Washington Post/MSNBC: Beijing curbs religious rights — Christian activists detail harassment

. . . Officially, China allows worship only at registered churches belonging to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a government-controlled organization of about 25 million members founded in the 1950s to free China from foreign funds and foreign influence. Beijing has about 30 official Protestant and Catholic churches.

But many members of China’s rapidly growing Christian community prefer to worship in unofficial or underground churches where there are no restrictions on teaching children and where leaders are not controlled by the Communist Party. House church membership ranges from 50 million to 100 million nationwide, activists say, with as many as 1,000 unregistered churches in Beijing that include tiny congregations that meet in people’s bedrooms.

. . . “An important reason for the crackdown is the Olympics. This year, Chinese leaders face more pressure from outside groups, house churches and even ordinary individual citizens,” said Fan Yafeng, a law professor at the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a leader of the 80-member Sina house church. “The Public Security Bureau always misuses its power. . . . They have lost their humanity.”

“In the Olympic Village, you can find religious freedom. Maybe some foreigners can worship,” Fan said. “But I tell you, the real crisis in China now is that there are no reformers left. The power struggle among the leadership is for power, not reform. To have real political reform, they would lose their power.”

MSNBC: Bush sharpens China criticism — President singles lack of freedoms, including religious expression

. . . “This trip has reaffirmed my belief that men and women who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China,” Bush said, adding that the United States had “made it clear that trusting their people with greater freedom is necessary for China to reach its full potential.”

I am glad that Bush is speaking out in China. I still think it was a bad idea for him to attend the Olympics, but if he was going to, I’m glad that he has taken a more strident pro-freedom stance that he had previously articulated.

On a somewhat related note, I think it is worth noting (based on the statistics cited in the first article), that there 25 million members of the government sanctioned protestant Christian Three Self Patriotic movement (see wikipedia article), while there are an estimated 50-100 million members of unauthorized Christian churches.

One has to wonder why the majority of Protestant Christians in China (maybe Catholic Christians too, but i don’t have ready access to stats on them) chose to be members of illegal unauthorized churches? I think in large part it is because they see that a self-professed “patriotic” church, is no church at all. Part of being a follower of Christ, is subscribing to the idea that one’s true citizenship and highest calling is to the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the dictates of God and conscience are higher than the dictates of the state.

It is ironic that in China the majority of Protestant Christians are actively resisting the heresy of patriotic Christianity, while the majority of American Protestants are actively adopting the heresy.

I think the Chinese believers are right. Every time the church has become too cozy with the state, bad things have happened. The two big examples that come to mind are: (1) how the Christian faith became militaristic and void of meaning after Constantine legalized the religion in the Roman empire and then co-opted it for his own purposes and (2) when theologians in Germany preached that faith and state should be one, and then Hitler came along and turned the church into a fundamental backer of his regime and the holocaust.

I don’t think we should thumb our noses at the law without cause, but if the law and our consciences conflict, then we should defy the law. Churches are supposed to support that notion. In China, most people seem to understand that. I wish American Christians would wake up to this truth too.