China should harness the positive influence of moderate religious believers, including their traditions of benevolence and tolerance, and recognise their contributions to society, the country's top religious affairs official wrote on Tuesday.
Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, wrote in the Communist Party's official People's Daily that even though most people in China have no religion, those who do have an important role to play in promoting harmony.
"We should pay great attention to the eagerness of religious believers," Wang wrote. "Foster the positive contents of religion, expound upon religious doctrines which accord with the development needs of society."
He added, "Guide religious believers to have correct beliefs and follow correct practices, carry out the religious principles of reconciliation, benevolence, tolerance and moderation."
Believers should be allowed to "earnestly practice what they advocate" and "form a common consensus on promoting social stability and harmony ... under the leadership of the party and the socialist system," Wang added.
About half of China's estimated 100 million religious followers are Christians or Muslims, with the rest Buddhists or Daoists, the government says, though the real number of believers is probably much higher.
Wang had written in April that the country was struggling to banish superstitious beliefs about events such as sickness and death, and warned against people being misled.
But in his new piece, Wang said that while it was important to crack down on what he called fanaticism and extremism, the country must recognise religious groups that work towards the common good, lest they feel discouraged.