Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So What is the Truth About Religious Freedom in China?

We have been getting a number of letters, emails, and phone calls about China lately. Or more correctly about reports that they have been reading or hearing from Western evangelists and pastor who travel there, meet with registered church leaders, speak in their churches, hear about all of the Bibles that are being printed by Amity Press and come back with glowing reports of the freedom that Christians enjoy in China. Then they read our newsletter (or will read; our August edition features China. Click here to subscribe if you would like to receive it) and are confused as they read reports of pastors being arrested and imprisoned, church services being disrupted, and the need for more Bibles and other Christian literature and training. That there might be confusion is to be expected. How do you reconcile this? Is VOMC lying or exaggerating the extent of persecution in China? Or have these evangelists and pastor been deceived?

One of the great disappointments that we at The Voice of the Martyrs have are with those who take their experience and contacts with the church in China (and in other countries) and proceed to making general, overarching comments about the entire church and expect that to reflect the entirety. Often they criticize or downplay the work of others, thereby causing disunity and confusion. I think that this is part of the problem with the recent reports.

As I said in my blog of April 07, 2007 (Why Do Most Chinese Christians Refuse to Register Their Churches?), to make blanket, all-encompassing statements about the state of religious freedom in China is to invite all sorts of contrary opinions because whatever one says is true somewhere in China. In some places, Christians worship in relative freedom. In others, it is highly restricted and actively persecuted. It is obvious, however, that the persecution facing Christians in today's China is quite different than even a few years ago. Unquestionably, the situation has improved significantly in many places. In others, church leaders continue to be imprisoned, meetings are disrupted and church buildings are destroyed. Regardless, Chinese church life continues to be represented in two forms; churches that are recognized by the government - these generally belong to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and are legally "registered" - and the house churches which do not submit to government regulations and restrictions.

I am not going to criticize these folks or the assertions that they make. I have no doubt that what they say is true (from a certain point of view), but what they say is not the whole story. It is undeniable that most Christians in China refuse to register with the Chinese government for reasons that we feel are very legitimate. I wish these folks would respect this more and be a little more restrained in their praise of the Chinese government's religious practices.

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