China (MNN) — A government is trying to force religious leaders to specify their religion on their state-issued identity cards.
This could describe Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, Greece, or Israel…but it’s China.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, confirms the report and notes: “Obviously, this is brand new, so we don’t know how this will be implemented. But, in the Middle East, if your ID card says you’re a Muslim, you cannot get it re-issued if you decide to change your religion (if you become a Christian).”
Right now, the decree is aimed at Buddhist monks in China. Why? It seems the Chinese government wants more control over Tibet and its national identity. But, warns Nettleton, it won’t stop there. “There is already motion in progress to extend out beyond Buddhist monks to Catholic priests, and ultimately, to all religious minority members in China.”
China’s government might counter that by saying they’re not anti-religion; rather, they’re anti-terrorism. The resulting crackdown has swept through any gathering bodies of note. Nettleton explains, ”They see that there are more unregistered church Christians than there are members of the Communist Party. Their power base is the Communist Party, and it’s now vastly outnumbered by Christians. So, it certainly is a concern to them.”
Additionally, while the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it protects only what are considered “normal” religious activities. “We have seen them try to exert more control over the last year. We’ve seen the attacks on church buildings; we’ve seen pastors be arrested–even registered church pastors be arrested–and put in jail.” According to a UCA News report, government officials are now enforcing a new policy requiring Roman Catholic officials to carry ID cards stating their religious affiliation or risk losing the right to preach.
This follows a Human Rights Watch report which noted that the government’s campaign has led to the demolishing of entire churches in Zhejiang Province, considered the Bible Belt of Chinese Christianity. Zhejiang province has been in the crosshairs of the Chinese government. Since 2013, over 1,700 crosses and over 400 church buildings have been demolished.
With the threat of being forced to carry religious ID cards looming, Nettleton says, “Pray for wisdom for them as they’re navigating these waters that are constantly changing. I think we just want to pray for encouragement, that they’ll continue to be bold witnesses, that they’ll continue to serve the Lord, regardless of what the Chinese government says.”
VOM provides Sunday school materials, supports Bible and Christian literature printing, and helps families of prisoners in China. VOM also supports small, underground Bible schools.