Christianity is growing fast in mainland China; the faithful number as many as hundreds of millions. Christians, however, are a persecuted minority in a country where worship is limited to the state-sanctioned deity Mao Zedong.
Last week, The Washington Times hosted a delegation of Chinese Christian human-rights lawyers who were in Washington to attend the National Prayer Breakfast. They explained that Christianity is spreading in the Middle Kingdom, particularly among the intellectual class. Many educated Chinese who have spent their lives under communist rule are beginning to wonder whether there might be more meaning to life than that found in the materialistic social program of the Communist Party.
This increasing spiritual awareness has brought down an official response. In December, Beijing’s Committee on the Management of Social Safety issued a secret order initiating “Operation Deterrence,” a three-month campaign against the “dangerous cult” of Christianity. Despite Christian efforts to practice their faith quietly and in peace, the communists will allow no competition for souls. The communist version of separation of church and state is to eliminate the church.
Prominent Christians are followed by secret police 24 hours a day. Some senior members of the delegation heading to the National Prayer Breakfast never arrived; they were intercepted at the airport in China and detained for reasons of “national security.” In December, a government crackdown on Christian and other reform leaders coincided with the Nobel Peace Prize award for dissident Liu Xiaobo. Over 100 people in China were put under house arrest, and some “disappeared” - kidnapped and taken to a remote location, then later released.
Beijing wants to limit the exposure of a religion based on charity, self-sacrifice and love of neighbor. Christians were barred from participating in relief efforts after the April 2010 earthquake in northwest China because the government feared they would set too good an example and attract converts. Some lawyers who defend those oppressed by the state lose their licenses and livelihoods. They are relatively lucky; many others are subject to more harsh reprisal such as long-term imprisonment and torture.
Christians are active in the opposition movement in the People’s Republic. Half the signatories of the “Charter 08” reform manifesto are believers. “There is a good dynamic,” Zhang Dajun explained. “Christians care about justice and it has an impact on the drive for civil society.”
Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, wishes President Obama would take a stronger stand on human rights in China and “send a signal to the Chinese government that his actions match his words.” Mr. Fu thinks it’s bad politics and bad business to ignore the Communist Party’s dismal human-rights record. “A country that brutally persecutes and degrades its own citizens cannot be counted as an equal partner for doing business,” he explained. “How can China be counted on to honor international norms and agreements when it denies these basic rights?” The George W. Bush administration at least gave perfunctory attention to these issues, but “for the past two years there has been a deadly silence.”
Late last year, religious and democratic leader Fan Yafeng was kidnapped and tortured by the communists. Appeals for help to the U.S. embassy in Beijing were ignored. “We received no help from them, nothing,” Mr. Fu said. Washington’s lack of assistance for this dissident “sent a strong signal to the Chinese government to go ahead, almost like a ‘we don’t care’ message.”
“We don’t see consistency, we don’t see a forceful message,” Zhang Dajun added. “That’s the reality. The United States should stand for its values.” Mr. Obama tries to “play the Chinese game” but “he cannot win. He shows too much deference, too much weakness. He just can’t cope.” Evangelist and physician Zheng Legou said America should reach out directly to civil-society groups. This would “inspire the civil and freedom fighters,” he advised. “When you have backbone, you get respect.”
“I’m not an animal,” Zhang Dajun told The Washington Times. “I want freedom.” The Chinese Christian struggle against communism is America’s fight too.
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