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In Theory: The U.S. and China's religion policies

April 27, 2011

Chinese authorities have arrested 30 members of an evangelical church for trying to hold an Easter service.

According to reports, large numbers of police gathered near the Shouwang Church after its leaders announced they would hold an outdoor ceremony to honor the holy day. The church's senior pastor, Jin Tianming, is under house arrest and others removed by police have been taken to different stations and not been released.

Jin said he knew the risks and added, “[T]his is our uncompromising position and a matter of faith. If they arrest our followers, this is the price we are willing to pay.”

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Although China has an official policy stipulating freedom of religion, its atheist government frowns upon worship and imposes strict controls on faith. Religious groups have to have official approval to gather and face the threat of being closed down and evicted from their places of worship. The Shouwang Church is considered “unofficial,” as it has not been recognized by the government despite having sought registration since 2006.

Is there anything American faith leaders can, or should be, doing about this denial of freedom? And given America's close economic relations with China, is there anything you think the U.S. government should be doing?

I don't think China gives two chopsticks about America's opinion with regard to its policies. America is deeply in debt to China, and as such doesn't have a whole lot of leverage. But Christians here are forever objecting and denouncing China's oppression to no avail.

I believe China currently provides three Christian church options. One is to attend officially sanctioned state churches where lots of people assemble. We might consider them theologically milquetoast at best, or politically propagandist at worst. State operatives sit in as observers, ensuring no negative illustrations of corrupt government find their way into the sermons and that Caesar comes off well when Jesus is quoted. Parishioners realize it's censored but they'll acquiesce rather than have to meet their savior in person prematurely.

Another sort of church is that provided for foreigners. These too are monitored, but mostly for attendance. Citizens are not allowed, and papers are checked at the door. Christian tourists who desire a worship experience more than a cultural one will be there, and ministers can generally preach sound doctrine, or so I'm told.

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