Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Has the time for confrontation passed?

According to The Times, Chinese officials and house church leaders reportedly met in secret meetings late last year for the first time “as negotiators rather than foes.” The article states, “Church leaders said that the Government – including the police, who have raided and crushed underground churches for years – had realized that the time for confrontation had passed.”

As the article points out, the timing of the meetings is not coincidental. 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of communist power in China and the government is “keen to ensure that there are no disturbances to mar its celebrations.” Actions to avoid “disorder” are not uncommon in China’s regime. During the Olympics, Chinese authorities tried to quell the perceived disruption of Christianity by increasingly targeting house church gatherings, describing the faith as an “evil cult.”

Since VOMC frequently receives reports on house churches that are raided and Christians who are beaten, arrested, and sentenced to re-education through labour in China, I couldn’t help but feel skeptical with these seemingly positive developments. Stories from VOMC’s Persecution and Prayer Alert came to mind, such as one about three Christians who were recently sentenced to one year of “re-education through labour” for "illegal proselytizing" and attending an "illegal gathering."

The attempts to ban “illegal” Christian gatherings extend beyond local officials locking up individual Christians. On November 28, the Ministry of Civil Affairs released a statement calling for the elimination of the Chinese House Church Alliance. Meanwhile, according to ChinaAid, the President of the Alliance, Pastor “Bike” Zhang Mingxuan, was recently escorted from Beijing to Henan province by Public Security Bureau officials.

Despite the efforts of the Chinese government to repress Christianity, the Gospel continues to spread. The article states, “Pastors say that raids, fines and even punishments such as re-education through labour are no longer effective; if one church is broken up new ones are started.” Obviously the techniques used against Christians like Pastor Zhang are not serving their intended purpose.

So has the time for confrontation passed? As Malcolm Moore aptly noted in The Telegraph, “The government policy during Olympics year was to crack down on the underground church. And I suspect that while these talks are an encouraging sign, the Communist Party is more likely to enforce peace during its 60th anniversary than to make concessions.”

It will be interesting to watch the effects of these meetings unfold in the coming weeks and months. Regardless of the outcome, Christians in China continue to desire the prayer and support of believers around the world. Please remember to pray for them today.

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