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Missing Jesus in Beijing

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President Obama's recent trip to China provided quite a few photo ops. But unlike his presidential predecessors who added worship service attendance at a registered church on their official itineraries, the president chose to steer a pretty wide berth around the burgeoning Christian population inside China.

Leslie Hook of the Wall Street Journal Asia (registration required) observed:

In the northeast part of this city, not far from the old Friendship Hotel, stands a boxy little cinema specializing in anime. A nondescript building on a nondescript thoroughfare, it's hardly a place a tourist would notice, much less a visiting president. Yet had Barack Obama wanted to understand something of the real China, his time would have been better spent here than at the various state dinners, Forbidden City photo-ops, and carefully managed town-hall events that consumed the balance of his trip this week.

The past 12 months have been very difficult inside China for Christians who wish to worship freely and openly, and hazardous to the human rights lawyers to defend them. Recently, China Aid chronicled new government efforts to use civil law to harass and discriminate against Christian worship:

Since the secret directive to dismantle Beijing house churches was issued in August, 2009, Beijing security officials have maintained their relentless campaign against house churches. On Sunday, November 8, Shouwang church members were forced for a second week to meet outside the frozen East Gate of Haidian Park.

It doesn't stop there.

According to China Aid, yesterday, Nov. 19, Public Security officers took a human rights attorney into custody shortly after this lawyer (also a Christian) returned from a visit to the United States. They beat his wife in front of their 7 year old daughter.

While in the US, attorney Jiang Tianyong testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission about the rule of law in China. To come to the US and testify in this way is an act of great moral courage. Jiang testified about one harrowing Sunday at his church:

My name is Jiang Tianyong and I come from mainland China. I am an attorney and most of the cases I take on involve religious belief, and are usually referred to as "sensitive cases." I am also a Christian and as such a person, I need to worship God in gatherings with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am going to discuss three things, and I hope I can give you an idea of the actual status of the rule of law and religious belief in China.

The first one is an event I would like to share: On the afternoon of Mother's Day of May 13, 2007, I was praying and singing hymns of God with my brothers and sisters in Christ gathering. It was in a private large room in Beijing. Suddenly, several dozen people broke into the room. Only about a dozen of them were wearing uniforms and the rest were in plain clothes. One of them forced us to stop our activities and to remain still where we were. We were not allowed to leave the place. The intruders claimed that they were law enforcement officers from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Religious Administration. They said that our gathering was an illegal one and abolished it immediately! They sealed our donation box and took videos and photos of many of us. They also recorded the identification information of every one of us. After that, they conducted a long interrogation. It was after 1 am that I left the site. Between that day and July 2009, I had no place where I could meet with my fellow Christians in a gathering. This is my experience in China as a Christian.

Christianity Today for years has tracked the growth, change, and development of Christianity inside China. I believe we can confidently say that there are more Christians in China today than at any other time in China's history.

What are the implications for the United States and China (now labeled "Chi-merica)? Allow me again to quote Leslie Hook:

But freedom of faith is something not even history's most repressive governments have ever been fully able to snuff out: not the Romans in their suppression of the earliest Christians; not the communists in their efforts to substitute History for God; not Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong or Kim Il Sung, who attempted to substitute themselves for God. So while Shouwang has no place to meet this coming Sunday, the church will still be there, only more deeply steeled in its faith. This is the side of China—the one Mr. Obama opted not to see—that will ultimately determine its future.

May Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao soon come to acknowledge this new reality.

tmorgan@christianitytoday.com

(Photo: White House. President Obama at the Forbidden City.)

July/August
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