Chinese Church Voices

New Religious Regulations: Another View

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

Last week we published an analysis of the new religious regulations from Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. In that post, Wang Yi writes a critique of the regulations and warns Christians in China of the coming pressure that will result from the new regulations. He dissects why the new regulations are a violation of religious freedom and should therefore be resisted by Christians in China.

This week we are publishing a counter-view of the new regulations. Wang Zhengming, blogging for China Mission, argues why the new regulations are necessary and why they contribute to the development of China. He maintains that the new regulations act as a “legal exhortation” for churches to preserve religious freedom and aid them to take up the mission of China.

We would like to remind our readers that Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

Review of the newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs

Compared with the former Regulations on Religious Affairs from 2005, the newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs have more consistency than change, and its additions and deletions reflect the motive of legislators. China has consistently held firm to its principle of religious freedom, a principle that has existed since the political negotiations during the country's founding in 1949. Even earlier, during the late Qing Dynasty and the hundred years of republicanism, this principle existed as a consensus among Chinese intellectuals as essential to building a modern nation state. Unlike other values such as medieval feudalism, the principle of religious freedom endows a nation with its modernity. After the dissolution of society's foundations in the world of medieval Christianity, traditional cultural values no longer had any realistic application, causing the rise of new political powers, as well as the definition of a modern nation.

Religious freedom is the standard for the secular world in handling affairs that involve religion, and is recognized by Modernist Christians, that is, Christian Liberals. Liberal theologians during the founding of the nation, such as Wu Yao-tsung [translator note: also known as Y. T. Wu], were convinced of this principle. In contrast with the Nationalist government and its Fundamentalist supporters, Christian Liberals recognized that socialism was the direction the world was headed in, and so recognized the legality of the Chinese Communist Party's political authority, and sought to transform theology in ways that are compatible with socialism.

Fundamentalists differed. They viewed Modernism and secularism as major threats to religion—how much more so an atheist government—and so they naturally inclined toward the Nationalist government. They sought the aid of Chiang Kai-shek and high-level Christians within the government to revive Fundamentalist groups, such as the Chinese Presbyterian Church founded on the Chinese mainland by Fundamentalist separatists like J. Gresham Machen, as well as all the Fundamentalist churches established or influenced by the North China Theological Seminary, which in turn was founded by the Subei Presbyterian Mission under the influence of Machen. Fundamentalists ignore the progress of world history, and attempt to impose traditional Christian morals on everybody in order to re-establish a world in accordance with fundamental truths.

Therefore, according to the basic understanding of the Fundamentalist, religious freedom is mere convenience, and not doctrine. Fundamentalists ultimately seek to guide the morality of a nation by legislation and public sentiment. Take issues of abortion and homosexual rights for example. Secular nations and Liberal Christians consider these private affairs, and believe that they are to be handled in private, whereas Fundamentalists attempt to impose their views on everyone, whether Christian or not. When Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage, two voices emerged from the church. Fundamentalists influenced by Nationalist Christians believed that homosexuality was eroding traditional family morals, and demanded that the Taiwanese legislature not legalize same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, Liberal Christians attempted to explain that if Fundamentalists believed that same-sex relationships were contrary to their own doctrines, they can say so within their own churches and communities, and can also dismiss homosexual believers, but that they cannot impose such a view on all citizens. Taiwan is a "secular country" and believes in religious freedom. Neither minority beliefs or majority beliefs may harass each other. If Fundamentalists object to legislation simply because same-sex marriage is not compatible with their beliefs, then Muslims may likewise seek to ban pigs in Taiwan, since that is a basic tenant of Muslim faith as well.

Recognition of religious freedom is mainstream among Christian Liberals in China, and conforms with the ethics of modern society. Fundamentalists, however, value religious freedom as long as it protects them while they are disadvantaged. But once they are strong, they ignore religious freedom and export Fundamental culture and values, infringing on the basic beliefs and ways of life of others.

The newly revised Regulations on Religious Affairs has added new content to emphasize the fact that any organization or person may not cause contradictions and conflicts between religions, within a religion, or between religious citizens and non-religious citizens, nor can anyone spread religious extremism, nor use religion to undermine national unity, cause secession, nor engage in terrorist activities.

In modern countries, the legislature is the center from which order and civilization radiate, and is an essential connection between many different points. In a unified multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, there are few core values that can bring us together. After Statism and Nationalism, Secularism is about the only ideology that can become a core value and build harmonious co-existence. There are almost no other ideologies that can ensure the proper government of a great country.

Therefore, religious groups are responsible for promoting national religious policy. Religious groups also cannot be subordinate to or have personnel relationships with foreign religions. In terms of theological education, educational institutes that offer continuing education to teaching staff must also be given legal status, for purposes of supervision as well as to prevent infiltration. Small countries naturally have no use for such considerations, but big countries face unique challenges. China's Christianity must necessarily become a Christianity with the same weight as the Chinese Communist Party. Sinofied Christianity must take up the mission of a great country and the mission of the nation's internal affairs. America was founded by Puritans, and China was founded by Christianity and such religions and all citizens who recognized China's mission to be a great nation.

The religious regulations are primarily focused on the Three-Self Church, acting as something like a legal exhortation. It is secondarily for the house church, for those groups who do not yet meet the standards for registration, who meet temporarily. These groups are protected by law, but they must register and accept supervision. Anyone with any social experience knows that unsupervised, secret groups can control and severely harm its members. Regulations cover both personnel and financial supervision. As for those who meet the standards for registration, they may be registered as a group without special consideration for their beliefs or any other specification, so that they may be supervised appropriately, including supervision of their articles of association, organizational structure, public accounts, etc. This prevents lawless manipulation by authoritarian leaders. Establishment of a nation-wide group creates a bureaucratic structure for house churches—which is one of the marks of modern social organization—and the creation of such a bureaucratic structure begins to loosen Fundamental churches' adherence to extremist assertions.

One bright result of this is the introduction of democracy into Fundamental house churches. Any group should be governed by democracy, and this begins to modernize house churches. Teaching staff are no longer allowed to keep the church in their own grasp by the name of the Heavenly Son of God, but must be authorized by the votes of believers. This is the greatest hit to Fundamental churches. Modern society's great "tumor" of democratic election and democratic governance is greatly feared by Fundamental preachers, but welcome by Fundamental laity.

The new regulations attempt to re-organize the Three-Self Church, so as to absorb house churches. The theory of compatibility is already being put into practice. Three-Self churches must realize the mission of a great nation, while house churches must loosen up on their Fundamental beliefs. If the new regulations are put into practice, this can be accomplished.

Original Article:新修订宗教事务条例评析, China Mission

This article has been edited for brevity.

Image Credit: Forbidden City in Beijing by Taco Witte via Flickr.
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