Chinese Christians' Olympic "degree of difficulty" rated at 9.7

By Skippy R. | 08/20/2008


(Crossposted at www.baptiststandard.com)

China's Olympic Games began in Beijing in venues choked by smog and under the shadow of a crackdown on human rights and religious freedom.

The Chinese dazzled the world with an impressive and often intimidating opening night display of pageantry and technical flash.

Now millions of concerned Christians around the world are focused on China because of the Games and want to support believers there. But like the smog that cloaks the Beijing skyline, layers of cultural misperceptions, political biases and contradictory information conceal the actual status of the Chinese church from our view.

What's really going on with the church in China? 

It's hard to tell what's real. At least that's been my experience. Maybe you'll do better at sorting it all out than I have. (The discovery that much of the Olympics fireworks display on opening night was computer-generated is perhaps emblematic of the problem).

The main issues first surfaced this year in the controversy over evangelizing at the Games.

I guess we should be glad times have changed. For the first few centuries of the church, the only Christian witness at a stadium consisted of the cries of the victims as they were being torn apart by wild beasts because of their faith.

Christian history

china_churchcover

But spectacles are hard to resist, even for the pious.

St. Augustine tells the story in his Confessions of how a Christian friend, Alypius, came to be obsessed with Roman gladiatorial combats. Alypius at first refused to attend the violent spectacles. But, cajoled by his colleagues, he gave in, with the proviso that he would keep his eyes shut. If he could only have closed his ears too, laments Augustine, for when the crowd roared, he was thrilled so deeply that he couldn't contain his curiosity. He opened his eyes, took in the spectacle, and became enthralled.

Like Augustine's friend, I'm afraid I haven't been able to look away as the spectacle unfolded in Beijing.

Throughout history, Christians have had mixed feelings about athletic competition in general. In A.D. 394 the Roman emperor Theodosius I, a Christian who considered the Games a pagan festival, ordered them stopped. The most famous Christian Olympic testimony was by Chariots of Fire character Eric Liddell, who witnessed mightily at the 1924 Games ...by his absence.

Some claim we shouldn't entangle Christianity with sports in the first place, because it unduly glorifies "success," while most of Christ's early followers were losers in life pursuits, in personal character, in relationships, in just about everything. Losers, Jesus said, are closer to the kingdom of God than the winners.

Whatever their attitude toward competition, Christian missionary agencies and ministries during previous Olympics always took advantage of the unique opportunity to share the gospel with athletes and visitors from around the world. This year all that is banned. Only Chinese Christian chaplains and ministers are allowed to conduct services and counsel with athletes in the Olympic Village. (Update: Athletes are complaining that these arrangements are inadequate.)

Run-up to the Games

A few months before the Games, evangelist Franklin Graham announced he wouldn't support any illegal Olympics evangelism. At the same time, the media reported an increasing crackdown by authorities on unregistered Christian house churches and their leaders in a pre-Games "security" sweep. China Aid Association's leader Bob Fu met with President Bush just before he left for China to ask him to attend worship at an unregistered church in Beijing to support the persecuted Christians there. Instead, Bush worshipped at the registered Kuanjie Church. China Aid claims this led to the arrest of Hua Huiqi, a renowned Christian social activist in the city.

house church
Chinese House Church meeting. (Photo by WorldServe)

All this emphasizes a sticking point in understanding China's Christians --the split between the registered and unregistered or "underground" churches.

American Christians want to support the good guys. We want to disparage the bad guys. And we don't welcome facts that muddy that black-and-white clarity. Especially with an emotionally charged issue like this .

As I delved into reports from all sides, this disagreement over recognition by the government reminded me of something-- the re-emergence of an ancient conundrum among early church leaders about what to do with delators.

Bear with me here.

The cult of martyrdom

In the early centuries of the Church, martyrdom was extolled to the point that Christians with an extremist bent virtually taunted the authorities, challenging them to put them to death for their faith. In some ways similar to the Islamic jihadist martyrs of today-- but without the element of the murder of innocents-- they gladly forsook present comforts and life for an eternal reward they believed would be enhanced by their manner of death.

martyr

Not everyone agreed. To balance this cult of martyrdom, St. Gregory of Nazianzus stated the now generally accepted view of orthodoxy: "It is mere rashness to seek death, but it is cowardly to refuse it "(Orat. xlii, 5, 6).

On the other extreme, some believers succumbed to the pressure of persecution and would either make a sacrifice to the gods, pay off the officials to get a paper acknowledging they had made such a sacrifice, or in the worst cases, betray their friends to the authorities to save their own lives, even appearing in court to testify against them. Some were given the property of the accused as a reward.

These turncoats were called delators--Latin for "common informers" or traitors. And once the persecutions were over, some surviving delators, having repented of their misdeeds, would often petition to be reinstated in the congregation. In some areas there were hundreds of them.

Does Christian love extend so far? A few bishops embraced the wavering and weak along with the treacherous and the self-aggrandizing. Other bishops imposed severe penances to weed out the insincere. Still others remanded all delators to perpetual excommunication and thus damnation.

But I wonder-- who can judge besides God?

The Russian example

In the Soviet Union before the fall of communism, and in China today, a division between registered and unregistered churches has resurrected the delator question in a new context. But what defines betrayal in these circumstance? And who has betrayed whom?

For our part, watching from the outside, it's always hard to know how best to support these believers who labor under conditions that range from uneasy tolerance, to harassment, to imprisonment and death.

I interviewed Georgi Vins, a leader of the unregistered Baptist church in Russia, a couple of times after he was was exiled in exchange for Soviet spies in 1979. I had followed his ministry for years, and also talked to Alexei Bichkov, leader of the registered All Union Council and his colleague Michael Zhidkov, pastor of the registered Baptist church in Moscow, on their trips to meet with officials in the West in the 1980s.

They represented two very different paths for dealing with an oppressive regime.

As I recall, the All Union Council representatives and some of their supporters in the West saw Vins as just stirring up trouble and in effect betraying the whole enterprise by causing increased suffering for all believers in his country by his stubborn refusal to compromise. Vins, who had served many years in prison camps, claimed the All Union Council was working directly with the KGB. I viewed Vins with respect and Bichkov and Zhidkov with suspicion. It was all pretty black and white.

The question for supporters in the West back then was whether to criticize or mollify the authorities. The researchers at Keston College in England, (recently moved to Baylor University) who carefully documented all this for decades, said Christians in the West should base their responses on what the persecuted Christians are telling us. If they want us to put outside pressure on their government and protest their treatment, then that's what we should do, even if it increases trouble for them.

With the hindsite of history, that tactic seems to have made a difference in the Soviet Union.

Slowly, a reconciliation

How did the newly freed Russian Baptists deal with the question of delators after communism fell apart?

At first there was continuing, even increasing, bitterness. But in recent years, much has happened to heal the intra-Baptist wounds stemming from those Communist-era divisions.

Walter Sawatsky, professor of history at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, reported in the spring of 2007 that the different groups of Evangelical Christian Baptists in Russia responded positively to a request to pray for their rivals. "To pray for the other, publicly, as a post-Soviet evangelical church, is therefore an important step on what must still be a long road toward reconciliation, given the many, many negatives that have circulated," Sawatsky told the Christian Century.

vins kryuchnov
Michael Zhidkov, Gennady Kryuchkov, Georgi Vins

More recently, Pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko of Moscow, secretary of the Russian Baptist Public Council, an umbrella organization committed to dialogue with all groups of Russian Baptists and formed after the All Union Council dissolved, reported that he frequently conversed with Pastor Gennadi Kryuchkov, the leader of the unregistered churches, until Kryuchkov's death in the summer of 2007.

Kryuchkov --who evaded the KGB for decades while running a whole clandestine denomination out of a small hidden attic room-- had been the most severe critic of the All Union Council leadership. But even he agreed for his International Council church to enjoy observer status within the Public Council.

Since his death, "a new leadership has been selected," Vasilizhenko said, "and we believe we will be able to find contact with one another and continue our dialogue."

It's not a completely cozy arrangement, perhaps. But, by way of contrast, those two groups now have more interaction than the Southern Baptist Convention currently has with the Baptist World Alliance.

There may be a practical reason that helped push this reconciliation. A provision in the Russian religion law enacted in 1997 said only churches officially recognized 15 years previously (i.e., recognized under the Soviet Union) could achieve the highest status of legality. That may have made a relationship with the Public Council more attractive to the unregistered churches, which had no such standing. A common threat has also arisen in the growing dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church over all religious matters.

But not everyone is on board with reconciliation, and some unregistered churches are still being hassled by local government authorities. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Still, mutual trust is slowly being restored between the two groups.

The Three Self Movement

In China a similar split still continues, but under completely different conditions.

K. K. Yeo, professor of New Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, explained the differences in a 2006 article in Christian Century.

"No great theological chasm exists between registered churches and unregistered churches. Many Chinese Christians attend both.

"However, there is a difference between registered and unregistered churches in political attitude. Most of the churches aligned with the TSPM and the CCC adhere to the theology of Romans 13:1, 4 ("Let every person be subject to the governing authorities . . . [they are] God’s servant for your good") and 1 Peter 2:13 ("For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution"). They hope to be God’s agent of salvation within the political reality. In response to the communist view of religion -- and the TSPM has no illusions about communism’s atheist views -- the TSPM has been accommodating, finding ways to cooperate with the state’s mission.

"The political attitude of the unregistered churches reflects the theology of the Book of Revelation. They assume that the Chinese government, being communist in ideology, is pagan and satanic. Most unregistered churches do not believe that Christianity should collaborate with a government that does not love or honor God."

Ting
Bishop K. H. Ting

Back in the 1980s, Bishop K. H. Ting, the leader of China's registered church council, seemed pleasant enough when I spoke to him on one of his trips to America. He avoided some of my more pointed questions then, but I didn't really press him because of limited time. I really just wanted to meet him.

Today on reflection I find I can empathize, though not sympathize, with the idea of registration and cooperation in the complicated situation in China.

The play A Man for All Seasons portrays Sir Thomas More as someone of principle who nevertheless considers carefully the details of the King's Act of Succession to see if he can abide by it without violating his conscience.

That sort of combination of practicality with conscience could explain the difficult, lifelong, high-wire act of someone like Bishop Ting. And it doesn't guarantee survival. Thomas More lost his head. And during the Cultural Revolution, the government-sanctioned Christian leaders were imprisoned, spat upon and tortured alongside those who chose to worship outside the government restrictions. In fact, Ting's home was taken over by Red Guards and he and his wife were reported to have joined millions of other intellectuals and professionals sent to work in labour camps, at least for a time.

A hunger for scripture

But since then, a lot has changed in China. The Chinese government and the recognized church organizations have worked hard to eliminate objections to compromise and cooperation. More than 12,000 places of Protestant worship and 17 centers of theological training have been legally established. Ting helped found the Amity Foundation 20 years ago that has printed 50 million Bibles-- printed by Chinese Christians for Chinese Christians. No need to smuggle them in, they insist. (These Chinese Bibles are even being distributed at the Games).

That's a lot of Bibles. But if estimates of up to 150 million Christians in China are correct, of which only 18 million belong to registered churches, then that's too few Bibles. And in fact, the Amity Foundation, which prints the Bibles, is sort of a monopoly. Earlier this year a certain Pastor Wang Zaiqing tried printing his own Bibles and was arrested.

Christians will risk just about anything to obtain a Bible.

bible
This Bible survived the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution (Photo by WorldServe)

I saw this on a trip to Romania in 1981. My wife and son and I traveled with a Bible-smuggling group to deliver hundreds of pounds of scriptures and teaching supplies to several remote churches. The materials, hidden inside the van we were traveling in, escaped the notice of inquisitive border guards. It was a scary week of trying to look like normal tourists, not talking for fear of bugged hotel rooms and wondering if my son's crying would attract police attention. What started as an objective journalistic endeavor ended with me frantically helping to unscrew the panels that contained the precious cargo. When the Bibles were eventually delivered in the dead of night, the people were beaming and wouldn't let us leave, despite the danger.

(The organization-- Mission Possible based in Denton, Texas-- is still operating in Eastern Europe, now openly ministering there).

Reflections of a China hand

Britt Towery, a retired longtime Southern Baptist missionary to Taiwan and frequent traveller and teacher in China whose reputation is sterling, insists that many of the most lurid stories of Chinese persecution are exaggerated, that Christians have no need to go "underground" and that many times they are only making things worse.

Britt Towery
Britt Towery

From what he describes, it's sort of a Catch-22 that works like this: The recognized churches have agreed not to invite foreign missionaries in or receive western assistance. The unregistered churches do accept this help, and then are arrested and charged as foreign agents because of it. Their persecution is publicized outside of China, which leads to more western assistance, which results in more persecution.

