China Versus Islam --Update

Two more items courtesy of our Aussie correspondent, who predicted in comments ages ago that Christianity was the great untold story of China, and yesterday sent us a story predicting Chinese Christian confrontation with Islam. Further to that: China demolishes mosque. No Christian angle per se, but a straw in the wind. More interestingly: a lengthy and fascinating piece in the Chicago Tribune entitled: Jesus in China.
Christianity — repressed, marginalized and, in many cases, illegal in China for more than half a century — is sweeping the country, overflowing churches and posing a sensitive challenge to the officially atheist Communist Party. By some estimates Christian churches, most of them underground, now have roughly 70 million members, as many as the party itself.
One interesting wrinkle is that many of these Christians consider themselves Communists; as China's wealth grows, so does its consumerism and corruption, and there is a flight into faith as a bulwark against emptiness. There are intriguing signs of Party softening, too, even though the faith is officially still condemned and churches can be tolerated one moment and closed and persecuted the next.
the government is permitting churches to be more open and active than ever before, signaling a new tolerance of faith in public life. President Hu Jintao even held an unprecedented Politburo "study session" on religion last year, in which he told China's 25 most powerful leaders that "the knowledge and strength of religious people must be mustered to build a prosperous society."
If the flight from corruption is one factor, Tiananmen Square is another.
"It affected my generation of university students very deeply," Jin said of the crackdown that is known in Chinese as "6-4," for the date, June 4, 1989. "The university students in the '80s were groomed by the country. Our fees and living expenses were paid for by the country. The 6-4 event left many students hurt. ...Like all my other university peers, I felt an immense sense of hopelessness."For them, Christianity offered an alternative to China's political orthodoxy. To those in search of something new in which to believe, the church promised salvation, moral absolutes and a sense of being part of an enterprise larger than China.
This is an evangelical phenomenon, as the Catholic Church is still highly restricted; the regime isn't sure what it thinks about Jesus but it knows it's against the Pope! (Although there are signs of warming relations even there, and the Pope's Letter to Chinese Catholics was surprisingly open to the Patriotic Church -- an eye-opener to me.) Nevertheless, I'm not sure what to make of the evangelical docility to the regime. One popular pastor's Church is described here:

After a stint of studying in the United States, Jin returned to China last year but felt constrained by the official church."Originally, we used to have a huge government that controlled everything, but now the government is gradually shrinking and civil society is growing stronger and larger," he said. "I felt that churches should make good use of that opportunity to expand and spread the word of God."

Authorities were wary — "Officials tried to persuade me not to go down the illegal path"—but Jin reassured them that he had no interest in conflict. "They asked me to write reports to explain what I'm doing. I complied and explained who we are, what we want to do and gave them a schedule of our activities."

The Zion Church opened its doors in May 2007 with just 20 people. Within a year its membership had surged to 350 worshipers. He preaches a non-denominational but relatively conservative brand of evangelical Christianity. Jin's urbane services, full of contemporary references to the economy and education and pop culture, tapped a well of fervor among young, successful Chinese."Most of our members are highly educated—master's degree holders, PhD holders, university professors," he said. There also are executives, entrepreneurs and other professionals. Nine out of 10, he estimated, are younger than 40.

Is this cutting Christianity down to size, or is it wise as serpents and harmless as doves? It calls to mind the Polish Communists accepting Karol Wojtyla as bishop of Krakow because, as he was apolitical, he seemed harmless. But I'm not sure I trust this instinct:
He is no political heretic. On the contrary, he thinks permitting Christianity to play a greater role in society could help guarantee the party's survival at a time when communist ideology is no longer visible in daily life. He believes it is comparable to the party's decision, a generation ago, to embark on economic reform."We see that the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and all of Eastern Europe have collapsed, and their countries have collapsed with them," Zhao said. "But the Chinese Communist Party survives ... precisely because it continues to change."
He seems to foresee a Christian Communism. Something to watch.

Update: Last night I watched the Frontline report on which the Tribune story is based. It emphasizes some of the difficulties more than the print version. The government still wants to train clergy in the official Churches and bugs and follows the pastors of independent Churches, and you see more of the tension between Christians who want to find an accomodation with communism and those who oppose it. Fascinating footage of the style of worship in many house churches. (Every song you learned in Vacation Bible School sung in Chinese.)

I must say however, the impact of the story was deadened somewhat by the fact it was followed immediately by a piece on global warming's impact on the Himalayas. As the Glaciers which feed the major rivers of Asia recede, dire consequences are predicted: drought, famine, wars over water rights, etc. That may or may not be true, one would have to look into that, but huge chunks of the report were given over to interviews with tribal peoples living in tents or huts without electricity, who are quoted as saying their lives are being destroyed by global warming. I'm sorry, I simply don't believe people living without the modern means of communication have ever heard of global warming. It struck me as overwrought, fearmongering and false. And if that's the level of journalism acceptable at Frontline, it calls everything reported there into question. Getting back to the Chinese Church story, it makes me wonder whether the reporter was permitted by the Chinese to do some pre-Olympic publicity for them. See? Everything's fine, no human rights abuse here!