People who have worked in China for any length of time have come to know that, "Whatever you say about China is true and whatever you may hear about China may not be true."
Oftentimes, letters and calls come into East Gates asking whether the persecution of Christians in China is as bad as the media and other ministries claim it to be.
It's important to keep in mind that China is a very large country. Chinese may "all look alike" but they are more culturally diverse than Europeans.
There are many ministries serving China like ourselves that do not speak to the religious persecution issue as often as others might wish but it does not mean we are not aware of the fact it exists. Having worked closely with the Chinese government officials, registered and unregistered churches in every province over the past decade, we know the topic of religious persecution is a complicated one.
As with most controversial subjects, it's important to keep a balanced perspective. Judgment of China's religious situation should not be based solely on one person's testimony, a few ministry reports or a couple of newspaper articles. They may reflect only one thread of a very large tapestry.
It's important to keep in mind that China is a very large country. Chinese may "all look alike" but they are more culturally diverse than Europeans. Given this context, the history of each province and the background of each local provincial official will differ; application of the rule of law and religious policy in one region may not be the same as the other. For example, in one city, thousands of House church believers will go to a mountain to pray and worship without feeling threatened whereas in another province, a handful of believers must meet in a warehouse at 2:00 am so as not to draw attention.
When you read or hear of news on religious persecution in China, it's important to form an educated opinion versus a purely emotional response. Here are some good questions to ask:
- How did the conflict begin?
- What province is the religious persecution occurring?
- Does it have a history or track record of religious persecution?
- Is the persecution truly religious in nature or is it due more to politics or a personal grudge between members of two parties?
- What are the backgrounds of the provincial government officials in the area?
- Are there outside or overseas ministries involved that ay be creating the problem?
- What are the Christian beliefs of the local pastor and the believers?
- What is their faith practice? Is it based on truth or heresy?
It's important to have these questions answered before the conclusion is quickly made that the Chinese government oppresses all unregistered House church members. These are cases where indeed this may be true but there are also cases where the local religious officials have helped House church members purchase land to build their meeting point. In the same venue, there are situations where registered church members will not speak with unregistered church members and there are also cases where both sides get along very well, share the same worship facilities and are in good terms with the local religious officials.
In summary, when it comes to religious persecution in China, there is much more than what meets the eye. Religious beliefs can be used to cover the real issue which may be corruption, politics or generational family conflicts. If the conflict does indeed center around religion, there will be cases when government officials are clearly to blame and there will be situations when local Christians are the source of the problem. Usually the latter occurs when believers do not interpret Scripture correctly, act upon erroneous teachings from outsiders or do not use wisdom in expressing their faith. This only invites greater scrutiny and misunderstanding of the Christian faith and its followers.
For this reason, East Gates believes time, financial resources and energy are always wisely spent when providing Open and House church leaders and believers with appropriate Christian resources and support for their training programs/centers. At the same time, we honor many of the requests to come and listen to their special and challenging situations, trying to provide them with wise counsel on how to apply Scripture in their daily lives and how to be "wise as a serpents and gentle as doves." Please pray for our staff in this area given this is probably the most challenging aspect of our ministry.