I'm already two weeks into my current episode of jet lag, so I know there is no excuse. However, I still find myself waking up in the morning and wondering, "What day is this anyway?"
This is actually a good question to keep in mind when seeking to make sense of church developments in China. A recent article featured on Chinese Church Voices by Professor Liu Peng, a Beijing-based researcher on religious policy, mentioned no fewer than five different phases in the life of the Chinese church since 1949. The differences between these are jarring. Over the decades the church has lurched between various degrees of political control. It has at times suffered under severe anti-religion policies and at other times been almost left alone by a government with virtually no religious policy. The church has gone from being on the outskirts of society to making a very intentional attempt for example, following the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 to engage with the society. It has struggled with the state over its legal right to exist and, today, has apparently reached some degree of rapprochement with officials who seem to be at a loss over how to implement their own policies.
Sorting out wildly contradictory statements about what is happening with the church in China is next to impossible without answering the question of when (and, some would say, where, but that's for another blog post). This is true even within just the past decade, not to mention the five decades preceding.
Although China's religious policy has not fundamentally changed during the past thirty years, much has changed in the church, in the regime, and in society. "What day is this, anyway?" is an important question to ask if we want to accurately position current realities within the context of these changes.
For more on the changing context of the church, religious policy, and its implementation, see the latest issue of ChinaSource Quarterly
Photo by Keith Tan, via Flickr
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio