Thursday, July 21, 2011

Freedom of thought and expression in China

Readers will be aware that I regard Christianity as hopelessly corrupt (along with all religion). However, I do recognise that even within organised religion there are particular organisations or individuals who truly attempt to find and follow God.

Here is the story of one such organisation. I do not know it personally. But all that I have read about it, by enemies or by more or less objective observers, confirms this to be the case.

I am publishing the following, because the last mention that I can track of this group in the general press is from a while ago.

Shouwang is but one of numerous rising house groups in China. But its story may have shown how an originally obscure Bible study group could not only survive in a (seemingly) hostile environment but also thrive and go on to make a big difference to ever more individuals and the wider world

The Meaning of Shouwang
by Promise Hsu

Towards the end of his lifetime in this world, Peter Drucker famously said more than once, "The most significant sociological phenomenon of the first half of the 20th century was the rise of the corporation. The most significant sociological phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century has been the development of the large pastoral church - of the mega-church. It is the only organization that is actually working in our society."

When Drucker, often called “the father of the modern management”, made the observation at the turn of the century, his eyes were largely on the United States. A little more than ten years later, the two most significant sociological phenomena Drucker highlighted are becoming increasingly - perhaps quite surprisingly - evident in the world’s largest economy behind America.

Since the late 1970s when China initiated the reform and opening-up policy, companies have become one of the most significant parts of the Chinese society that touch plenty of people’s lives. To a considerable extent, the rise of the corporation - both state-owned and privately held enterprises - contributed to the rise of China.

The private sector is even more notable. It has accounted for most of China’s economy. However, in the early stage of the reform and opening-up era, private businesses were still not universally recognized. Before that, China’s government had not allowed private firms to exist at all for most of the time since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. Anyone would risk one’s life if he or she did private enterprises.

If the spectacular growth of private companies in China was beyond the expectation of many people, the development of large pastoral churches came as a much bigger surprise. Private companies were once viewed by China’s government officials as what belongs only to what they call “capitalism” or “the Western capitalist countries”. Now, they have regarded the private economy as an “important component” of the socialist market economy. Compared to private businesses, large pastoral churches seem even more foreign to China. Are they really growing in popularity in China?

The answer is yes. Indeed, from early April 2011 on, Shouwang Church, a large pastoral church in the Chinese capital of Beijing has begun dominating the international headlines. Almost all the major global media have been following what was unfolding concerning the church. Among them are Reuters, The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, BBC, CNN, NPR, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Time, The Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Al Jazeera, South China Morning Post, and both the Chinese and English versions of the Global Times, a daily newspaper operating under the official Chinese ruling Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily.

Over the past few years, there have already been various reports about the rise of Christianity in China. A classic is Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power. It was first published in 2003 when David Aikman, its author and former Beijing Bureau Chief of Time magazine, wrote that “the number of Christian believers in China, both Catholic and Protestant, may be closer to 80 million than the official combined Catholic-Protestant figure of 21 million.” In contrast, some estimates show that there were only about 800-thousand Christians in China in 1949 and some two million in the late 1970s.

In 2011, it is still hard to know for sure how many Christians in China. An official census published in 2010 reckoned the number was approximately 23 million. Other calculations have ranged from 40 million to 130 million. According to God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World, China probably has close to 100 million Christians and will soon have the world’s largest Christian population. The book, published in 2009, was written by John Micklethwait, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, and his colleague, Adrian Wooldridge.

Yet, as Aikman pointed out in Jesus in Beijing, “in numerical terms they were still a small minority...but they were being noticed, and they kept turning up in the most unexpected places.” The Christians Aikman met across China were farmers, businesspeople, students, scholars, artists and even government officials.

Now, it is not only that Christians could be found from almost all walks of life in China but that like private companies, the non-state-owned churches - what is called “house churches” - many go to are beginning to grow into an “important component” of the Chinese society. According to Li Fan, Director of the World and China Institute, a Beijing-based non-governmental think tank, house churches have become the most powerful non-governmental organization in China. Li Fan reckoned that all over China, house churches had nearly one million worship and meeting places where the participants might account for 1/3-1/2 of China’s NGO population.