Towery, who taught in the Protestant seminary in Nanjing as recently as 1989, says the majority of unregistered house churches usually are willing to work with the churches of the registered Three Self Patriotic Movement's China Christian Council (CCC), and vise versa.

"With Bible printing and devotional and theological books coming off the presses, China's Christians are in the most hopeful and open society they have known in centuries. They have limited freedoms, but are doing much more with their adjusted freedoms than many other places are."

The "three self" part of the official name refers to the principles of self-governance, self-support and self-propagation first introduced for Chinese churches by missionaries in the 1800s to encourage indigenous leadership and limit foreign influences.

Towery, now retired and living in San Angelo, had a falling out with his Southern Baptist sponsors over this in the late 1980s. Most mainline western denominations were working only with the recognized churches in China. But Southern Baptists "chose to ignore local and national leadership and began covert work," he explained in an e-mail interview.

"So they and some others chose 'cloak and dagger,' secret Christian witness in China. Which is absolutely unnecessary. Christianity is one of five officially recognized religions in China."

zhejiang church
The Three Self Movement Zhejiang Church. (Photo courtesy of Britt Towery)

I've seen enough fund-raising scams and exaggerated healing claims to be skeptical of any press release from an organization with an ax to grind. But can all the stories of Chinese persecution be false?

More probably, no single viewpoint can explain everything that's going on in a country with over 1.3 billion people.

The bitterness of betrayal

Towery agrees. But he says the way the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) changed its direction hurt all those involved.

"Where the SBC (Foreign Mission Board) failed was early on in 1984 when they promised to work with the CCC and be there to help in any way they could," Towery explained. When the SBC started to see so many independents "doing their own thing" in China, the mission board's leadership "went that way without informing me. I was viewed as too close to the CCC national leadership and not trusted as a covert agent."

"K. H. [Bishop Ting] told me what they were doing ... and asked me to do something. Our leadership was surprised that K.H. knew and were not happy with me."

So Towery and his wife took early retirement. "They wanted us to go and we did. I see it as another element of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC," he said. He admitted he had to repent of some bitterness over the affair.

Towery says he agrees with this assessment by E. Luther Copeland, retired Professor of Missions and World Religions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the use of covert ministry in closed societies:

"I am told that those sent to 'unreached peoples,' particularly to countries where missionaries are not admitted or not welcomed, sometimes misrepresent themselves as specialists who have no relation to mission boards, though in fact they have been sent and are supported by mission boards.

"This is the kind of dishonesty which cannot be squared with Christian ethics. Similar problems obtain with regard to nonresidential missionaries, missionaries who live outside the country or region to which they are assigned and make periodic visits. They may misrepresent themselves to have access to Christian groups within a given country.

"Such practices cannot be condoned. To assume that one has to forsake truth to have access to people where missionaries are not admitted is not only shoddy ethics but also poor theology."

The SBC and other groups that use a covert approach in closed societies report it is highly effective and reaps great spiritual rewards. It's an old question, one discussed all through the period of covert ministries to Iron Curtain countries during the Cold War. It's still being argued about, and apparently will never be definitively settled. There are plenty of scriptures to support both sides of the debate.

The truth is out there

As you can see, the religious situation in China poses confusing problems for the western observer.

Some things we know.

The observation of early church father Tertullian that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” has apparently proved true in China. The persecution of Christians proceeded in varying degrees from the beginning of Communist rule, peaking during the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1977 with an uptick in the mid-'90s and again in the last few years. Just since the Cultural Revolution, the church in China has increased from less than a million practicing Christians to a total of anywhere from 30 million to 70 million... with some estimates as high as 150 million.

Some things we've forgotten.

Chinese suspicion of foreign influence (which figures prominently in the thinking behind the Three Self Movement) dates from the colonial schemes of European empires and their subjugation of China after the Opium Wars. And surprisingly, Christianity is blamed for one of the bloodiest chapters of all human history-- the Taiping Rebellion.

Hong Xiuquan, a 23-year-old new Christian convert-- inspired by a Christian pamphlet-- was convinced by a dream or vision that he was the younger brother of Jesus. Spurred by this experience, he began a movement to bring in a Christian heaven on earth and drive out foreign influences. In an uprising that lasted from 1850 to 1864, he almost succeeded, but an astonishing 30 million people died in the process.

