When trying to understand the church in China, it's easy to let predetermined narratives drive our interpretation of the things we observe. A recent article in the Huffington Post is a clear example of this.
In an article titled "Inside China's Secret Churches: How Christians Practice Their Faith Under An Atheist Government," the paper published a series of photographs purportedly showing Christians worshiping in a secret church in Beijing.
However, the photos actually show the opposite of what the article says they depict. Instead of being photographs of a secret church service in Beijing, they are in fact, photographs taken in one of Beijing's more prominent "open" house churches. The so-called "open" house churches are those that have, despite their illegal and unregistered status, decided to come out of the shadows (secret) and function openly.
Not only is the church depicted in these photographs not a secret church; it is a church that is in the forefront of this "open" house church movement. In fact, in October 2012, the pastor of this church was interviewed by the mainland website Christian Times (yes, there is such a thing) about the vision he has for his church. A translation of the interview (in two parts, here and here) can be found on Chinese Church Voices.
To be sure, there are still many churches in China, both in the cities and countryside, that prefer to remain secret, but the church depicted in these photographs is not one of them! A more accurate headline would have been "A House Church in Beijing Steps Out of the Shadows."
Photo Credit: Gaylan Yeung
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio