This is something I have been wondering about over the years. When I used to debate God’s existence with my Tippling Philosophers buddies (we’ve moved past that now as the main Christian thinker has pretty much deconverted), my then hardcore Christian friend used to bring up the fact that the country with the biggest population was growing in Christian believers at a very fast rate. As ever, I have always met such facts and claims not with suspicion but with an eyebrow raised in “there’s probably more going on here than meets the eye”. Chinese people weren’t moving to Christianity, I wagered, because it was particularly theologically robust…
China is an interesting one because, with its tight government censorship, you wouldn’t expect it to be open to external cultural influences of this type in the way we have seen developing nations in Africa receive big #US church money and influence.
But, money has a way of breaking down every barrier.
As I have discussed previously, we have seen Russia take on organised Christian religion since formal communist structures and ideologies have taken a back seat.
What is interesting about this latest claim is that it comes not from a secular point of view, such as from the Party or what have you, but from a Chinese Christian point of view, sounding off against foreign Christian influences.
This is from The Guardian:
The head of China’s state-sanctioned Protestant church has claimed that western forces are trying to use Christianity to influence society and “subvert” the government, saying that Chinese Christians needed to follow a Chinese model of the religion.
China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist party.
The government has cracked down on underground churches, both Protestant and Catholic, even as it seeks to improve relations with the Vatican.
In a speech on Monday, Xu Xiaohong, the head of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, said there were many problems with Christianity in the country, including “infiltration” from abroad and “private meeting places”.
“It must be recognised that our movement’s surname is ‘China’ and not ‘Western’,” Xu said, according to remarks reported on Tuesday by the United Front Work Department, which is in charge of co-opting non-communists, ethnic minorities and religious groups.
“Anti-China forces in the west are trying to continue to influence China’s social stability and even subvert our country’s political power through Christianity, and it is doomed to fail,” he said, speaking to parliament’s largely ceremonial advisory body.
“For individual black sheep who, under the banner of Christianity, participate in subverting national security, we firmly support the country to bring them to justice.“
Only by eliminating the “stigma of foreign religion” in China’s Christianity can its believers benefit society, he added.
“Only by continually drawing on the fine traditions of Chinese culture, can China’s Christianity be rooted in the fertile soil of Chinese culture and become a religion recognised by the Chinese themselves,” Xu added. “Only by continuously carrying forward and practising the core values of socialism can our Christianity truly be suited to socialist society.”
China has been following a policy it calls the “Sinicisation” of religion, trying to root out foreign influences and enforce obedience to the Communist party.
Restrictions on religion have attracted particular concern in the US. Last week, during a visit to Hong Kong, the US ambassador for religious freedom called on Beijing to end religious persecution.
What China calls a deradicalisation programme in its restive far western region of Xinjiang has also caused widespread opprobrium in western capitals and amongst rights groups, who say authorities have been placing Muslims there in internment camps. The government says they are vocational training centres where people are sent to learn about the law and the Mandarin language.
Yang Jie, an imam from Xinjiang, told the same advisory body on Monday that some adherents had poor “religious and civic awareness”, which made them vulnerable to “the temptation and incitement of religious extremist forces”.
They mistakenly believed their religion came before their citizenship, and that certain illegal acts were a “firm expression of faith”, Yang said. “This wrong view and behaviour has seriously affected social stability, ethnic unity and religious harmony, and has vilified the social image of the Muslim community and must be resolutely stopped.”