 

shanxi church
The Shanxi Church associated with the Three Self Movement. (Photo courtesy of Britt Towery)

Although Mao Tse Tung looked on the Taiping Uprising as a precurser to the Communist revolution because of its anti-foreign aspect, Chinese governments have been wary of Christianity's tendency to breed sectarianism and heretical offshoots that might destabilize society, and they always cite the rebellion as a reason for the need for keeping tight control of religious movements.

Some things we never hear about.

Although China's human rights record is abysmal to say the least, China's constitution guarantees freedom to worship. All China watchers agree that in practical terms local bureaucrats enforce the laws at their whim. Some unregistered churches operate completely in the open. Some registered churches become subject to oppressive measures for perceived slip-ups and are punished.

As Scott Kennedy, director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business at Indiana University, told the Indianapolis Star: "In such a vast and populous country, the tolerance for religious practice varies greatly," with some local officials looking the other way or even participating in the churches. "But you can never count on that being permanent. It's a cat-and-mouse game, and it's dangerous."

Towery insists that some "persecution" is tantamount to zoning disputes in which unregistered churches make their neighbors mad simply because of loud singing at odd hours, and the neighbors call the police on them, which can start a cascade of legal troubles. Sometimes local officials pressure congregations because they refuse to pay a bribe.

Many Christians worship at both registered and unregistered churches. In an interesting development, one registered church pastor recently left that umbrella to set up an unregistered church openly in an urban nightclub in an attempt to forge a third path for a new generation of believers.

Around 18 million Christians worship in registered churches in China. That's a lot of people. Who are they, and what is their spiritual condition? Are they delators? Or faithful followers of Christ?

Puppets or a fulcrum for change?

Bob Fu
Bob Fu of China Aid at the U.N. Human Rights Commission plenary session in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2005 demonstrating a torture device he says is used on Christian prisoners in China.

Bob Fu of China Aid, in testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2000, said house church believers consider the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) as "an agent of the government. House church leaders do not regard the TSPM and the China Christian Council (CCC) as authentic representatives of the Chinese church. Hence, it is hard for them to be reconciled with their betrayers who are still betraying them."

They also feel the officially recognized church is simply too liberal in its theology.

On its web site, the China Aid Association makes these charges:

"The TSPM recently asked the Public Security Bureau to shut down all house church meetings and arrest house church leaders and traveling evangelists."

"Bishop Ding also started a theological reconstruction campaign among the official seminaries. The purpose is to change the focus of teaching from justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ to justification by love in doing good deeds. Under the guidance of TSPM and the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), religious messages are to be made 'compatible with socialism.' Pastors are discouraged from preaching about Jesus’ divinity, miracles or resurrection, so that believers and non-believers can be united together to build a prosperous Socialist China."

I asked Towery about these charges. He categorically denies they are true.

"All of it is lies. K.H. is not that kind of man," he responded.

Towery remembers Ting writing letters to the Chinese government during the Tiananmen Square student standoff in 1989, "pleading for the government to spare the students and not do anything rash."

That speaks well for him, but ill for the authorities, and for the argument that registered Christian leaders have some pull with the powers that be. Troops brutally crushed the demonstration anyway.

Bishop Ting, now in his 90s, retired in 1997 and is living in a rest home in frail health. He and his successors walk a path of patience and frustration that is no doubt mentally and spiritually exhausting. But unregistered Christians have chosen a path that often takes a higher physical toll and requires a different, more visceral kind of courage.

bike
Unregistered Pastor Bike Zhang, recently expelled from his home in Beijing.

Recently, Beijing pastor Bike Zhang and his wife were booted out of their home and hounded by police to keep them from finding anywhere to live. They're currently sleeping on the street.

When the human rights watchdog agency China Aid Society asked why they were being hounded, one official replied: “Because Bike Zhang met the Americans and destroyed the harmony of the Beijing Olympic Games.” Many more have been imprisoned in the last few months.

It's easy to understand how unregistered Christians may see people like Bishop Ting as delators, in the same way Georgi Vins once viewed Bichkov and Zhidkov.

But could it be that God is somehow using both?

According to some observers at the time, the emergence of a robust unregistered Russian church movement in the 1960s gave the registered churches the leverage to gain concessions from the government, such as a correspondence course for ministers, which was the first formal training allowed since 1929. The existence of a government-recognized church organization allowed foreign visitors and international interchange to be part of the push-pull that, combined with samizdat underground reports of persecution and western pressure, led to the eventual fall of communism and an opening for full religious freedom. Some observers see the same thing happening in China.