Shouwang Church is only one of those numerous house churches scattered across China.
Since April, more than 30 house churches in Beijing alone have declared to show their solidarity with Shouwang by holding prayer meetings. Some of them are also large pastoral churches. And on May 11th, pastors or co-workers of nearly 20 house churches in six Chinese cities delivered their signed petition to the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature to investigate the government’s crackdown on Shouwang Church based on the country’s Constitution that enshrines the liberty of faith. But the story of Shouwang may have shown how an originally obscure Bible study group could not only survive in a (seemingly) hostile environment but also thrive and go on to make a great deal of difference to ever more individuals and the wider world.

The current global media spotlight centers around the worship or meeting place of Shouwang Church. Since April 10th 2011, the church has been forced to worship outdoors for twelve consecutive Sundays. Before that, the Shouwang congregation of about one thousand people had gathered in a conference hall of the Old Story Club in the northern urban area of Beijing for more than a year. But according to Shouwang Church, the owner of the rented venue was under mounting pressure from the government. In March, Shouwang planned to rent a conference hall of a hotel in the northwest of the city. However, the church said some relevant government agencies again interfered and prevented it from renting the new premises.

During the past thirteen Sundays, numerous uniformed and plainclothes police officers were sent to a public square at Zhongguancun, known as "China's Silicon Valley", in Beijing’s northwestern district of Haidian. That is where Shouwang worshippers were supposed to gather. Hundreds of people of the Shouwang congregation were detained. The time ranged from a few hours to 24 or 48 hours. They worshipped, including reading the Bible, singing hymns and praying, after being loaded on to buses or put into police stations. Some people who were free went to the local police stations waiting for the release of their fellow Shouwang congregants. Many others have been under house arrest for various periods of time. Almost all the church’s main co-workers have been under house arrest for the whole or much of the time since the evening of April 9th. Some church members have lost their jobs or rented homes or both. Some others were threatened to lose either one - or both. Many of them are young professionals in different fields, for example, in companies, NGOs and universities.

Easter Sunday April 24th 2011 was the third time the Shouwang parishioners held outdoor worship. More than 30 people were rounded up and herded onto buses or police cars when they worshiped in or near the square at Zhongguancun. Like the first two Sundays, they were then sent to local police stations. They were asked to leave their names and contact information and give a guarantee of not attending the outdoor worship again. Some declined to make any pledge and some others simply told the police that they would continue to worship outdoor next Sunday. Some of them have been detained two or three times. More than half were released later in the day. But the rest, all in the eastern district of Chaoyang, gained freedom after having to stay at the police stations for 24 or 48 hours.

On May 1st, over 30 people including two children and their mothers were detained when they were at Zhongguancun for outdoor worship or taken away from their homes. The children and their mothers were released later in the day and so were other ten people. Once again, the rest of them were freed after 24 or 48 hours.

On May 8th, at least 15 people were taken to about ten different police stations across Beijing. All except one got freedom later in the day or by the early next afternoon. Hu Jian, a Shouwang church member, was not released after 48 hours in custody. The police station said he was sent back to his Hukou (household registration) place. They refused to say where he was. The Hubei provincial office in Beijing said they did not know this. The central Hubei Province is where Hu Jian’s household is registered. After previous detentions, 26-year-old Hu Jian had already been forced to quit his job as an instructor at KindyROO, an international school for children under three years old. He also lost his place to stay because he lived at the school office.

Later on May 10th, a roommate of an apartment Hu Jian stayed at for a couple of weeks before May 8th received a phone call from Hu Jian. He said he was sent to an office of Hubei’s capital of Wuhan in Beijing from the police station earlier that day. The office was asked by the police officers to buy a train ticket for Evan's return to Hubei. They could not get a ticket and will try and buy one the next day. The police officers confiscated Hu Jian's identity card and told him later that they could not find it. They asked Hu Jian to go to Hubei to apply for a new one.

