CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 November 2017

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Can a Christian join the Communist Party?

HONG KONG (SE): A question posted on Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora, an Internet question and answer forum, posed the age old question which keeps reappearing on one form or another, “Can a Christian join the Communist Party?”

The query came from a young graduate, who asked, “I’ve been a Christian for six months and now my work requires me to join the Communist Party. But, if the party and religion are at odds with each other, what do I do?”

It raised some interestingly nuanced responses, but one categorically black and white one from the Communist Party Youth League, dismissed it preemptively as being total out of the question.

It quoted Article One of the Constitution of the Communist Party of China, which says, “Members of the Communist Party of China must serve the people wholeheartedly, dedicate their whole lives to the realisation of Communism, and be ready to make any personal sacrifices.”

It followed up with Article Two concluding that it is contradictory to think that anyone with a theistic belief could conscientiously obtain the correct worldview that would allow them to work diligently to enhance their ability to serve the people.

From the Youth League’s point of view it is absolutely out of the question, not necessarily because of any inherent contradiction, but because the party says so.

However, the Christian Student Union sees the matter as a far more complex conundrum and, although it hints that the same conclusion may be the nearest correct answer, it adopts a far more nuanced approach, while at the same time pointing out that the issue is far from being as black and white as the Youth League pretends.

The Student Union stresses that this is indeed an important question, as there are lots of Christians who do aspire to membership of the party.

It adds that while some undoubtedly share a widespread motivation of improving their career prospects, others simply want to be in the mainstream, so their faith can make a positive impact on society.
While not categorically ruling out compatibility, the students do point out that the two are at least difficult bed fellows.

Nevertheless, the students admit that some Christians do join the party and try to hide their true faith in the hope that they will not completely abandon it, but it creates an awkward dilemma for them, as it leads to a dualistic life of social and religious commitments that most find unsustainable.

“Many Christian students struggle when faced with the issue of joining the party. They try to talk with party organisations. When they realise they cannot balance the two together, choosing to persevere in the faith and walk the walk is in itself a beautiful witness,” their response says.

But there are still pros and cons to be weighed, as the Student Union points out that it is not correct to assume that everything about the party is bad.

Apart from better job prospects, it points out that it provides a better forum from which to have an influence on public interest projects.
The students sum this up as meaning that people only want to enter the party because, in one way or another, it will help them realise the value of their lives, including self-worth in vocational development and the social value of serving the public.

“They may not go so far as to really believe in Marxism, nor actually give serious thought to striving for the realisation of Communism,” the Student Union says.

The union points to the strengths in Communism, saying it advocates a classless society without exploitation, leading to a self-liberated society in which each person receives according to need.
“This is certainly a good ideal,” the students say, but add that it overlooks the effect of human sin, as even when there is an overabundance, human greed is never satisfied and still has to be dealt with.

Nevertheless, it points to the same aspiration in Christianity, quoting the Acts of the Apostles account of the community selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds among the whole community, according to need.

The union also notes similar practices in the mediaeval Church with the establishment of the religious orders and monasteries.
Then yet again amongst religious immigrant communities travelling to the harsh environment of the New World, which founded similar structures in their faith communities just to survive.

It also recalls the Jesus Family, which was set up in the 1920s in Mazhuang, Shandong province.

“They imitated the practices of the early Church as recorded in chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles. All things were for public use, they eliminated private property, all followers of the Jesus Family had to sell everything and give all their property, know-how and even their bodies over to the Family.

“They all participated in productive labour. Men would plow the fields and women would knit. Members of the Jesus Family practiced complete egalitarianism. They ate the same food…” the students say in telling their tale.

“For Chinese society at the time, the lives of the members surpassed the ordinary level of rural living,” they note.
However, they point out that where they differed from the Communist Party is that they recognised the only way to deal with corruption and selfishness was to depend on Jesus’ forgiveness and salvation.

They also realised that such groups would never be perfect, as there were historical phases to move through, which would only become perfect with the second coming of Jesus and the establishment of the true kingdom.

“According to the biblical point of view, it is not Communism that will finally be realised in human history, but the kingdom of Jesus Christ,” the students comment.

The Student Union says that in looking back over history we can understand that it is faith itself that gives people the power to transcend class difference in communities and where there is a widening disparity between rich and poor in a society, making social hierarchies stronger, we know that faith is lacking an effective response.

The Student Union points out that many Christians have left civil service jobs because they cannot find a compatibility between their faith and membership of the Communist Party, and have found new and creative ways of serving society on the outside of the inner corps.

It then cites Matthew’s gospel as saying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things will be accorded to you,” calling this the ultimate guideline for finding a solution to the conundrum of whether to join the party or not.

And there are reminders in the history of the culture as well. An old Chinese adage says, “The old man lost his horse, but it turned out for the best.”

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