In the midst of all the frustration or anger that the current religious freedom debates in Australia engender, spare a thought for Chinese Christians.
In a revealing article in The Guardian today China’s myriad unofficial churches are coming under direction pressure, indeed persecution, from Beijing. And all at a time when The Roman Catholic Church is signing a deal with China that allows the Chinese to have a direct say in the appointment of bishops. A shabby deal indeed from a Pope who, from Latin America, should know all about the ways of despots.
The Chinese crackdown is part of the “Sinicisation” attempt by the government to ensure that the primary allegiance of Christians is to the state not to Jesus.
The persecution has included destruction of church buildings, burning of crosses and other iconography, and the placement of CCTV inside church buildings, you know, just to keep the worshippers safe from any seditious ideas.
The article reports:
Jin’s Zion Church in Beijing, one of the biggest unofficial congregations in the country, was abruptly demolished by authorities this month, who then sent him a bill for 1.2m yuan (£133,000) for the related costs. Jin had preached there every Sunday for decades.
“Before, as long as you didn’t meddle in politics the government left you alone,” he said. “But now if you don’t push the Communist party line, if you don’t display your love for the party, you are a target.
“Of course we’re scared, we’re in China, but we have Jesus.”
It’s sobering to read this. And heartening to read about it in a left-of-centre mainstream media, because my suspicion is that we’re a little caught up in our own religious freedom debate in Australia to take note of what is happening in China.
Of course there are hints of it in the West, with the push for “British values” in the UK having the same chilling effect on religious freedoms, including a push to ensure faith based schools “line up” on what the Government thinks will bring social cohesion. But it’s not on the same industrial scale as what is happening in China.
It’s also heartening to read Pastor Jin’s response: “But we have Jesus.”
Perhaps we need to take more heed of that in our own struggles, which pale in comparison.
The Guardian report goes on:
Bob Fu, founder of the religious rights group ChinaAid, said Chinese officials were trying to shrink both the official and unofficial branches of the church. He said he had received reports of dozens of rural village chiefs forcing residents to sign papers denouncing Christianity lest they lose state welfare benefits.
“I have hope for the future, these campaigns were done in Roman times, under Stalin and under Mao, and none succeeded,” he said. “It will only have the opposite effect, and if Communist party cadres studied history they would see this. Crackdowns will cause the church to grow faster, and help church be more united.”
That’s true. But at the same time vast swathes of the Middle East has been emptied of Christians in the past decades due to persecution. There are no guarantees that in any given area the church will thrive or indeed grow faster. There will be many martyrs added to the growing list who we read of in Revelation 6, asking the Lord how long before he judges those who slew them.
But they have Jesus in spite of all of that. And that’s a reminder to us in the West, in these hardening secular times, that our hope is not in the results of a religious freedom inquiry, but in the risen Lord.