Hu Jian later told one of his English fellowship co-workers of Shouwang Church on the phone (a Wuhan office worker's) that he wanted to go and see his parents and his maternal grandmother and also wanted to get a rest after a month when he attended all the five Sunday outdoor worships and was detained four times. He, with an almost-60-year-old police officer who is a section chief of Wuchang(a district of Wuhan) Public Security Bureau based in Beijing's Wuhan office, took a train to Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan at about 9:10 in the evening of May 11th. More than 20 Shouwang congregants were at Beijing West Railway Station to see Hu Jian off. They prayed hand in hand and sang a hymn at a waiting hall of the railway station. Hu Jian and the police officer arrived in Wuhan the next morning. The Wuhan's Beijing office bought two hard sleeper tickets for them. They later went to Jingzhou, Hu Jian’s hometown in Hubei. After having lunch, the police officer returned to Wuhan. Hu Jian said he might be back to Beijing and try to find a new job in about a month. It was the first time that the authorities sent a Shouwang congregant back to the hometown because of attending outdoor worship. Two local police officers visited Hu Jian’s home asking about the basic information of his family on May 16th, four days after he returned home. He was back in Beijing in mid-June and was detained for a few hours after attending the June 12th outdoor worship.

On May 15th, some 13 Shouwang parishioners were taken to police stations. They were freed later in the day or the next day. On May 22nd, at least 27 people, including an elderly woman in her 8os and a two-year-old child, were detained. Most were released in the same day except one who was not able to return home until the next afternoon. On May 29th, 22 congregants were detained. Like the previous Sunday, most were freed later in the day and one got freedom on Monday. On June 5th, 20 people were detained including two from other churches with one from the Three-Self’s Haidian Church. 16 were released later in the day and the other four were freed by the next noon. On June 12th, 17 people were arrested. Among them, three were taken to the basement at a Haidian police station where they wanted to visit a Shouwang member who was already detained. Police officers accused two of them of stealing. All got freedom in the same day except one who wasn’t released until the next afternoon. On June 19th, 13 Shouwang congregants and a member of New Tree Church were imprisoned and all were freed before the midnight. On June 26th, 15 people were detained and all were released in the same day.

On June 27th, Wang Chuanliang, a Shouwang member, was sent back to his hometown in the eastern province of Shandong by Haidian’s Dongsheng Police Station and the Shandong provincial office in Beijing. It was the second repatriation since Shouwang began the outdoor worship on April 10th. It was the same Dongsheng Police Station that sent back Hu Jian, another Shouwang parishioner, to his hometown in the central Hubei Province in May. Hu Jian returned to Beijing almost a month later and continued to attend outdoor worship and thus was detained every Sunday since then.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of June 27th, three police officers from Dongsheng Police Station and Haidian Public Security Bureau detained Wang Chuanliang in a market where he was getting a mobile phone fixed. He was handed over to a Shangdong office based in the capital and was sent back to his hometown in the evening. The Shouwang parishioner was forbidden to use his mobile phone.

Only in the next morning was he able to send a text message to his fellow church members about his expulsion. He was sent to his parents’ home at noon. His identity card was confiscated and he was warned not to return to Beijing before July 1st, which is the 90th anniversary of the founding of China’s ruling Communist Party. Local village officials were asked to watch over him.

In a weekly bulletin about outdoor worship issued on June 28th, Shouwang Church lodged a protest against and condemnation of the eviction. It considered “the forced expatriation by Dongsheng Police Station and Haidian Public Security Bureau has constituted a complete contempt for and a flagrant violation of the law in effect depriving a citizen of any guarantee of the most basic of foundational existential rights.”

On July 3rd, 19 people were detained. Most were freed later in the day but a couple were held at Longyuan Police Station in the northern district of Changping till the early hours of the next day. Also in the early morning of July 4th, two other Shouwang congregants were forced to move out of their newly-rented apartment rooms because of the mounting pressure on the landlord from Balizhuang Police Station in the eastern Chaoyang District.

Over the past thirteen Sundays, many other Shouwang members were confined to their homes. On the Easter, a young couple asked the police to drive them to the Zhongguancun square. The police agreed. They sang hymns, read the Bible and prayed in the police car. They also gave the police officers a copy of the Bible and an autobiography about how a Chinese biologist became a Christian and his views about Christianity and science. The police car moved around the square. After the young couple finished worship, the police officers drove them home. The young couple shared their experience with fellow Shouwang members through the church’s online forum, which was shut down in mid-April but resumed later. The forum was closed again in the second week of June. Many Shouwang congregants resorted to Google buzz, a micro-blogging site, for keeping informed.

