While on vacation in Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I sat down one morning to read the paper. My brother gets the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), so I began to peruse the July 28 issue. On the front page, lower fold, was a story that definitely grabbed my attention. The headline read, “China’s Banned Churches Defy Regime.”
I’ve followed with great interest the oppression of faith in China that began with the establishment of the Communist Chinese Party takeover in 1949. However, persecution of Christians in particular began in earnest during the 1930s. When Mao Zedong’s (formerly spelled, Tse-tung) Communist Party assumed control, he announced that they would officially recognize five religions: Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism, Buddhism and Islam. “But they heavily restricted worship, destroyed churches and exiled foreign missionaries. During the decade-long Cultural Revolution that started in 1966, religion was banned.”
Over the years I have read numerous stories and reports coming out of Communist China detailing the persistent and extensive persecution of Christians. The current world population is just shy of 7 billion. China’s population is 1.3 billion, clearly making it the most populated country in the world. By comparison, the population of the U.S. is 307 million.
In the last couple of decades China has opened its doors to Western nations (predominantly the U.S.) and invited capitalism into its borders. With the enormous workforce in China, it’s no wonder most everything you and I buy today says, Made in China. The average Chinese today is experiencing an economic level unheard of even thirty years ago. This makes it difficult for China to return to the heavy-handed governmental approach once so common. It was only in 1989 that we witnessed the protests of students in Tiananmen Square – an event that cast the Chinese government in a familiar but all-too-ugly picture of repressive governmental practices.
According to this Wall Street Journal article, all faiths have been subjected to harsh treatment. Leaders of the different faiths have been harassed, arrested, sent away to prison, or simply disappear without a trace. With the innumerable ways of communicating today, using iPods, iPhones, e-mail, cell phones, etc., it is increasingly more difficult for a government such as the Communist Chinese to ride herd on its people, especially in the hopes of controlling dissent.
On a recent Sunday at the Beijing Zion Church, Pastor Jin Mingri laid out a vision for Christians in China that contrasts starkly with the ruling Communist Party’s tight rein on religion. “Let your descendants become great politicians like Joseph and Daniel,” said Mr. Jin, referring to the Old Testament figures who surmounted challenges to become political leaders. “Let them influence the future course of this country,” the pastor said in one of several sermons to his 800-member church.
Christians in China, particularly Evangelicals, are calling out the government to allow for their right to worship freely. The underground church is not as underground as it once was. These Christians, especially their leaders, are organized and are willing to confront the authorities, fully realizing their lives could be in jeopardy. But when one of the pastors is arrested, another takes his place. There are currently twenty underground seminaries in Beijing alone. The course of training is three years, when completed these ministers will continue to be a formidable force. The nation’s leaders are greatly concerned and are showing signs of being uncertain as to how to handle this.
For the first time China’s illegal underground churches, whose members are estimated in the tens of millions, are mounting a unified and increasingly organized push for legal recognition.
I find this to be interesting in light of the fact that an atheistic government such as Communist China is wrestling with the possibilities of officially allowing faith groups to worship openly, yet the United States is attempting to restrict faith expressions, particularly that of Christians.
You think I’m exaggerating? Did you not hear about the director of the National Cemetery in Houston, Texas, last month preventing ministers from offering Christian prayers at the funerals of deceased service members? Not only that, but even the words “God” and “Jesus” are not allowed to be spoken or written. A pastor performing a funeral on Memorial Day this year was told by the VA to remove the name of Jesus from his prayer.
So, is China becoming more like us? Or are we becoming more like China?