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Can Christianity Flourish in Communist China?

Sara E. Weltz

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A surprisingly optimistic report on the emergence of Christianity in China.

Ever had the urge to sell your house, quit your job and go to China? That is exactly what David Aikman, former veteran foreign correspondent for Time magazine, recently did.

On September 26 at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Aikman described his three-month journey through China. Aikman disclosed answers to: What is the state of Christianity in China? And what is happening to China because of Christianity?

In years past, reports on China revealed extremely harsh persecution towards Christians. Aikman told a surprisingly different story.

Christianity is still somewhat underground, but not as before. Underground churches do not meet in dark alleyways. Christians do not sneak into dungeons to read Bibles by candlelight. The majority meet in homes or churches, some of which even have crosses atop them, and carry on their worship and Bible studies in peace. China is changing!

For example, underground church leaders met with two American reporters (including Aikman) and gave their real names on camera for the first time ever. Aikman said they released a public announcement that essentially said, "Stop harassing us. We're Chinese. We love China. We're not doing anything to hurt China." He later met with Chinese leaders to communicate this same message.

Aikman says that the government and state security are working under the terms of "We'll pretend not to notice if you pretend not to do what you are doing." To a degree, the government doesn't mind Christianity. It minds Christians training up younger Christian leaders because instructing others denotes the spread of Christianity. China, though more lenient, is not open to the spread of Christianity... yet.

Therefore, training centers are forced to go underground. For example, Aikman was transported to an "underground music conservatory." The conservatory is a worship-training center. He relayed his amusement at the methods used to keep suspicion away. He says, "They pay night watchmen to tell locals the compound is a school of English and not to bother it. They tell the guards that it's really a government training center and not to ask any further questions." They even hold a weeklong military training center once a year to throw citizens off when they see uniformed soldiers marching and saluting one another.

The number of Christian locals determines the degree of secrecy. In a village populated by countless Christians, one doesn't have to hide. But another urban seminary can't even sing hymns for fear of neighbors' suspicions.

Publicly, Aikman found pictures of Jesus in taxis, a hymn-playing pianist in a hotel lobby, and "many more people saying that they are Christians." Aikman points out that while "Christianity used to exist in the countryside, now there are huge numbers of cell groups in Beijing and Shanghi." An upscale part of Beijing reportedly holds 20,000 religious cell groups--the majority of which are Christian.

Aikman estimates that Protestant churches number around 80 million; Catholic, 12 million; underground churches, 35 million. While he points out that China's population has more than doubled since 1939, he estimates that Christianity has increased 20 times!

"I see much more tolerance for Christianity," says Aikman, "than ever before in my previous time spent in China." The leadership and converts of Christianity are growing tremendously, and its effect on China is just as striking.

Universities now hold classes studying Christianity. Why? "Because they realize that Christianity has a profound impact on history and they want to know what it will do to China. They know that Christianity has been most tolerant to cultural freedom, trade, scientific discovery, etc," says Aikman.

In addition, children of many Chinese leaders are converting. The leaders of China are literally being forced to deal with Christianity.

To illustrate, Aikman told a story of someone who asked Chinas previous president, "If you could make any final decree and know that it would be carried out, what would you decree?" China's president responded by stating that he would decree Christianity as China's dominant religion.

"They realize that Christianity is the best soil for a functional, developing country," says Aikman.

"Where are all the horror stories?" one reporter asked.

Aikman responded by quoting a friend who said, "There is no freedom in China, but there is a lot of tolerance." He believes his friend is right.

There are still labor camps, but they're almost "completely for hard-core criminals now." There is still the single child law, but that can be avoided by paying a $2,000 fine. Despite kidnappings and some torture from a cult named Eastern Lightening, which is actually based in the United States, government poses little threat to Christians. Aikman described local police as "harsh" but not seeking Christians out.

Evidence of the government's change toward Christianity is amazing! Aikman plans to publish a book on his story of China.

In one of his final statements Aikman concluded, "The growth of Christianity in China is causing an openness of ideas and the dilution of authoritarianism."

A surprisingly good report indeed.

The article can be found on the Concerned Women of America website (link closed). Reprinted with permission.

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Copyright 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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