Into the seventh week since the outdoor worship began, local police officers asked some church members not to attend Shouwang’s evening prayer meetings, which have been held on weeknights at a rented place of New Tree Church at Zhongguancun. Pastors and other co-workers of New Tree Church and a number of other house churches in Beijing and some other cities of China shared their sermons in the evening prayer meetings. Into the ninth and tenth week, some Three-Self Church people were sent to police stations asking the detained parishioners to leave Shouwang Church and join them or put an end to the outdoor worship. In its weekly bulletin on outdoor worship issued on June 14th, Shouwang’s governing committee quoted the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)

It was not the first time that Shouwang Church made global headlines. In November 2009 when the US President Barack Obama just wrapped up his first visit to China, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece entitled “The China President Obama Didn't See”. It was about Shouwang’s first indoor worship after having to meet outdoor for two
successive Sundays. That was the first time the Shouwang congregation held an open-air service. They were evicted from an office space in northwest Beijing’s Huajie Mansion that the church had rented for three and a half years. On November 1st 2009, about five hundred people worshiped near the gate of a suburban park in northwest Beijing during a snowstorm, which was the earliest to hit the Chinese capital in more than two decades. A week later, some seven hundred worshipers met at the same place. But the chief pastor was prevented from going there for giving a sermon.

The chief pastor is Jin Tianming. In 1993, he and his bride began a Bible study group in their small home. A year later, they rented a room of a house near the west gate of Tsinghua University in northwest Beijing. In 1991, Jin Tianming graduated from Tsinghua, a leading institution of higher learning in China. He became a Christian the previous year when he was invited to attend a worship meeting. That was a year after the 1989 Tian’anmen Square democracy movement crackdown, which turned out to be an unexpected help in Jin Tianming’s spiritual journey where he eventually lost faith in any worldly wisdom. At that time, he was named Jin Yongkui who was born into an ethnic-Korean peasant family in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province in 1968. His new given name of Tianming means “the coming of dawn”.

In 2002, 34-year-old Jin Tianming was ordained as a pastor by Pastor Xie Moshan or Moses Xie, a Chinese house church leader who died on June 30th, 2011 and had been imprisoned for more than 20 years between 1950s and 1970s because of refusing to join the government-owned Three Self church. By the year 2005, Shouwang, which means “watching”or “to keep watch”, had more than ten fellowships. At that time, the church decided to apply to register with the government. But in 2006, authorities rejected Shouwang’s application asking it to join the Three-Self.

Also in 2005, Shouwang Church began to rent office buildings for the Sunday worship. And a year later, Shouwang started forming an integrated church out of different fellowships across the city. According to an open letter issued by the church in mid-April 2011, “these were part of Shouwang’s efforts to become a transparent and open church and also a mega-trend of the house church growth in China in a new era.” In another letter to the congregation issued in late March 2011, the church’s governing committee also made it clear that “under the leadership of the vision of ‘a city on a hill’, Shouwang Church has gradually grown into a holistic Christian community that is open to the general public.”

But by 2007, Shouwang remained almost unknown to the broader society. It was already arguably one of the largest house churches in Beijing. That year, it began publishing Xing Hua or Almond Flowers, a quarterly church magazine. One of its earliest issues had a special report on Shouwang’s registration process publicizing all the major documents about it. That gained attention from other house churches and those who were following China’s Christianity. The Almond Flowers magazine - “an almond tree” in Hebrew shares the same pronunciation of “watching” in Hebrew (see Jeremiah 1:11-12) - have gradually become well-known among house church readers.

It was the issue of worship or meeting place that has given rise to Shouwang Church being known in the general public. Like almost any other house church, the Shouwang congregation has faced the issue of survival from the moment it was established. The most serious direct crackdown came on May 11th 2008 when the armed forces broke into Shouwang’s Sunday worship in a rented office space. They ordered the church to put an end to the worship. But it continued. All the three services from morning to afternoon were held as usual. Many worshippers were asked to leave their names and contact information. It came in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. That was also just a day before the massive earthquakes struck Sichuan and neighboring regions in southwest China.

Shouwang amazingly survived the clampdown. Yet, the church realized that the pressure on the landlords of the facilities it rented was a weak point in both the survival and further growth of the congregation. It had been forced out of the previous rented venues. And in 2008, it faced another eviction. The church established a group in an effort to solve the problem by purchasing a permanent place for worship. Then, the church’s governing committee came up with a blueprint for purchasing a permanent worship site. After the church’s main co-workers and the representatives of the church members approved the blueprint, Shouwang formally launched the purchasing project in March 2009.

