Via The Browser, here’s a long interview with a Chinese pastor, about the persecution currently underway in China. “Pastor L” says “Right now, church communities in Zhejiang Province are experiencing a sense of defeat not seen over the last 30 years or so. The churches have underestimated the cruelty of the government. They thought the crackdown would come to an end after the Sanjiang Cathedral was demolished. But that has proven to be wishful thinking.” More excerpts:
[Pastor L:] But the cross removal campaign must be understood in the context of the Xi Jinping government’s tightening control of ideology. The authorities see Christianity as something outside their authoritarian sphere, and an imperialist legacy that identifies more with Western values. Indeed, it is one of five categories of citizens whom the government deems a threat to the security of the regime, along with rights lawyers, dissidents, Internet opinion leaders, and disadvantaged social groups.
The government sees Christianity as an independent political group. Indeed, its organization meets the definition of modern civil society, and is an autonomous society entity independent of the state. The Christian church is an intermediary for a self-governing, plural and open social space. The Holy Cross and the architecture of the church are expressions of the church’s physical presence in the public space, and symbols of social power.
Suspicious of religious organizations, the government does not tolerate the scope and influence of the church and regards it as a threat to its security. An internal meeting in Zhejiang Province in early 2014 required that “cadres in charge of ethnic and religious affairs must grasp the political matter behind the cross and resolutely resist infiltration.”
Note that well. More:
YC: While the cross demolition was taking place and over the following months, I regularly saw slogans like “sinicizing Christianity” and the “five entries and five transformations.” This month a purportedly international academic symposium was held in Beijing called “The Path to Sinicizing Christianity,” attended by representatives of the Party’s United Front Work Department, the State Administration for Religious Affairs, proxies like China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and a number of universities. What is the sinicization of Christianity? Is this is a new idea?
Pastor L: The official-led and directed campaign of “sinicizing Christianity” is in essence the politicization of Christianity—it’s forcing Christianity to “go communist,” or undergo a “socialist transformation.” The intent is to reform and remold Christianity into a Party-dominated tool that can be used in its service. A proponent of the “sinicization of Christianity” theory, official scholar Zhuo Xinping (卓新平), laid it out straight: “Christianity in China needs to emphasize sinicization politically; it must acknowledge and endorse our basic political system and its policies.”
At this conference in Beijing, “sinicizing Christianity” might mean different things for different parties, but the core, tacit presupposition of the meeting was that Christianity is a latent, potential political competitor with the Party. This already warps Christians’ own understanding of their identity as God’s people. It has absolutely nothing to do with what went on during the late Qing and Republican eras, in which grassroots Christians, as an organic part of their missionary work, experimented with and developed various forms of localizing and adapting Christian teachings to China.
When Nestorian Christianity entered China during the Tang dynasty, it integrated too much into Chinese culture, to the extent that the transmission of Christian teachings was stopped, in the end going away entirely. If Christianity neglects its ecumenical and theological tradition, all sorts of “abnormal” variations fused with Chinese folk traditions are apt to proliferate. The example of Hong Xiuquan’s “Taiping heavenly kingdom” is a familiar example. If the Church, on the other hand, overly attaches itself to state power, emphasizing nationalistic will, then secular powers are apt to sweep in and try to commandeer it. Nazi Germany’s instrumentalization of Lutheranism led to great tragedy. Many clerics in the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe were later found to have been recruited as informants for the Communist Party, and when the archives were opened they were too ashamed to show their faces in public. In China, Christianity should draw a lesson from these cases and on no account let itself become a mistress of the Communist Party.
Are we American Christians bound to become Hauerwasian Anabaptists now, to avoid assimilation? I think so.
YC: Can you elaborate on how church communities have resisted these measures?
Pastor L: The “five entries and five transformations” go against Christian belief. Parishioners have ripped down the propaganda posters the government has put up in churches, they’ve criticized the project online, and churches that have compromised have been strongly urged not to and criticized by other churches. Some churches have refused to be subject to having their finances investigated. There was a house church that decided to chant scripture together if the government sent someone to stand at the altar and spread propaganda, not let them do it. If the officials managed to gain control, they’d rather give up than cooperate with government demands. Some churches have, in response, begun quoting from Jonathan Chao, the late North American pastor who founded China Ministries International, and promoted the “Three-Fold Vision” the “Chinese Gospel,” “nationalizing the church,” and “Christianizing the culture.”
YC: What do you mean by “rather give up?”
Pastor L: Abandon the whole church and meet in small groups at their own homes.
They are not going to give up. This is, in a way, a part of their Benedict Option.
Read the whole thing, and marvel at the faith of these brave people. We have a lot to learn from them, we Americans, especially on the Benedict Option front. Among the lessons I see:
1. The church is a mediating institution between the people and the state. The communist state cannot abide that. We Americans must ask ourselves if liberalism itself ultimately will not be able to abide mediating institutions. If so, what will we do? How will we prepare for that eventuality? Churches faithful to Scripture and tradition regarding homosexuality are already seen as a threat to civil order, and will increasingly be so. This is not going to get any better. And there will surely be other areas in years to come.
2. We US Christians must become much more aware of ourselves as “set apart” from post-Christian America. The general culture now is so far from Christian norms that if we continue to try to integrate ourselves with it, versus staying true to our theological traditions, we will lose our faith.
3. We had better have a plan for what happens when we lose our church buildings, and our institutions. What measures will we need to take to keep our communities thriving. If we find the courage not to bend to government or societal dictates, and, like the Chinese Christians, refuse to “give up,” what forms will that resistance take? What do we need to do now, in terms of forming ourselves internally, to be resistant?
Are there others? Talk to me. To be sure, I don’t expect a Chinese-style persecution here. But thinking about what we would do if it came helps prepare us for what we would do in a condition that is more likely, in my view: dhimmitude.
(The image above means ‘Jesus,’ and it’s from the wonderful Orthodox Christian book, Christ the Eternal Tao.)
UPDATE: I ought to have included the conclusion of the interview:
YC: Speaking of human shields, I recall this photo of the Xialing Church. This was Christmas Eve last year. Tell us, what happened?
Pastor L: In early December 2014, the Xialing Church was slated to be demolished by the authorities. Members guarded the church and foiled the government’s plans. Frustrated, officials ordered the demolition team to wreck the front steps. This is the church choir standing on the debris and singing; singing His glory amidst the ruins—this epitomizes the spirit of Chinese Christians right now. Christmas is again approaching, and particularly befitting to churches in Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, or across China for that matter, is the ancient song in praise of God: “Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace among men with whom he is well pleased.” (Luke 2:14)