By Jillian Kay Melchior February 4, 2013 12:10 P.M.
Throughout 2012, Chinese persecution of Christians intensified, according to a new report from ChinaAid, a Texas-based organization that monitors religious freedom.
The number of persecution cases increased in 2012, the seventh consecutive year where there’s been an uptick. But despite that persecution, Christianity is thriving in China, winning more and more converts.
If the Chinese government had its druthers, religion would not be practiced at all within its borders. Beijing fears a higher authority, and it’s also horrified by any group that is able to organize, particularly around an ideology or belief.
But eradicating religion has proved impossible, so China has instead attempted to control it, creating a religious bureaucracy to oversee all sanctioned religious practice. The State Administration for Religious Affairs has broad authority within the sanctioned Catholic and Protestant churches; it can choose church leaders, decide how often worship services can be held, supervise activities, and even censor the content of sermons.
Understandably, many Chinese Christians are uncomfortable with the influence the government wields within the state-sanctioned church. Millions of Catholics and Protestants consequently worship outside the official framework in independent “underground” or “house” churches.
Some Chinese Christians attend unsanctioned churches on principle. But the growth of unofficial churches is also, quite simply, a function of demand. State-run seminaries turn out too few pastors for China’s growing Christian population. The unofficial churches have met this need, supplying their own training and churning out leaders. And many Chinese Christians attend both official and unsanctioned church events; they have an almost insatiable hunger to participate and learn about their faith as a group.
ChinaAid reports that in the last year, Beijing has focused especially on eradicating underground and house churches.
That’s a spectacularly counterproductive policy. The vast majority of Christians who worship in house churches or underground churches are not political; they love both their God and their country.
Beijing’s eradication effort places Christians in an untenable situation, forcing them to choose. That politicizes believers who would otherwise be happy to ignore politics, read their Bibles, and quietly and peacefully worship.
Though persecution has worsened, Christians have made progress in the last year, too—a fact that many Chinese Christians want their brethren in the West to know. More and more spiritually hungry Chinese are converting. As I’ve noted before, their charitable activity has won them admiration, even in government circles. Christian literature is being published and distributed to an unprecedented degree. And churches have not been inhibited by persecution. This English-language blog gives a platform to Chinese pastors, revealing an unexpected sort of ordinariness; the Christian church has matured to the point where it can worry about theological training, music services, marriage counseling, and other routine services.
In that context, ChinaAid’s exemplary report takes on added significance. Not only does it meticulously and damningly document China’s abuse of its citizens but it also amplifies Chinese Christians’ successes. Despite incredible persecution, they have made progress, demonstrating their faith, flexibility, and perseverance.