In late October that year, Shouwang moved out of the Huajie Mansion. During the ensuing period of time when the two Sunday services were held outdoors, the church handed in a letter to Beijing’s religious affairs authority. It made a proposal to solve the problem of worship place by resorting to putting the premises on record. The authority once again asked Shouwang to turn to the Three-Self church.

By the end of 2009, Shouwang paid about 27 million yuan or some four million US dollars for the second floor of the Daheng Science and Technology Tower in northwest Beijing’s Zhongguancun area. The fund was from the offering of the Shouwang congregation and other contributors to buy a permanent worship place. Authorities once again interfered and the property developer has refused to hand the key over to the church.

Before that, Shouwang’s governing committee agreed to the government representatives’ promise to allow the church to return to indoor worship. In a further statement about outdoor worship issued in mid-April 2011, the governing committee explained that they “believed the wish that it would be good for the government to have more time in solving the problem of worship place.” After that, Shouwang went through a number of difficulties having to change worship facilities. The change of premises came to a halt in early 2010 when Shouwang began to rent a conference hall at the Old Story Club, which is a part of the state-run broadcaster, China Central Television. Yet, authorities kept on interfering. In early April 2011, like before, Shouwang moved out of the leased venue. And the rest is history.

For now, it is not known when the outdoor worship will end. Shouwang stated that “as long as the church has a guaranteed worship space, the premises it has already purchased in particular, the church will immediately return to worshiping indoors just like it was in November 2009”. In his pastoral letter sent on April 23rd 2011 that was the Easter Eve, Pastor Jin Tianming, who has been under house arrest, reaffirmed the stand on outdoor worship: “The ‘outdoor’ in the outdoor worship is not a means to an end but a stand: it is a stand when we face our Lord of glory and the authorities, I believe the stand itself is a kind of worship before the only true God who is the only head of the church, and in this particular period of time, it is a worship that is even more precious than any hymn or sermon and would much more please God.”

This Easter Sunday also marked the 100th anniversary of Tsinghua University, Pastor Tianming’s alma mater and also the Chinese President Hu Jintao’s. The pastor was supposed to attend the 20th anniversary reunion with his Tsinghua classmates on Good Friday, which Christians remember as the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. But the police forbade him to go. A day before Good Friday, Pastor Tianming went to a hospital with an escort of four police officers. A less-than-two-year-old daughter of the young couple who are also Shouwang Church members fell from a high-rise early that day and died after being rushed to hospital. Another pastor, Zhang Xiaofeng, also asked to visit the couple but was refused.

In an article published on Google buzz, later that day, Elder Liu Guan wrote about his response to the unexpected death of the toddler. He said he once again choked with tears when he prayed with his son in the evening. He also recalled how a recent mid-night prayer had helped him overcome his fear of leaving his wife, his children and his aged parents if he was put into prison. He came to believe more than ever that God would surely take good care of all his loved ones. He said in that night he finally keenly understood what it meant by “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Elder Sun Yi also has been under house arrest. He is the chief editor of Shouwang’s Almond Flowers magazine and a professor at People’s University, another leading institution of higher education in China. In an article sharing with his magazine co-workers, Sun Yi said three fellow church members came to see him on a mid-April Saturday afternoon. Since they were not allowed to enter Sun Yi’s home, they met and chatted with the elder on a corridor.

Then, somewhat to the elder’s surprise, the three visitors suggested praying together. Beside them were a police officer and three other men who were sent to stand guard over Sun Yi. They prayed for the church. And they prayed for the people who were just on the watch. When finishing the prayer, Elder Sun Yi opened his eyes and saw one of the four guards smiling at him and the three visitors. “Though three other people’s eyes buried in the newspapers, I know their hearts have already been touched”, wrote Sun Yi. Later that day, Pastor Jin Tianming and another pastor, Li Xiaobai, were taken to the police stations. Elder Sun Yi heard the news and sensed he might be taken away in the same night. But thanks to the afternoon prayer, he felt huge relief. After that prayer, he said he had emerged from the shadow of any potential threat. More police officiers did not come that night. He remained under house arrest.

