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Ambivalence overriding attitude of society towards Church

HONG KONG (SE): In December last year, an article appeared in the Global Times, the English language equivalent of the People’s Daily, raising interesting questions about how the Church in China is viewed by both the state and wider society.

Brent Fulton, writing in China Church Voices calls it a fascinating light shone on the larger phenomenon of the rapid growth of Churches in urban areas, both the official registered Churches and the unofficial, unregistered, ones.

Fulton says the article details how members of house Churches in Shanghai distribute leaflets in public advertising Christmas good news parties. 

He explained that their purpose is clearly to introduce the curious to Christianity, but notes that the interesting thing about the article is the matter of fact manner in which it describes the activity.

He quotes the article as saying, “A large number of unofficial Churches, especially in big cities, are opening their doors to welcome more and more people who are interested in learning about how Christians spend Christmas.”

The article then points out that the good response many receive means they have to find larger venues for their celebrations and some even rent ballrooms in hotels.

Fulton remarks that although the western press often portrays Chinese Christians as making an anti-social political statement if they go to Church, the Global Times article simply portrays them as people with a legitimate and genuine interest in spiritual things.

The article says that their intentions are not political and that whether they are attending an official or unofficial Church is not a point at issue. The article implies that going to a Christian gathering can be a mainstream activity.

Fulton interprets this as meaning that for those with little Church background, what the Church does is more important than its relationship with the government.

However, Fulton notes that the overriding attitude of both government and wider society seems to be ambivalence.

The article details the activities of one man who quit his job after joining a Christian Church to become a fulltime minister.

He now spends a lot of his time handing out leaflets containing segments of the gospels in the street, but says that although the police question him occasionally, they do not do anything.

He concludes that although what he is doing is technically outside the law, the state is reluctant, or at least not highly motivated to take any action.

The article quotes him as saying that although the police know about the not-so-clandestine house Church activity in his city, “They are short of hands to close them all down and to do so would also cause undue public concern.”

Fulton notes that the article also speaks of the official, registered Churches, but does not attempt to compare or contrast them with what it calls the illegal house Churches.

Rather it looks at the house Churches as a pragmatic response to lack of room in official Churches registered through the Three-Self Movement (the Protestant equivalent to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association), as they are frequently crowded, especially at Christmas.

 

Fulton concludes that the fact that the article appears on the front page of the Global Times website shows that the government does not want to paint a picture of a Church that is out of step with society, but rather one that is finding its way within society, as both society and the state come to terms with what the role of a Church may be.

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