Saturday, July 16, 2016

China's Christian Future

Chinese writer and dissident Yu Jie gives us a fascinating glimpse of the relationship between Christianity and the the Chinese government in an essay at First Things.

His column is a bit lengthy, so I'll just hit some of the highlights and urge you to read the whole thing for yourself at the link. He begins by citing an astonishing statistic:
At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the Communist party defeated the Nationalists and founded the People’s Republic of China, Christians in China numbered half a million. Yet almost seventy years later, under the Chinese government’s harsh suppression, that population has reached more than sixty million, according to Fenggang Yang, a sociologist at Purdue University. The number grows by several million each year, a phenomenon some have described as a gushing well or geyser. At this rate, by 2030, Christians in China will exceed 200 million, surpassing the United States and making China the country with the largest Christian population in the world.

The beginnings of this immense growth can be traced back to two moments in contemporary Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 and the Tiananmen Square massacre instigated by Deng Xiaoping in 1989. Countless innocent lives were lost as a result of these two cataclysms, and the people’s belief in Marxism-Leninism and Maoism was destroyed. These events opened up a great spiritual void, and the Chinese began searching for a new faith.
Jie goes on to describe how these two events changed his parents' views and his own of the Chinese government and system. He also discusses in some detail how the government is seeking to rehabilitate Confucianism and simultaneously harass and persecute Christians. Here's some of what he writes about the latter:
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. Despite the oppression and repression, the Chinese church is determined to weather the tyranny.

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.”...They talk about how during the Cultural Revolution, the Christian population in Wenzhou actually grew many times over.
Nor is the growth of Christianity occurring only among the poor and uneducated:
Since the dawn of the new millennium, Christianity in China has redirected its growth toward a hundred or so central cities throughout the country. Groups of young, well-educated, active professionals have gathered in urban churches, smashing the stereotype in many Chinese people’s minds of Christians as elderly, infirm, sick, or disabled.

These churches are unable to register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and acquire legal status, but they are a first step toward Christians assuming leadership in the development of a Chinese civil society independent of government control. They have websites, assembly locations, schedules, listservs, communiqu├ęs, and even publications, which cannot be sold but can be circulated among church members.
Jie was himself heavily influenced by Reformers like John Calvin and the philosophical/political consequences of Reformed theology:
Reading Calvin, the theologian of total depravity and predestination, I have come to see him as a more important Founding Father of the United States than Washington himself. General election, habeas corpus, freedom of contract, equality before the law, jury trial, common law, open market, freedom of speech and press, freedom of religion—these are all reinforced by Calvin’s legacy and the legacy of the Bible.

Thus I became a classical liberal or, in American parlance today, a conservative — a rarity among my Chinese peers. Calvin, Locke, Burke, Tocqueville, von Mises, and Hayek are all formative for me, though some are not Christian in the ­traditional sense.

No one’s influence, though, has been greater on me than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s.... Bonhoeffer also perceived that Nazism has its roots in man’s betrayal of God and his worship of himself. The same could be said of Communism. Solzhenitsyn has called atheism the central pivot of Communism, and a hatred of God the principal driving force behind Marxist thought.
When man displaces God he puts himself in God's place. Thus atheistic assumptions almost invariably undergird tyrannies. Here's Jie's account of the price he had to pay for his political activism:
On the night of December 10, 2010, as the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring [my dear friend Liu Xiaobo, the courageous human rights activist] was taking place in Oslo, I was kidnapped by the secret police and taken to the outskirts of Beijing.

They beat and tortured me for hours, breaking my fingers one by one. I blacked out and was taken to a hospital. A hospital in Changping, a suburb of Beijing, refused to take me, saying I was “hopeless.” Then I was taken to a hospital in Beijing.

My life was saved. For days my wife was under house arrest and did not know my whereabouts, or even if I was alive. She was seized by a sinking feeling and could not eat or sleep. In a few days most of her hair fell out. Before I lost consciousness, I prayed: “Lord, if you take me, then make me a martyr. I am not worthy, but I am willing.”

In that moment, I clearly heard his voice: “As surely as I live, not a hair of your head will fall to the ground.” And: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” God let me live, for he has greater plans for me.

On January 11, 2012, as he did for the Israelites in Egypt, God led my family out of China, on to the capital of the United States of America.

Yu Jie with wife and son (2012)
The secret police had warned me: You are number one on the personal list of “two hundred intellectuals to bury alive” kept by Zhou Yongkang, then secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Who would have imagined that today I would be writing freely, praying freely, breathing freely, standing on free soil, while Zhou, once nicknamed China’s “security tsar,” would be sentenced to life in prison for corruption by his political enemies? In God’s plan, tyrants count for little.
Jie's is a wonderful, inspiring story. Read it all at the link.