Chinese Church Continues to Grow as New President is Announced
China has appointed its new leaders. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as top Politburo Standing Committee members and take over the presidency and premiership in March 2013. Chinese church leaders, for now, do not expect major changes when the new leaders assume their elected positions. “As long as we communicate with the government, they leave us alone”, expresses one church leader of an unregistered house church which is also the opinion of many of his colleagues.
An Open Doors staff member in China adds, “The leaders in the Communist Party are not democrats. They want to stay in power, even after they step down from their official position. This means they make sure they select likeminded successors. As an example; there was one politician who has been arrested on corruption charges. When this Bo Xilai became mayor of Chongqing he implemented an old-school, communist style way of governing. He was a candidate member for the Politburo, but he was corrupt and wanted to go back to the old days. The leaders thought he needed to be stopped. Therefore there is no reason to assume that the new leaders will discontinue the path on which China has set its foot.”
That path is expected to continue to lead toward policies that strengthen the economy, measures against corruption and, on a small scale, political reforms. “When you look at China over a period of ten years you’ll notice drastic changes, but from year to year the changes are not that major”, says the Open Door staff member. “For now, the Chinese Church expects it can continue to grow both in size and in depth. The government will keep close watch, that’s for sure, but severe oppression is something of the past. I like to say the government is improving, but on the other hand; there are still some Christians in jail because of their faith and Christians among the 400+ minority groups (officially classified in 56 categories) are still persecuted by the society and sometimes the government.”
The majority of the Christians in China say they are currently experiencing a growth in freedom. But, according to leaders of unregistered churches, materialism is nowadays a much bigger threat for the church in China than persecution.
Effect on worldwide church
This does not make the leadership change insignificant for Christians. In fact, perhaps more than their predecessors, Xi and his regime may have some effect on the worldwide church. Since the 1990s, China has gradually expanded its influence abroad and has become a major player in the political arena. Through diplomacy and investments China has been securing natural resources and building alliances with sometimes questionable regimes, like Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir and Myanmar’s junta.
China may have gone through major changes in the last 30 years, but it is still not a democracy and it does not want to become one. In fact, allegedly the regime is researching the revolutions in the Arab world to learn how to prevent a similar turnover in China. Stability and economic growth are China’s core values. And this can be an example for other countries where human rights are violated and Christians are persecuted. The way China deals with minorities, political opponents and religious groups may be copied – at least to some extent – in countries like Sudan, Myanmar and even North Korea. Chinese officials will go to countries and areas where their Western counterparts cannot, because of China’s diplomatic ties and trade agreements. Those officials will impact local authorities.
According to the Open Doors staff member in China, “The question asked today should not be, ‘How does the leadership change affect the Church?’ Instead the right question to ask is, ‘How does the Chinese Church influence the leadership?’ The Cultural Revolution has demolished important values in our culture. People used to take care of each other. Now we live in a survival-of-the-fittest society. Money has become the new Mao, dictating every aspect of life. The Bible has other values to offer, like loving one another, abstain from immorality and helping those in need. It is the responsibility of the Church to convey these values to the Chinese people. If we influence our society, we will influence our leadership and thus the world. One of our most important, current programs focusses on helping the Church in embedding Christian values and living those out. This may change the Chinese society and our leadership. It is the best we can do in China to help our brothers and sisters who are persecuted abroad.”
Father, we stand in awe at the astonishing growth of the church in China and give You praise for the increased freedom the church has experienced in many parts of the country. New political leaders will be leading the country, but Christ reigns sovereignly over them, and we pray that they will govern with wisdom and justice and grow in respect for the people’s right to practice the religion of their choice. We lift up the Open Doors staff as they strategize on ways to best support the church in minority areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where the church continues to face persecution. In the name of Christ who reigns, even over all the earth, Amen.