Those of us who work in China are often asked if we think that the situation for the church in China is getting better or worse. I have always found that to be a problematic question.
First of all, "better" and "worse" are relative terms, so the first response has to be "better or worse in comparison to what?" Compared to the standards that we are accustomed to? Compared to a certain time in the past? By what standard should the question be answered?
The second problem with the question is that it assumes only two possibilities: better or worse/ good or bad. It's an extremely dichotomous question that leaves little room for the potential of a complicated reality.
If we are comparing the situation to what we are accustomed to, then it certainly isn't good. There are far too many restrictions on religious practice, and regulations that either permit or restrict activities are arbitrarily enforced. This certainly isn't good, but is it really "worse" than the situation that existed during the Cultural Revolution?
If, however, we are comparing the current situation to what it used to be, then there is ample evidence that things are better (even if they are not good). Thousands of house churches operate openly without harassment, Christian books are being published, Bibles can be freely downloaded to computers and smart phones, Christian celebrities are open about their faith, and ordinary Christians are using the Internet for evangelism. All of those things would have been unthinkable even as recently as ten years ago.
I have come to the conclusion that when people say that "things are getting worse" in regards to China, what they really mean is "things are not improving at the rate and scope that I would like."
That is not the same as "getting worse," and it's a distinction that we need to be clear about.
Image credit: Joann Pittman
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