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Christianity With Chinese Characteristics

Walter Russell Mead

According to the new theology being promoted by the Chinese government, Jesus would have joined the Communist Party. The BBC:

If Jesus was alive today, would he be a member of the Chinese Communist Party? Well, perhaps he would, according to one Beijing based priest, who serves in an official, state-sanctioned church.

The Chinese Communist Party once tried to destroy religion. It failed. And today, according to some estimates, there are more Christians in China than Communist Party members. Up to 100 million will be celebrating across China this Easter weekend. But what it failed to destroy, the Party still wants to control. So, an officially atheist government effectively runs its own churches and controls the appointment of its own priests.

The big story here is that the spread of Christianity (the BBC estimates there could be up to 100 million Chinese Christians) continues to unnerve Chinese officials. The Chinese government may be fearful of the example of nearby South Korea, where Christians played a major role in the replacement of the dictatorship by democratic government—or they may be thinking about Poland, where John Paul II played a role in the overthrow of Communist rule. Christians in both countries point with pride to the peaceful nature of the change and say that’s a good sign that Christians could help with a similarly peaceful change in China. But Communist authorities, in the midst of the harshest crackdown on civil liberties in decades, aren’t interested in political change, however peaceful it may be.

The Party’s latest strategy is likely to backfire. Since 1949, the Communists have tried harsh, murderous persecutions; they have tried gentle pressure; they have tried repression and they have tried toleration. Nothing has worked; Christianity continues to spread in China, and younger generations and educated people continue to be drawn toward it. At the start of the Communist era, there were only about three million Christians in China. Today the number is twenty to thirty times that total, and it continues to grow.

At some point, one can only hope that Chinese authorities will realize that the modern, complex society that China wants to become will be more stable and more secure with a large Christian population free to live out and act on their beliefs. In a society that wants to fight corruption, close the gap between rich and poor, and show more compassion toward those in need, Christians can play a constructive role.

The era in which Chinese Christians were a tiny sect dependent on foreign missionaries and looking overseas for leadership is over. China needs the talents and the idealism of its growing Christian minority (which may soon be ten percent of the total population) if the Middle Kingdom is to flourish in the 21st century. The question may not be whether Jesus would join the Communist Party, but whether today at a time when the Communist Party is deeply corrupt, its Marxist ideals dead, Chinese society divided by materialism, and socialism a global failure, a young Mao Tse Tung would have joined the Christian Church.

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