The two pastors were released later. Pastor Tianming returned home the next morning. Pastor Xiaobai and his wife were freed at midnight. Before becoming Christians, the couple were engineers working at some leading global IT companies. During the first outdoor worship in April, they were detained at a local police station and were not released until 48 hours later.

During the first three Sundays since the outdoor worship began, Pastor Xiaobai has sent his Sunday sermons to his fellow Shouwang members. The latest was on Easter. He continued with the Book of Esther in the Old Testament to illustrate God’s unfailing salvation of his people. Towards the end of his Easter sermon, Pastor Xiaobai said the ground for faith and hope and love remained in the Lord Christians trusted in: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace”. (Hebrew 13:8-9)

The choice of Esther for giving Sunday sermons in the period of outdoor worship is symbolic. Prior to being forced out of the previous rented premises in early April, Shouwang’s Sunday sermons had been around the Acts of the Apostles for a few months. That is about the beginning and expansion of the Christian church. And Shouwang was planning to plant churches in other parts of the city or the country. The Book of Esther tells a story of how God delivered the Jewish people from a genocide in Persia plotted by the empire’s highest official. The immediate reason for the plot was that a Jew in the Persian capital refused to kneel down and pay honor to the highest official.

In the case of Shouwang, the issue of worship place is a reflection of a deeper struggle over the legality of the non-state-owned church in China. The government under the atheist Communist rule of course does not want any independent religious organization to exist and expand. But more than 30 years after the reform and opening-up policy was put in place, it looks impossible for the authority to control everything. It has considerably shifted its ground on economy having to allow the non-state-owned companies to exist and expand. Now, it is increasingly faced with the continued rise of the non-state-owned churches, which it has long considered only belongs to “the Western culture”.

Will there be an Esther who can help deliver Shouwang and other house churches from the crackdown? If history is any guide, the possibility is not unreal despite both who and how could be anyone’s guess. Even more than a decade into the reform and opening-up era, the Chinese government was still chained to its ideology that market economy was restricted to “the Western capitalist countries”. It was Deng Xiaoping, China’s de facto leader in the 1980s-90s who admonished his colleagues to halt splitting hairs over “whether it is surnamed socialist or capitalist”. He said “the policy is okay if it works”. His insistence on the economic reform paved the way for the further expansion of private enterprises and the official recognition of private property. In fact, this has gone on to help grow house churches making them possible to rent or even own places for worship.

If the current government leaders could carry on with this part of Deng Xiaoping’s theory, they would probably help usher in the continued rise of China. They would see a newer China where some truly respected schools, universities, research institutes, hospitals and philanthropic foundations could grow out of house churches or those church-goers, like it has been in the global church history. In fact, Shouwang Church has planned to open a theological seminary. Pastor Song Jun, who is a historian of the Christian church and ancient Chinese religions, was supposed to be responsible for the institution. Currently, Shouwang has already had a Sunday school. For many years, it has helped educate hundreds of children of Shouwang members. It’s Li Enping, the wife of Pastor Tianming, who has been in charge of the school.

Apart from publishing the Almond Flowers magazine, Shouwang has its own library. Its director is Elder You Guanhui, who was in the same class with Elder Sun Yi when they pursued their PhD studies of Christianity in the late 1990s at Peking University, another top institution of higher learning in China. Elder Guanhui leads a publishing company that has helped introduce to the Chinese readers a series of Christian classics, including John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Augustine’s The Harmony of the Gospels, and John Foxe’s The Book of Martyrs. Even after the outdoor worship began in April, the company continued to publish the Chinese translation of more books with G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics and Orthodoxy and D. H. Williams’ Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants coming out in May and June respectively.

If the rise of private companies means creating and producing ever richer material products and services without the interference from the government, the rise of house churches could mean creating and producing ever richer spiritual products and services without the interference from the government. For top management thinkers like the late Peter Drucker who was also a Christian, the free enterprises and pastoral churches combined could help people find a fuller meaning as human beings whom, according to the Bible, God created in his own image. It seems hard for the Chinese government leaders to thoroughly ignore the fact that the growth of both private businesses and house churches in China had taken place long before it was known when they would gain official approval. This might indicate that the growth of both institutions came from a deep and universal longing for becoming free, creative, caring, connected, humble and responsible beings. Once their country starts opening up, they would keenly learn to do it, sometimes at any price.

