Generous Orthodoxy  




Thursday, May 31, 2007

The most Christian country?

Nicholas Kristof, nationally syndicated columnist, has been writing favorable things about evangelical Christianity for years, in case you haven't noticed. Here is a recent sample (note especially the projection at the end):

Excerpts from Kristof column, New York Times, May 31.
Every evening in a little village near this coastal city, peasants gather in a private home and do something that used to be dangerous. They pray.

They are Christians gathering in a little “house church,” reflecting a religious boom across China. But their story also underscores another trend: the way the legal system here offers hope of chipping away at the Communist Party dictatorship.

The tale begins a year ago when the authorities here in Shandong Province raided this house church and carted 31 Christians off to the police station. Such crackdowns are the traditional way the Communist Party has dealt with house churches in rural areas, and some Christians have even been tortured to death.

But this incident ended differently.

Tian Yinghua, a 55-year-old evangelical Protestant who runs the church in her living room, was outraged after she was ordered jailed for 10 days.

“We had done nothing wrong at all,” explained Ms. Tian. “We weren’t criminals.”

So Ms. Tian contacted a prominent Christian and legal scholar in Beijing, Li Baiguang, who traveled to Shandong Province to do something that once would have been unthinkable: Sue the police.

Even more unthinkable, Ms. Tian won. The police settled the case by withdrawing the charges. The police also formally apologized, paid symbolic damages of 1 yuan (a bit more than a dime) and promised not to bother the church again.

It was a historic victory for freedom of religion in China — and, even more important, for the rule of law....

That seems to be a growing pattern. The central government’s policy toward religion is much more relaxed than a few years ago, and in coastal areas the government usually lets people worship freely....

“In most places, it’s no problem today,” said Mr. Li, who himself was imprisoned for more than a month two years ago for his legal activism. “It’s just a problem in backward areas, or if you directly attack the Communist Party....”

Han Dongfang, a Chinese labor activist now exiled to Hong Kong, says that he has also found that suing the authorities is often an effective way to increase labor protections. Mr. Han was a leader in the Tiananmen protests of 1989, but now he is trying to bring about change from within. “I believe this is the way to develop a civil society, not through a revolution,” he said.

Of course, the legal system is still routinely used to oppress people, rather than to protect them. China imprisons more journalists than any country in the world, and one of them is my Times colleague Zhao Yan...

Still, the rule of law has gained immensely since the 1980’s...If the Chinese government continues to nurture the rule of law, China could increasingly follow the path of South Korea and Taiwan away from autocracy toward greater democracy.

Easing the repression could also change the religious complexion of China. Estimates of the number of Chinese Christians vary widely, but the number may be approaching 100 million, many of them evangelical Protestants who aggressively recruit new believers. And with the more relaxed policy, the numbers are soaring.

“In 20 to 30 years China will have several hundred million believers,” said Mr. Li, the lawyer who helped the Shandong church. “That will make China the biggest Christian nation in the world, with more Christians than the entire U.S. population.”
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The one thing worrying about this is the qualification about criticizing the Communist Party. When Christianity is not subversive, it's not Christianity. Let's hope and pray for the Church in China to be more like the Eastern European churches in the late 80s and less like the Russian Orthodox under Stalin and his successors.