Yes... and no 

Michael Bourdeaux, Templeton Prize winner and founder of the Keston Institute in England, spearheaded a laborious, often lonely struggle to examine and explain the systematic destruction of religion in Iron Curtain nations during the Cold War.  His work is being continued at the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.

bourdeaux
Michael Bourdeaux

In response to our e-mail request, he found some parallels between the church's response to oppression in the Soviet Union and China, though he cautions that he's "far from being an expert on China."

"Bishop Ting (now a very old man) went along with the 'Three-Self Policy' in China when Mao first promoted it in the late 1950s.  The only alternative was prison (which others honourably chose), probably leading to martyrdom. We who have never faced such a choice should never stand in judgment over those caught in this vice. 

"The worst was yet to come: the Cultural Revolution swept aside those who compromised, just as it did those who refused to compromise.  The parallel with Stalin and the Russian Orthodox Church in 1929 is uncanny.  So, ever so slowly, the Three-Self Movement and the new unregistered churches emerged in the late 1970s.  It was the latter who now showed unbelievable fortitude in the face of continuing persecution, the number of new converts justifying the stand they had taken.  But the Three-Self Churches made progress, too, less spectacular, perhaps, but progress nevertheless."

"The position with the Roman Catholic Church is more clear-cut.  The government-controlled church which has had to cut its ties with the Vatican does not have the moral authority found with the persecuted church, whose bishops the Vatican appoints.  Cardinal Zen in Hong Kong stands firmly behind the latter - a thorn in the flesh for the Beijing authorities."

Philip Wickeri, on the other hand, doesn't really like my Russia/China analogy.

He's professor of evangelism and mission at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He worked for more than 20 years with the Amity Foundation in China and with the China Christian Council and recently wrote Reconstructing Christianity in China - K. H. Ting and the Chinese Church.

Wickeri
Philip Wickeri

"Comparison with former Soviet Union is very tenuous. After the 1917 Revolution, the Russian government saw the church as one of its main enemies. The Orthodox church had extensive land holdings, etc. In China, Christians never had such a huge presence. Christianity in China was not then and is not now as highly institutionalized as in Russia."

In China today "the picture is not a perfect one," he admits. "There are places in China, particulary in inland China, where the local government leaders are not following the national policies, so there are abuses of religious freedom. But the tendency in the western media is to accentuate the problems. China Aid and others think the only way the church can exist in China is to confront the government."

Just back from China last month, Wickeri views Ting not as a misguided quisling but rather as one of the major figures in 20th century Christendom.

"Bishop Ting presided over the most extraordinary time in the Chinese church in the 20th century. He helped recreate institutions, developed theological education, printed Bibles and religious literature. He did so by cooperation, not confrontation."

Disturbing contradictions

As a whole, my sympathies still lie with the "underground" church. But some parts of this whole debate, as it plays out in the West, particularly disturb me.

baptism
River baptism by an unregistered congregation (Photo by WorldServe)

--Unregistered churches criticize their registered brethren for mixing politics and religion. But their supporters in the West are many times the loudest proponents of that strange brew.

--Many of the people who publicize the most lurid details of Chinese persecution are the same ones who claim Christians in America are being "persecuted" by the media and secular government, thereby draining the term "persecution" of any meaning.

--It's just too easy for the media and the ministries to put the facts and the statements coming out of China into their own pigeonholes. It may be unavoidable. I'm doing it as I write this story. And my own categories aren't quite fitting-- apparently neither the delators illustration nor the comparison with Soviet Baptists sheds much light on what's going on or what will happen in China. Preconceived images merely tempt us to idolatry.

Finally, a careful look at scripture shows that zeal is hard to define. It can lead to the martyrdom of an Isaiah, who, tradition says, continued to preach even as they sawed him in half; or to the silence of Jesus before Herod; or to the carefully reasoned debates by Paul before Roman authorities; or to that same apostle's escape-by-basket at Damascus.

As Aslan told Lucy in the film Prince Caspian, "Things never happen in the same way twice."

But American Christians, who so often bitterly slander and castigate one another over doctrinal disputes, can hardly offer suggestions to their Chinese brethren that are not tinged with hypocrisy and arrogance.

