Spreading Christianity on the Sly: Chinese Students in U.S. Get Unexpected ‘Bonus’ of Church Teachings

How would this be for an appeal to foreign students? “Come to America for language immersion classes! Bonus: Free lessons in Christianity!”

I wouldn’t have the slightest problem with that — the cards are on the table, after all, so people can make up their own minds about whether or not the offer is attractive to them.

But that’s not not how it worked for a group of almost three dozen Chinese students who traveled to the U.S. for English immersion classes recently. Neither they nor their parents were informed that the curriculum would involve a serious dose of Christianity, and that a Christian church was the main host for the program. Instead, the trip was pitched as a chance for the teenagers to practice English while immersed in American life.

[L]eaders of the nondenominational West Valley Church in Los Angeles said the Chinese students were to spend much of their time at its affiliated summer school. The exchange-student program provides a “balanced and broad education” that in this case is run by a teacher provided by the Chinese agency that arranged the trip, and not by employees of the church or school — but kicks off with an introduction to Christian concepts as part of a welcome from the school, said its administrator, Derek Swales. Students placed with local host families who are Christian might attend church with those families or pray with the families at home, he said.

Some of the Chinese parents are understandably upset about what seems to them like a bit of deceit. No one likes to find out there was a hidden agenda, and it’s surely a little much to ask non-Christian moms and dads to pay for their offspring’s study trip if, in a hush-hush kind of way, Christian concepts are central to the educational experience. One of the parents told the Wall Street Journal:

“I’ve never heard of anything about Christian school or Christianity. Of course I would mind if they preach Christianity to my son.”

That makes two of us, ma’am.

Maybe the whole thing is the result of some Babylonian speech confusion, and no hanky-panky was intended. Regardless, the consequences for the parents could be significant. The Chinese government tends to keep a close watch on Christian initiatives within the national borders, and frowns upon all religious activities that do not have the imprimatur of the official bureaucracy (a policy which should be abhorrent to all Americans, actually, but that’s a discussion for another time). Paying for a son or daughter to attend a language class, only to end up on the wrong end of a potential government investigation — well, that’s clearly more than any of these folks bargained for or deserved.

The “truth in advertising” motto is about more than the promotion of honesty; in this case, insufficient or colored information actually put families at risk. Let’s hope the administrators of the West Valley Church will do some serious praying on the matter, and that Jesus will miraculously tell them to do better next time.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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