Christians in China Resist Government Efforts to Remake Christianity in its Own Image

Pro-democracy protesters from a politically active Christian church hold up yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, as they sing Christmas carols at Times Square in Hong Kong early on Dec. 25, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Pro-democracy protesters from a politically active Christian church hold up yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, as they sing Christmas carols at Times Square in Hong Kong early on Dec. 25, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

On a hazy Sunday morning, the fourth floor of a dingy gray office building in a far-flung region of this city is bursting with prayer.

In the Chinese capital, it’s not uncommon for church services to be held in Soviet-era office buildings. But the poorly lit, cracked-concrete dankness of this particular location cannot dampen the enthusiasm of this evangelical congregation.

Several hundred Chinese Christians pack the cavernous, L-shaped suite, clapping their hands and stomping their feet while a quartet at the front of the room lustily belts out songs praising “Yesu” (“Jesus” in Mandarin).

The men and women in attendance at the government-sanctioned Yizhuang Church are young, under 40, though several elderly Chinese women with their grandchildren in tow pack the venue.

When the band is finished, the bespectacled pastor, Du Jian Jun, takes the podium to deliver his sermon and the crowd settles into row upon row of blue, folding chairs.

Du, who speaks in Mandarin only — the only English heard in the service is a smattering of worshippers’ “amens” — delivers his message with the soothing cadence of a polished orator.

His sermon is simple: The lives we lead can be difficult, but with the guidance of Yesu we have the tools to carry on.

The pastor’s message is concise and straightforward; the relationship between Christianity and the Chinese government, however, is more complex.

A Chinese version of Christianity

In August 2014, a top-ranking official in the Chinese government informed the world that China was planning on nationalizing Christianity.

Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told a forum in Shanghai that the “construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s condition and integrate with Chinese culture.”

The announcement, unsurprisingly, triggered significant consternation among Christian groups in China and around the globe.

A pastor from Zhejiang province in eastern China said the intent of sinicizing Christianity is “to reform and remold Christianity into a (Communist) Party-dominated tool that can be used in its service.”

China Aid, a Christian human rights organization based in Midland, Texas, released a report stating that sinicization is nothing less than an attempt to “de-Christianize the church in China.”

It’s difficult, of course, for anyone outside the Communist government to know exactly what that means or what version of Christianity it might look like.

But what cannot be disputed is the budding friction between the state and Chinese Christians: Over the past two years, Chinese authorities — citing building code violations — have torn down more than 1,200 crosses from churches across the country, destroyed several churches, and rounded up Christian activists.

There has been some resistance. Chinese Christians in Zhejiang either rebuilt or replaced some of those crosses after the authorities tore down the originals, and other worshippers hung small crosses outside the windows of their homes or from car mirrors.

More intriguingly, provincial branches of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, two of the three government-approved Christian organizations in China, sent letters to party leaders condemning the crackdown on Christian symbols.

Against this backdrop of alleged persecution and violence, Chinese Christians and government leaders eye each other warily, both sides unsure of what the future of Christianity in the Middle Kingdom might be.

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SOURCE:  
Religion News Service