Chinese house church Christians have a paradoxical view of their country, suggested an American ministry leader who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to China during the Olympic Games.
Although leaders of the unregistered Christian community are critical of the Chinese government’s restrictions on religious freedom, they remain highly patriotic, said Dr. Carl Moeller of Open Doors USA to The Christian Post on Thursday.
“The overwhelming emotion from the house church leader was a great deal of pride that the Olympics had shown China as a generally positive place,” said the ministry head, whose group assists persecuted churches.
“In some ways it seemed paradoxical to me that they seemed pleased with the way the Olympics had come off,” he said, “but they were also quite open about the fact that they had suffered restrictions and in some cases even been called into questioning during this time.”
The Olympic Games has in some ways been a mixed blessing to house church Christians in China.
With the international spotlight on them, Olympic host China was under greater scrutiny and pressure to improve its record on human rights, including religious freedom.
But in practice, crackdowns intensified as China attempted to contain dissenters who would show the world a less-than-perfect image of the country.
In 2007, there were a total of 60 counted cases of house church persecutions by the government in 18 provinces, up from 46 cases in 2006, according to the annual report by China Aid Association. The number of people arrested and detained increased 6.6 percent last year compared to two years ago, from 650 to 693.
And in the weeks ahead of the Games, officials had asked house church pastors to sign a document promising to cease their activities until the Games ended. If they broke the agreement, they would face “disciplinary action.”
House church leaders surprised Moeller during their meeting when they said persecution before and during the Olympics had been “normal.”
When prodded, they explained that “normal” meant having public security bureau (PSB) officials attending their services and taking notes, calling them in for questioning, visiting their homes, as well as forcing some leaders into hiding to avoid arrests.
“Their perspective of persecution and normalcy is quite different [than Americans’],” Moeller commented.
However, the Chinese Christians reassured that it is not important to focus on how the government treats them because they will continue to worship and live out their faith regardless of the situation.
“The number one thing they said is it doesn’t matter what the government does,” Moeller recalled. “It is not important – in their words – it is not as important to be focus on the political realities of the churches in China as the spiritual realities.”
“They were most excited to tell me about how the Holy Spirit was moving through China, how the churches were growing, and despite this ‘normal’ persecution that was going on they were seeing a great response to the Gospel.”
In addition to house church leaders, the Open Doors president also met with leaders from the government-sanctioned Three-Self churches. In those conversations, the Chinese leaders claimed there was no longer religious persecution in China and that bringing in Bibles was unnecessary because the government is printing enough, Moeller recalled.
Pro-government church leaders claimed that the only reason why Bibles weren’t sold in bookstores and in the marketplace is because the government does not want shop owners to profit from the sales so Bibles were only being sold in government-approved churches.
They also accused house churches of being cults.
After returning to the United States from his visit to China, Moeller recalled how very important it is for Christians all around the world to remember places like India and China with their massive economies and their global reach in terms of technology.”
“We may overlook places like these where Christians suffer for their faith,” Moeller said.
“But we must remember them in prayer and to stand with those Christians in those places that are experiencing persecution.”