China gets hammered again in the annual report on international religious freedom, as they do every year. Having visited (not as a tourist) churches in cities and villages in 21 of China’s provinces I have to admit there is not the freedom of religion enjoyed (and exploited) by believers in America.
Instead of constantly criticizing Christians in China, learn something of the history, culture and present society and how the churches have more widespread freedom and access to grow in grace than anytime since the seventh century Syrians were there.
There is a limited freedom of worship in China today. With friends in national and local leadership positions, I have over the years come to realize that as long as they stay out of politics and stick to the Bible they are usually ignored by the government Religious Affairs Office.
The majority of the “persecution” of Christians there, like here, is from ignorance. They are not arresting believers to make them change their faith or deny their faith, as is so often the case in some lands, but for all kinds of corrupt and to some uninformed “patriotic” duty.
China has no televangelists. For that they can be grateful. The money-making prosperity preaching of most TV preachers has no message for China (or anyone else). I know some televangelists have made efforts to get on China television. They may claim to be there and claim to smuggle Bibles to the suffering Christians with your offerings.
There are also no mass meeting in stadiums, and the churches do not advertise as we do. But they can share their faith one on one, study their Bible (there are 12 million Bibles published a year now in Nanjing) have a much better life than under Mao.
The foreign missionary-sending groups continue to spread their message using the “cloak and dagger” covert way, but they have added little to the grassroots growth of Christianity in China. Clandestine mission work is illegal in China–not as religious persecution but as a law in a communist-led government that sees little use for any religion.
Working with the existing churches may not be as exciting as sneaking a tract to someone on a bus or secret meetings that cause new believers to think Christianity is illegal, but it is laying a good foundation.
Winning a soul to Jesus is not enough. That person needs to be tied to a local church or brotherhood. They need the encouragement from open worship and deeper Bible study in their own language.
And so it goes. There is injustice in China, just like the rest of the world. They have no corner on cruelty, corruption, greed or persecution in their land anymore than America. We have all sinned against the God of glory. As Buckner Fanning said it many times: We all alike sin, but not all sin alike.
Britt Towery was China liaison for the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission board. He now lives in San Angelo, Texas. This column also appears on his blog.