Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Persecution

Before the Communist revolution one of the largest churches in my denomination was in Shanghai. Today there are vastly more Christians in China than there were in 1949. From "China's Christian Future" by Yu Jie:
...China today officially recognizes only five major religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. The government has created the State Administration for Religious Affairs under its United Front Work Department to keep a close eye and a short leash on practitioners, effectively installing itself as the high priest presiding over the internal affairs of religious organizations.

This is exactly what Chinese President Xi Jinping is doing with respect to Christianity. At the National Conference on Religious Work in Beijing in April 2016, Xi declared that religion must adapt itself to China’s existing social order and accept the party’s leadership. As a leader, Xi seems rather insecure. He is suspicious of civil society and sees Christianity as a threat: It is the largest force in China outside the Communist party.

In China, home churches outnumber government-sponsored churches three to one. Against home churches that refuse to cooperate, the government has waged a large-scale cleansing campaign in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, particularly in the city of Wenzhou, known as “China’s Jerusalem,” where 15 percent of the population is Christian. In two years, more than two hundred churches in Zhejiang have been demolished, over two thousand crosses removed. The scene of the cross being removed from a church in Ya village, Huzhou city, on August 7, 2015, was typical. Migrant workers hired by government officials flipped over the parish car, then the police came. They arrested the pastor, intimidated parishioners, sequestered church grounds, and pepper-sprayed protesters. They charged into the church with dogs. Buddhist monks and Taoist priests hired by the officials came to chant and perform rites in front of the church. Dozens, including the church attorney, were detained and interrogated.

Zhang Kai, a human rights lawyer who had been providing legal support to churches in Zhejiang province, was taken into custody on August 25, 2015, the day before he was due to meet David Saperstein, United States ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Six months later Zhang was forced to go on television, stating: “I have broken the law, disturbed the peace, endangered national security, and violated the ethics of my profession. I deeply regret my actions.” Emaciated, his body cruelly bent by torture, he was virtually unrecognizable. In Xi’s China, television has replaced courts of law. Televised confessions are the fashion of the day. Sadly, the Obama administration sits and watches, reluctant to put more pressure on the Chinese government and push for reform.

An internal government document obtained by the New York Times in May 2014 shows that the church demolitions are part of a larger campaign to curb Christianity’s influence on the public. According to the nine-page provincial policy statement, the Xi administration wants to put an end to “excessive” religious sites and “overly popular” religious activities, but it names one religion in particular, Christianity, and one symbol, the cross. The strategy is easy to discern: first Wenzhou, then the rest of China.

However, Chinese Christians have refused to give in. One of the phrases I have heard most often among them is: “The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.” For Christian dissidents, cross removals and church demolitions are only the prelude in a story that repeats the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. They talk about how during the Cultural Revolution, the Christian population in Wenzhou actually grew many times over. .... [read more]