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Some Unanswered Questions

During the webinar, “Our China Stories: Unpacking Contemporary Narratives about the Church in China” with Dr. Brent Fulton in February, participants were able to ask questions following the presentation. There were eleven questions submitted that we did not have time to respond to during the time allotted.

As promised during the webinar, we asked Brent to respond to the unanswered questions in writing. We thought that our readers would be interested in these questions and answers as well.

1.  Do you see the current situation with coronavirus pushing people back into the narrative of China being the "needy" church, and also, do you see this current situation leading to the possibility of a reopening of China since the government may see a need to encourage people to come back to China to reboot the economy.

While the coronavirus certainly highlights the immediate need for prayer for the church in China, I do not believe it will have a long-term effect in terms of how people view the church. The immediate crisis will pass, and once it does the church will be facing the same internal and external dynamics as before the virus. Nor do I see this crisis resulting in China encouraging more foreign involvement in boosting its economy. The government will likely continue to utilize its own economic levers to keep people employed and maintain an acceptable level of growth.

2.  Is it not the case that the relentless attacks on China, even during this coronavirus emergency, fuels conflict and distrust between the Chinese government and foreign-based organizations active in their country, or with them abroad. Is it not the case that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can build trust toward solving this problem?

When foreign media, governments or, other actors attack China during times of crisis it heightens distrust and often results in the official media firing back, blaming foreign entities for China’s problems, which then ratchets up the conflict. If the Belt and Road Initiative produces examples of Chinese and foreign entities that have worked together both for mutual benefit and for the benefit of those in the region where they are working, this can reduce the finger pointing and encourage constructive dialog.

3.  In terms of the church's trajectory alongside China's history, are there significant differences between the unregistered and registered churches in how they have responded to those two scales (political pressure; church growth)?

The overall trends have affected both the registered and unregistered church. The unregistered church, however, has been more vocal about the church’s potential role in society, culture, and politics (the “Christian China” narrative), as well as in world missions (the Missionary Church narrative). The ability of the registered church to engage in these areas is limited.

4.  What about Chinese who work abroad under BRI? Might they return and become missionaries within China?

It is possible that those who have worked overseas might come back to China with a greater burden for China’s ethnic peoples, just as people in Western countries who have served abroad tend to be more sensitive to the needs of various people groups at home once they return.

5.  Is it true that Chinese Christians can go to places that westerners are not welcome? If so, what is the significance?

While I have heard people make this assumption, more data is needed on these places and who can or cannot go to them in order to know whether it is true. Furthermore, simply being able to live in a place does not necessarily mean one will be effective in serving there.

6.  Last year we visited three registered churches last summer in a northeastern city. In the largest one there were video cameras in each corner of the sanctuary. Who would have access to that video footage and what would it be used for?

Most likely they were security cameras. Chinese law now stipulates that all public venues must have security cameras, the goal being to be able to prevent criminal activities or for law enforcement to use in the event of a crime. In other words, they would be similar to security cameras that you might see in a store or other public venue in your home country. That said, China does not have the civil liberties protections that are found in the United States, for example, that limit when/how local officials may access and use the cameras.

7.  Is the government church Bible edited by the government or is it a full Bible without edits?

They use the Chinese Union Version, which is the most commonly accepted Chinese Bible worldwide. It is a translation that was published in 1919, long before the current government came to power.

8.  Does the BRI provide opportunity for American or western missions personnel opportunity to minister to Chinese outside of the mainland. Does this seem a viable option given the current restrictions within China?

Yes, there are viable opportunities to serve among Chinese who are working abroad. Please see the 2019 autumn issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly on opportunities in Africa.

9.  What do you think about the criticism by underground church leaders against the government-registered church?

While some would criticize registered church leaders for acquiescing to control by the government and thus compromising their faith, many of these leaders are in fact preaching and teaching the gospel and are serving a significant segment of China’s Christian population. God calls different people to serve in different ways.

10. Is there any interaction between Christians and non-Christians in Xinjiang, if only for moral support?

The Christian population in Xinjiang is quite small, and due to political and ethnic sensitivities, it is difficult to get reliable information about the situation there. ,

11. In your opinion, how much did the growing public influence of Chinese Christians and the church contribute to the government’s decision to crackdown?

The government has targeted certain well-known churches, particular those that had taken a public stance against the government. This is not surprising. Looking at the bigger picture, however, the Party is systematically tightening its control over all groups in society, not just the church.

Thanks, Brent, for taking the time to answer these questions.

A recorded version of the entire webinar (including the Q&A section) is available for $5.00 here.

It’s a great resource for individuals and/or groups seeking to serve in China, or simply wanting to learn more.

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement 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

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