Northumberland TODAY 06/03/2011
Since China opened its doors to Western trade, her economic development exploded. China’s people are enterprising, and only more so as communist officials gradually relaxed restrictions on private ownership.
Communist officials have also gradually relaxed restrictions against freedom of religion. Nevertheless, Chinese officials still exert tight control over churches through a Religious Affairs department that closely supervises churches. Many Chinese Christians, however, have refused government control and secretly organized house churches. While harassment of these churches has decreased, in some areas they are still persecuted.
Shouwang Church, in Beijing, is a house church of the “educated elite” that grew rapidly from an obscure Bible study group organized by pastor Jin Tianming. As more believers joined, 10 more house churches opened. They began renting office buildings to meet together as one body. However, on May 10, 2008 the armed forces disrupted one such service and ordered the church to stop worshipping. But since the Beijing Olympics were just around the corner, not much pressure was exerted.
After the Olympics, Shouwang Church grow and so decided to seek official recognition. However, registration was refused. In 2009 Shouwang purchased the second floor of the Dahong Science and Technology Tower in Beijing’s Silicon Valley for US $4,000,000. When government pressure kept Shouwang Church from getting the key to the building, the church began to worship openly on the street. Members were arrested and some lost their jobs or apartments through government interference.
Shouwang Church’s struggle reflects a deeper struggle over the legality of China’s non-state- controlled churches. Since 1978 greater economic freedom has focused people’s attention more on personal benefit and less on political discontent. Although the government sees social benefit in churches, these churches are also regarded as a potential threat to the political
monopoly position of communist leaders. As a result, they are wary of churches not directly under their control.
Development of economic and religious freedom comes from a deep longing for freedom of thought and expression.
Now especially, however, given the Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East, the Chinese government is afraid that this spirit could spread in China and undermine the Communist Party’s power. Government newspapers urge people to remember that they are Chinese first and Christians second; nationalism must trump personal faith. Meanwhile, house church leaders do desire independence from government control. They know that the officially sanctioned Three Self churches that the government wants them to join are firmly controlled, even to the point of subtly influencing the preaching.
Chinese live in a very materialist society in which people often experience the coldness and the constant competitive nature of their surroundings, so they flock to the warmth and caring of house churches. Here they discover the love that is often missing elsewhere in society. Here they find meaningful purpose that gives their life clearer direction and communal joy.
During this time of tension, Shouwang Church is waiting to learn what government officials will decide. Its core leaders are under house arrest. Will the government relent and provide greater religious freedom?
Wybe Bylsma is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church of Cobourg.
The struggle of Christians in China
Northumberland TODAY 06/03/2011