For now, it seems crucial for the Chinese government to make more sense of what the church is. On the bright side, numerous detentions and arrests of the Shouwang Church congregants might have provided golden opportunities for the police officers and their leaders to know more about Christians and their faith at first hand. They might have found it strange when they read a Shouwang’s Q&A fact sheet like this one: “What if the police arrest me because of my participation in outdoor worship? Do not resist, let them take us away, just like a lamb to the slaughter. In our hearts, we know that we gather here to worship; and for the sake of worship, we will pay the price. We believe in what the Lord has said: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ ”

Once they detain or arrest those Christians, they would see and hear how those people behave and speak. A police told a Shouwang co-worker who visited a police station in the east Chaoyang District where a church member was detained for 48 hours that he and his colleagues were taught not to hit back when beaten and not to answer back when insulted. The church co-worker said that was what God asked his people to do. A deputy chief of the Olympic Village police station told a Shouwang parishioner who was detained on May 15th that he would believe in Christianity after retired. The Shouwang member gave the police officer a copy of a booklet entitled “Why I Live” and was freed later in the day.

Another Shouwang member is a pianist of the choir. She was under house arrest for more than two weeks after being detained for a number of times. On a rainy night, a police officer knocked on her door asking if she could leave the door open so that he might hear the music. A little more than 20 minutes later, other listeners joined the police officer, including his wife, their son and daughter-in-law. The pianist and her mother sang hymns for them. After seeing them moved by the songs, they briefly told them how to read the Bible. Whenever the police officer was on duty, the pianist would give him and his family members some copies of the hymnal and sang hymns for them. One night, the police officer again knocked on her door. The pianist said the piano pedals did not work so that she could not play that night. “No playing?! Feel that something is lost...”, said the police officer disappointedly outside. At times, the police officer and his family members would ask, “Is there God? Where is God?” The pianist responded, “But why is it that you felt the hymns very pleasant? Didn’t you feel that your heart was moved? That’s just what God placed in your heart!” They fell silent and seemed lost in thought.

Of course, it might be equally significant for the house church members to further figure out what the government officials think and do. After ever more communication, they might develop a better understanding of why the government was still so hostile to the house church and if possible, what could be done to help them change their views. Some Shouwang parishioners said the police officers knew almost nothing about the church. Some police officers did not say “Shouwang Church” but “Shouwang Religion or Shouwang Sect”. Some claimed Jin Yongkui was “the Founder of Shouwang Religion” and he wanted to own the place Shouwang had bought. On such occasions, Shouwang congregants would help the police officers correct the mistakes saying Shouwang was a Christian church and Jin Tianming (Jin Yongkui) was the founding pastor of Shouwang Church. For his part, Pastor Jin Tianming reaffirmed his stand in his May 22nd sermon sent to Shouwang members by emails that the enemy of the church was not the government nor anyone else of “flesh and blood” but “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

A few weeks or months might be still too short to solve the decades-old problem. As a matter of fact, there have been different opinions about the Shouwang governing committee’s decision to worship outdoors even within the house church. Some people held that the church could worship as separate groups indoors (since Shouwang currently has dozens of family Bible study groups and fellowships) and some others warned that it was too sensitive to hold outdoor services at present when what was called “Jasmine Revolution” was spreading from North Africa to Asia. On May 31st, the Shouwang governing committee sent emails to church members announcing Pastor Song Jun, Minister Jiang Lijin, Deacons Ji Cheng and Yuan Yansong left Shouwang Church due to disagreements over outdoor worship. For more than once, the Shouwang governing committee has issued open messages explaining the outdoor worship decision. In a letter, they said, “we ask the Lord to preserve the unity of our church, that despite of our different viewpoints, we may still be able to submit to and bear with one another.”

As for how long the outdoor worship will last, Shouwang Church said that if the problem of worship place could not be solved, they would continue to worship outdoors until Christmas 2011. They would reassess the situation and devise new plans for the coming year. That means Shouwang seems to have been prepared for a longer road ahead. In the history of the Christian church, a year or even a decade would not be a long time. But the next few months or even the next few weeks might witness another turning point for the church in a country whose ancient name is, surprisingly, “God’s Land”. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

formatie nunta said...

I was in China two years ago and i was impressed. Unfortunately i had no time to visit it very well because i was there for only two days, but i hope to visit it again very soon. I recommend this place, it is very nice.