Thankfully, as the Olympic Games focus the world's attention on China, we can actually do something effective to clear the smog--we can pray for them all.

"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." --Psalm 103:14

More information:

• Watch a recent PBS Frontline documentary about the Church in China, and read a critique of the film by China specialist Adam Minter.
• Read a longer interview with Wickeri here .
• Read a longer interview with Towery here .

[Photos provided by WorldServe, a mission to persecuted Christians with an office in Frisco, Texas.]


Comments(64)

SRebbe | 09:03 am on 8/26/2008

speaking in tongues and laying on of hands... whole lotta shakin' goin' on....

Lilly | 11:25 pm on 8/27/2008

I especially remember a good Pentecostal boy. He was great at tongue wrestling and laying on hands. Oh, he was great during tent meetings.
I would be fun to be that young again.
He was a professional at tonsil hockey.

pigseye | 06:10 pm on 8/25/2008

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've been led to believe that the gospel...the true gospel is OK here goes..
GOD pronounced GOowwdd loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. If you want prosperity just say this prayer...
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus hear me when I call
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, gimme it all.
Then send $1000.00 seed money to the guy with the weird hair, and
strange expensive clothes that no one but TV preachers would be caught dead in. And just like that your on GOOOWWWDS payroll.

David Williams | 07:54 am on 8/26/2008

Wouldn't an easier approach to this be for the American Bible Society to just...um...outsource production? I mean, here every other industry in the You Ess of Ay has wandered over to China for the cheapness of production. Maybe if we just subcontracted out to a press in Xiangju...and then had a few texts wander astray from the production facility...

I also find myself wondering why you absolutely need a Bible to convey the Gospel. Last time I checked, the Apostles did just fine without 'em.

SRebbe | 09:07 am on 8/26/2008

[gasps] careful... you may get stoned for blasphemy by some in this group...! not need the Wuh-herh of Guh-hawed? Git theee be-haaaahnd meeeee, Saytahn!

I -- on the other hand -- feel ya there.... no comments, BJ. ;)

budda | 08:31 pm on 8/26/2008

About your cat we were discussing over at "the-article-which-must-not-be-named", was your kitty born with species confusion or was it a lifestyle choice? Perhaps a traumatic incident caused he identity crisis or she experimented in college and found she just liked being a dog more. Just curious.

SRebbe | 09:42 pm on 8/27/2008

well, she was a stray for a while before the adoption. I think there was some experimentation at one time. either way, a cat that fetches and drinks from the toilet and chases her tail while not whining about needing to go outside 14 times a day is fine by me.

gotta love independence.

budda | 11:42 pm on 8/28/2008

The trick with that is getting independence to focus on you long enough to love you back.

SRebbe | 07:48 pm on 8/29/2008

I think all humans are more cat-like. we all love our independence. we all want to play and sleep instead of work like dogs. most of us look horrid in a downpour. we preen and groom ourselves to prepare to strut for others. some are more vocal than others. we love food. we hate being ordered around. few of us are 'purebred' anymore. we all can survive if left alone -- to an extent. but watch out for those teeth and claws when someone disagrees with when we don't feel like playing the way the way someone else wants to play.

the Church is like herding cats.

budda | 05:25 am on 8/31/2008

Very true, very interesting, you should expand on that. Maybe put it your resume jacket. Well, maybe on the fudge blog anyway. I suppose most H.R. departments don't appreciate good writing or have a sense of irony. Otherwise there would be a bidding war for your services.

Anonymous | 05:28 am on 2/07/2009

I know this article has been up on the site a long time already, but if anyone who administers this site reads this comment I hope they will reconsider posting pictures of unregistered church members. I know they look nice and add interest to the article, but every added bit of publicity is a risk to those in the pictures, who might not have known they were being photographed or wanted their images posted.
Consider that those whom the government of China allows to travel outside the country are most likely to be "in good" with the Party, and have more incentives than the average Chinese citizen to turn in someone they happen to recognize.

Anonymous | 08:27 am on 4/15/2011

if u do not believe in God study the history of Israel AND READ luke 22.if all u do is to enjoy your stay on a sinking ship u better watch out.if any one despises God he should search for the true story behind the titanic.

شات الرياض | 06:26 am on 4/16/2011

I think we confuse religious, social and political oppression sometimes. My personal opinion is that the slow change in China is preferable to the anarchy and chaos that enveloped the former Soviet block countries

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