In China, They Beat Christians With Crowbars
The Summer Olympic Games will focus a needed spotlight on the Chinese government’s abusive treatment of believers.
Next week the world will see everything that’s good about China: Its sleek buildings, its new wealth and its talented artists and athletes. What won’t be on display during broadcasts of the Olympic Games in Beijing are any signs of religion—or of China’s brutal record of persecution aimed at Christians and other people of faith.
Some diplomatically minded evangelicals think this is not the time to rock the boat about China’s shameful record of religious repression. Franklin Graham told reporters in China earlier this year that believers should refrain from talking about their faith throughout the athletic contest. He thinks that we can best help China’s church by muting any evangelism efforts aimed at reaching athletes or the Chinese people.
But Bob Fu, who once led an underground house church in China and now leads the China Aid Association from an office in Philadelphia, has called Graham’s suggestion “offensive and inappropriate.” He told Charisma recently: “When an unjust law demands [Chinese Christians] to go against their faith and Jesus’ teaching of the Great Commission, they cannot and will not concede to a ‘faith moratorium’ in order to please an atheistic government during the Olympic Games.”
|It would be a disgrace for the world community to ignore China’s brutal record of religious oppression.
Fu is one of five Chinese activists who met with President Bush at the White House this week to discuss China’s policies. At first Fu did not think Bush’s planned visit to the Olympics in early August would be helpful, but he told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he is now encouraged because the president plans to raise issues of religious freedom while in Beijing.
The controversy over China’s record of religious persecution is set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing nation whose leaders aren’t sure what to do about the growth of Christianity. Just a few decades ago, the communist government carried out a vicious plan to purge the country of religion. Today the gospel has spread from rural areas—where the revival began—and it is now touching intellectuals, politicians and the wealthy.
Modern China is a confusing study in opposites. It promotes capitalism on one hand and represses Tibetan Buddhism, various cults, and Christianity—except for churches that are registered with the state (and theologically controlled by it). China publishes millions of Bibles, yet most of them are exported or distributed only to state-sponsored churches. Christians in some regions are still beaten or thrown in jail for their faith, yet young members of the Communist Party are converting to faith in Christ—and finding more freedom of religion.
In Charisma’s in-depth cover story on China’s church, which hit newsstands this week, Australian journalist Adrian Brookes reports that more open-minded policies are bringing new freedoms to the Chinese church. But his interviews with underground leaders also showed that persecution has certainly not ended:
* In Hunan province, where the government is strictly communist and poverty is widespread, Christian groups are small and persecution is a reality. Some Christians in rural areas of Hunan and Anhui provinces have suffered horribly in the last 12 months as China prepares for the Olympics. One veteran missionary to China, Paul Hattaway, said this period “has been the most difficult for them since the severe persecution of 1983.”
* In other regions, the government is changing the way it cracks down on unregistered Christian groups. At one time the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) would raid church services and fine everyone. Now, the RAB is fining landlords who rent meeting space to churches.
* Things are changing fastest in the huge cities of China, where modernization has caused dizzying reforms. Christians who once feared being jailed say police now simply warn them to stop meeting. And during the recent earthquake in Sichuan province in May, there were reports that the government actually cooperated with churches in relief efforts—an unprecedented development.
* Dennis Balcombe, an American missionary who has worked in Hong Kong for 40 years, told Charisma that the government has actually become lax in its approach to Christians in Guangdong province. He said that police came and told leaders of one growing church that they should split their group in half so that it would not attract attention.
When I met with a group of 80 underground church leaders seven years ago in a secret conference near Guangzhou, I discovered that all of them had been jailed at least three times each. Many had been beaten with iron crowbars while others had been shocked with electric cattle prods in an effort to gain information about secret church groups. I met older leaders who had been confined in tiny concrete cells for as long as six months without a toilet.
And the sad truth is that this kind of brutal persecution still takes place today in many parts of China. Don’t let the fancy glass and steel stadiums built for the Olympics fool you. This is a government that still approves of beating Christians with crowbars.
I agree with Bob Fu that it would be a disgrace for the world community to ignore China’s brutal record of religious oppression. It would also be unforgivable for us to ask Chinese Christians to be quiet about their faith while their country is under global scrutiny during the games.
Because of their bravery in the face of martyrdom, Chinese Christians have set the standard for New Testament faith in our generation. Let’s pray for them during the month of August, and ask God that they will boldly declare the gospel no matter what laws Beijing has enacted to stop them.
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. You can join him on Tuesday evening, Aug. 5 at 8 p.m. EST for a live conference call about the persecuted church in China. Joining him on the call will be Todd Nettleton, national director of the Voice of the Martyrs organization, and Bob Fu, a former pastor in China who now works to raise awareness of religious persecution in his homeland. To sign up for the call click here.