There are 85 million official atheists in China–members of the Communist Party. But now there are 100 million Christians there too. That’s apparently a number that makes party officials very, very nervous.
China has long been persecuting underground churches. News reports tell of official persecution. The abduction of church leaders. The demolishing church buildings (one of which buried a pastor and his wife, killing her).
Yet, Christianity continues to grow.
Even so, increased persecution is unlikely to produce the government’s hoped-for results. Jillian Kay Melchior explains that persecution of house churches politicizes the otherwise non-political believer.
“That’s a spectacularly counterproductive policy. The vast majority of Christians who worship in house churches or underground churches are not political; they love both their God and their country. Beijing’s eradication effort places Christians in an untenable situation, forcing them to choose. That politicizes believers who would otherwise be happy to ignore politics, read their Bibles, and quietly and peacefully worship.”
Another writer explains further: “In fact, this level of repression is probably good for Chinese Christianity in the long run: it is tough enough that it will challenge Christians to remain faithful and keep churches from being filled with insincere hangers-on. But it’s mild enough that the church’s work will continue.
“By cutting it off from foreign mission support and funding, and by removing all material incentive for joining the church, he [Mao Tse Tung] in effect created an authentic, naturalized faith that is legitimately Chinese.”
But Christianity is shrinking in America, and with the shrinking comes growing animosity toward Christians.
“Christians in America,” writes Fay Voshell, “should recognize they are well into the first stages of persecution.” The first stage is to stereotype the targeted group. The media and our political discourse have effectively secured this goal in the minds of many Americans–many who formerly sat in our pews.
Voshell quotes Msgr. Charles Pope: “Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are [perceived to be] a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable—even tragic—group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the ‘shackles’ of faith.”
We, American Christians, should own that we have often contributed to the stereotype with responses that show us to be “sad” and “angry”. As persecution creeps in, we often do not respond as a Chinese believer might.
They expect persecution. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Chinese believers understand that could mean them. We are only waking up to the notion.
The second stage of persecution “involves justifying hatred of a particular group.” A glance at the evening news or a few moments on social media proves that, for many here, that stage is already here.
The third stage effectively marginalizes the group from the rest of society. The Chinese government is worried that the marginalized are becoming many. In America, the marginalized are becoming few.
We can point to those here who have lost jobs or paid fines because of their faithfulness to Christian principles and feel injustice. Freedom is on the line.
But when persecution comes to us. Who will we be? The faithful who persevere? Or the sad and angry who lash out?
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