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Struggle of urban Christian families in mainland

HONG KONG (SE): The results of an in-depth study into the pressures facing young Christian families in urban China contrasts the Confucian notion of love, which it describes as flowing from the authority of elders, and the Christian concept, as seen in the extraordinary sacrifice of Christ himself.

Published in the most recent issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, Brent Fulton says that this contrast is a key point in the study.

“In traditional China, the ideal family was held together by respect for authority and emphasised duty within a system of hierarchical relationships over love. Expressions of love were limited and to show inordinate love to those outside the family was seen as an offence against one’s parents,” Fulton was quoted by the China Source Blog on July 13 as saying.

He reflected that with the demise of the traditional family structure, the strength of this relational glue is greatly diminished.

However, he described one point of tension in modern life as lying partly in the generation gap, as older people tend to hold onto traditional concepts more strongly than their younger progeny.

“Yet parents and members of the extended family still often seek to use their authority to force decisions upon young married couples or upon young singles who are considering marriage. Meanwhile, the pull of materialism and the social demands for status further twist the meaning of marriage, emphasising its immediate personal benefits,” Fulton said.

He explained that in Church life, the dilemma is further compounded by the fact that most urban couples are first-generation Christians, who cannot turn to the wisdom of their parents or grandparents as an example of living a Christian marriage.

“These pressures, along with a lack of teaching about marriage in the Church, result in much stress and confusion, as they seek to work out their faith within the context of marriage,” he commented.

A professor of ethics, Wang Jun, said that the key lies in prioritising human relationships with God, whose love makes possible a transcendent love for others.

“Establishing authority and order, while teaching children in accordance with Christian love, is the current family-building mission of Chinese Christians. Judging from the current status of their families, this challenge is great, as traditional ideology must be replaced. Although the old value system has disintegrated, the inherent influence of the traditional system is still great,” Wang reflected.

The guest editor of the July issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, Ma Li, along with her husband Li Jin, believes that the Chinese Church can make a difference to urban family life in two ways.

The couple editorialised, “First, the Church must go back to the bible to teach its members the truth about what it means to be a family. Second, the Church, as a community, should demonstrate the heavenly order on earth, as well as strengthening the families in its community.”

Ma and her co-authors hold out the hope that as Christian families in China are transformed, they will in turn have a transforming influence upon the wider society.

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