Sometimes China’s rulers bulldoze churches. Bob Fu of U.S.-based ChinaAid recently released video of a 3,000 seat church under destruction in Funan County in Anhui province in China’s interior. Reportedly the bulldozing was launched during worship. Since there are no reports of casualties, presumably everybody escaped. Two clergy were arrested, accused vaguely of “gathering a mass to disturb social order.”
This church was officially sanctioned as part of the state authorized “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” for Protestant churches. So it’s unclear why this congregation, if legal, was so dramatically targeted. Religious persecution in China is notoriously capricious. Some provincial governments act more aggressively than others. But persecution in recent years, after decades of relative if uneven liberalization, has become more routine and advocated by Beijing, which sees religion as a threat to one party rule.
So churches and clergy are accused of “disturbing social order.” Perhaps the allegation is true in that Christianity does offer an alternative cosmology to a communist regime that rejects any dissent from the atheist ruling party. Certainly China’s tyrants are justified as seeing religion as subversive to Marxism/Leninism, even their superficial version of it.
But churches are not typically disturbers of social order in a literal or immediate sense. Christians are called to obey the civil law and respect ruling others. The mission of churches is to save souls, disciple believers, help the needy, and act redemptively in every society. Churches, if true to their calling, create better and more productive citizens, not political revolutionaries.
China’s rulers, if wise, would not fight Christianity but welcome its influence in creating prosperity, moral purpose and social harmony in China. Growing churches would help China become a great nation.
But tyrants are rarely wise. They usually are jealous, paranoid, insecure and unsure of their own ability to retain unquestioned power. They overreact to any perceived dissent and generate unneeded animosity. Tyrannies, especially one party states, are never fully confident. Since everyone is expected to lie in homage to the state, who is truly sincere and reliable? Nobody can ever know for sure. So dictatorships chase their own tails and are afraid of their own shadows.
Many in America and around the world are understandably worried about the economic and strategic ascendancy of Chinese power. All who love liberty should be wary of Beijing’s ambitions. China under its current tyrants must be countered. Its bribes and threats must be defied. Its military must be surpassed. Its narrative of prosperity under dictatorship must be rebutted with democracy’s superior vision and results.
But the free world and all its sympathizers should also be confident. Tyrannies are undone by their own self deceptions. Societies where creativity is subordinate to coercion and fear can never truly thrive. Free people, as image bearers of God the Creator, are intrinsically creative when permitted. And they will outperform peoples who are subjects of despots rather than rulers of their own destinies.
Despots who bulldoze churches don’t have a long-term bright future. Churches don’t always prevail. Some societies have virtually extinguished Christianity. But they were the losers. Any regime at war with the Gospel and its message of redeemed human dignity places itself in a cage of its own making.
Supposedly Christianity in China is resilient and growing despite persecution. But reliable numbers are difficult to ascertain. Persecution in its intent to preempt and intimidate usually works at least partly. Christians, when much smaller in numbers, survived far worse during Mao’s torments. Today’s Christians in China, perhaps 60 million, or 100 million, or maybe more, may as a whole largely persevere, as did their spiritual ancestors.
Their plight is an ongoing spiritual indictment of China’s dictatorship. And their ability to survive and thrive will reveal whether or not China will meaningfully thrive as a nation.