sub-district Party committee, following instructions, replies, and approval by Gaobeidian city’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau.”
Ever since the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Civil Affairs adopted the Template for a Charter of Legal Persons in Religious Activity Venues on January 26, 2019, authorities across China started interfering in the direct management of state-run places of worship. The primary aim of the decree was for the government to take over the decision-making right from the people of faith.
The order, which came into effect on April 1 last year, demands that all religious venues must establish a “democratic management committee.” The body must be administered by a director, no more than three deputies, and several members in charge of making decisions on the appointment of personnel, finances, formulation of internal regulations, and other activities. As per the new rules, committees may “consist of clergy members, representatives of religious citizens, and other relevant members.” It is precisely the latter group that enables officials to become committee members and allows the government to be directly involved in the management of religious venues. Moreover, decisions on the election and dismissal of committee members are jointly made by its former members and representatives of state religious affairs institutions. Only those who support CCP’s policies can be appointed, while those who express the slightest dissatisfaction with the governments’ behavior are dismissed.
“Xi Jinping’s so-called ‘rule according to the law’ is just for show,” a Three-Self pastor from Henan Province commented about the government’s influence on religious venues. “The Communist Party is juggling words. In reality, it ‘persecutes according to the law,’ resulting in an even worse situation.”
A Three-Self church in Linfen, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi, held a general election for its administrative committee in September last year. As a rule, new candidates have to be nominated by former committee members and selected based on the congregation’s vote. But the new provisions in the Template allowed officials to manipulate the results.
According to a source, ahead of the voting, four church deacons handed a written complaint against the two candidates appointed by the local United Front Work Department (UFWD). The UFWD not only ignored it but also confirmed the new committee membership without paying attention to the congregation’s vote. Since then, all church activities are controlled by the government, and the four deacons were suppressed, one of whom was disqualified from preaching after he refused to sing the national anthem.
“The UFWD already designated new committee members, and they just informed us about it,” a church member complained. “Where is democracy? Who has the right to vote?”
“The Communist Party has the final say on church affairs,” another church member added. “Those planted by the UFWD follow the Party line, while those who are against it are excluded. It’s a dictatorship.”
“If we don’t follow the Template, our church will be shut down,” said a clergy member from a Three-Self church in Tengzhou, a county-level city in the eastern province of Shandong.”
The Religious Affairs Bureau in Henan’s Anyang city designated a clergy member who supports government’s policies as the committee’s director in a city’s Three-Self church in May last year, without even announcing the election results. According to a source, the former church director obtained the most votes but was denied the position because of disagreements with the Bureau. The director had refused to cooperate with the government on implementing the “four requirements” in the church and attempted to reinstall its demolished cross.
A Three-Self church member from Henan’s Yuzhou city told Bitter Winter that elections to his church’s management committee were held last December. Government officials nominated a preacher who supports the CCP to become its director because “the primary election criteria are love for the country and religion, familiarity with religious policies, and proactive cooperation with the government.” An illiterate congregation member and another with no knowledge about sermons or preaching were appointed as vice directors, resulting in objections among the congregation.
“Officials said that the newly elected director has high political awareness, and it’s true,” a congregation commented. He remembered that the new administrator bought cigarettes for government representatives with the donation money on Christmas Eve, not long after he took office.
“The so-called democratic management committee just pays lip service,” a pastor from the southern province of Guangdong told Bitter Winter. “The Template requires to ‘discuss with religious affairs institutions and make joint decisions,’ which gives the government a great advantage to manage religious venues directly.”