Joann Pittman’s recent post on ChinaSource is helpful for several reasons. She addresses the report by Bitter Winter that police in Dalian have set a quota for arresting Christians. Her comments are careful and balanced (all without making hasty judgments).
Joann and I discussed the topic this week but neither of us could get more details. This is why she calls the report a “rumor.” As her article suggests, she (and I) came to no conclusions about how to discern true rumors from false ones. If the truth is told, countless rumors are probably partial truths.
Given that I passed along this report in a recent post, I think it’s worth writing down my own reflections. I agree with Joann that we as Christians want to show integrity in the way we pass along information.
Three Responses to Rumors
So, all this raises the question, “How do we respond to these sorts of rumors?”
China provides us virtually no way of verifying most accounts about the persecution of the church. The government and the official media are not helpful and, in fact, tend to shut down such communication.
We have to consider the number and quality of reports. Do we have multiple sources? (This is not always possible, but this criterion needs to be a factor.) With respect to quality, we would like to know the reputation of the source, its proximity to the event, and other evidence (like pictures and video).
In this situation, perhaps Bitter Winter cropped the image, leaving out the “chop” in order to protect its source (since it could help authorities approximate their source). However, without the chop, there is still no way of verifying the document’s authenticity.
Also, Bitter Winter is more sympathetic to Eastern Lightning (EL) than other organizations. When I say “sympathetic,” I don’t imply they endorse EL’s theology, but rather they want the government not to treat EL abusively, etc. This perspective does not at all mean we should automatically dismiss what they say.
On the other hand, one wonders whether BW’s reporters could confuse official mandates about dealing with EL versus how police are to respond to Christian churches. Even if not, presenting the police’s response to EL should not be confused with the government’s persecution of the church.
Finally, I think a constructive way to respond to reports like this is to mobilize our own information networks. Perhaps, a friend has guanxi and knows someone closer to the event who can verify details or provide a broader perspective.
I’d love to hear other suggestions you might have. We want to be wise yet not react impulsively from fear. We need each other to find that balance.