Last week we posted part one of a translated article “Top Ten Christian News Stories in China in 2014”, highlighting stories # 1-5. This week, we are posting the translation of the second half of the original article (from The Christian Times), with items # 6-10: the Almighty God cult murders, the rise of ISIS and persecution of Christians worldwide, the government’s moves towards establishing rule of law for religion, a European Chinese church revival meeting, and a popular Christian singer.
Taking Stock at the End of the Year: Christian Times Top Ten Chinese Christian News Stories of 2014 (Part Two)
6. Zhaoyuan, Shandong "Almighty God" Cult Murder Case Indirectly Affects Christianity
If the detentions in Foshan only attracted the attention of some Christians around the country, then the equally small town of Zhaoyuan in Shandong province attracted the attention of everyone in China. This is because of the "Almighty God" murder case. The effects of this event have been profound and far-reaching. In the short term, the impact on orthodox Christianity will remain significant.
On May 28, 2014 at 9:00 p.m., at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Zhang Fan, Zhang Lidong, and five other people began asking patrons in the restaurant for their phone numbers. After the victim Ms. Wu refused to give her phone number, the group decided that she was a "demon" and "evil spirit" that needed to be eliminated. They then proceeded to beat her to death.
The entire country was shocked by the incident. Afterwards, when CCTV interviewed the murderers in prison, people were chilled to the bone by the ruthless and savage tone of their words.
This is perhaps the worst vicious cult incident the Chinese public has witnessed since 1949. Having grown up with little knowledge and understanding of religion, Chinese people are easily confused by religious ideas; the differences between orthodoxy and heterodoxy are even more difficult for them to distinguish. As a result, this incident at Zhaoyuan has aroused fear in the masses.
Shortly after the Zhaoyuan case, the state announced the names and details of 14 cults, among which 12 were a variant of Christianity. Christianity is not a cult. These variant cults have long been at odds with Christianity, but the change in public concern and religious atmosphere ignited by this terrible event have indirectly affected Christianity. This is something we must acknowledge and deal with.
Christian scholars have noted that the announcement and crackdown on cults carries very important significance for the healthy development of Christianity in China because it will help Christianity confront the chaotic religious environment with true Christian teaching. Many house church evangelists also support this move because of the intense harassment they receive from cults. At the same time, house church evangelists are very worried about the way some social media sources and public figures that do not understand religion confuse house churches with cults.
There are also house church pastors and evangelists who have told The Christian Times that, after the Zhaoyuan event, they encountered even more misunderstanding and rejection when they doing evangelism. There were times when they went to evangelize in residential communities but were indiscriminately chased away or detained by security and police before getting a chance to explain themselves.
In response to the change in the religious environment, evangelists have expressed the importance of adopting a gentler mood and attitude when evangelizing. At the same time, many pastors and sociologists such as Liu Peng and Yu Jianrong have expressed that because secrecy provides a cover for cults, the most important way to resist heterodoxy lies in openness and transparency, allowing orthodox religion to have more space for healthy development.
One evangelist put it this way: "In the darkness a crow and a pigeon feel the same; it is difficult to distinguish the two. But if the light comes in, you can clearly differentiate between what is black and what is white."
7. Domestic Terrorist Violence, ISIS Rampage Causes Reflection on Religion and Terrorism
In addition to the Zhaoyuan murder case, another unmistakable incident of public violence connected to religion this past year was the March terrorist attack in Kunming. Guo Yongzhen, Vice Chairman and General Secretary of the Chinese Islamic Association Vice Chairman said, "This terrorist attack is a conspiracy by violent terrorists to undermine national unity."
Terrorist violence unexpectedly flared up this past year in China. But it wasn’t only in China; this year the international community was faced with ISIS, a terrorist group several times more brutal than groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
With the global community looking on, they beheaded hostages one after another, including those who had already converted to Islam. Known for his gentlemanly image, British Prime Minister David Cameron also lashed out at ISIS for "their diabolical acts." They also conduct large-scale looting of civilians, raping of women, buying and selling of sex slaves, and beheading children. Several Islamic religious leaders have come out to condemn them, saying that ISIS is the number one enemy of Islam. A hostage incident at a Syndey cafe prior to Christmas last December was also inspired by ISIS, which hopes to ignite violence everywhere in the world.
Christians in the areas occupied by ISIS are facing brutal treatment. ISIS has occupied many Christian towns, forcing tens of thousands Christians to flee. ISIS wantonly destroys crosses, persecutes and kills those who do not renounce their faith, regardless of whether they are elderly, infirm, women, or children. American-Chaldean leader Mark Arabo said in an interview with CNN that ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraq had beheaded little children in a park and strung them up on a line. More and more children of Christian families have been beheaded, mothers are first raped and killed, and then the fathers are hanged. He said, "The world has not seen such atrocities in generations…" ISIS is still mocking the world community. In a video they released for an American audience, their leader said, "With Allah's permission, we will conquer Rome, destroy your cross, and enslave your women."
Confronted with such rare large-scale persecution of Christian groups, pastors of many local Middle Eastern churches as well as Western pastors and missionaries have called on the world to not stand silently by and watch. There should be compassionate action taken to earnestly assist the persecuted brothers and sisters.
Many Chinese Christians also received translated letters from area missionaries requesting intercessory prayer. Living in the globalized world of today, brothers and sisters in the Chinese church must have a heart for intercessory prayer.
Domestic terrorism and the ISIS rampage have led religious scholars to start thinking about the relationship between religion and terrorist violence. Jin Wei, director of the Central Party School's Ethnic Religious Theory department, in an article asked, "Those events were conducted by the members of ethnic groups and religion. Shouldn't we reflect on our policies through those events?" She said, "How can religion play a positive role in civil life while avoiding its negative impacts? This is a huge challenge for the mainstream ethnic Han who historically do not have a religious tradition and for a ruling party of convicted materialists."
Professor Wei Dedong of Renmin University spoke about the relationship between terrorist violence and underground religious activities, saying the most fundamental way to curb underground religious activity is to allow legal churches to fully meet the needs of believers. These scholars might be a step ahead of many church leaders to see that the only one who can fix the problem is the one who created the problem (解铃还须系铃人). The ultimate solution to the religious causes behind the problem of terrorist violence is the need for the healthy development of orthodox religion.
The words of evangelist Reverend Franklin Graham are helpful for Christians wondering how to react. In response to the growing persecution against Christians worldwide, he wondered if the end of the world is approaching. "When I see the news, I cannot help but ask whether we are in the last times before the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when he comes to save his church and during which God will pour out his wrath on those who have denied his son. I do not know if we still have a few hours, or a few days, or a few months, or even years, but as Christians, God calls us to spread the truth of the gospel to the ends of the earth."
8. Following the Eighteenth National Congress Fourth Plenary Session, the Head of the Religious Affairs Bureau Says, “Advance Religious Work Within Conventional Rule of Law”
About three years ago, in November of 2011, Wang Zuoan, the Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) was interviewed by Wu Xiaoli on Phoenix TV's "Shenzhou Q&A." During the interview, Wang discussed the issue of regulations governing religion because many scholars had publicly suggested that religious regulations would allow SARA to better manage problems according to the rule of law. On this point, Wang Zuoan expressed that the time is not yet ripe and it's not yet time for this discussion. He said, "You could say this is a good proposal. Let's first start at the ground level, gain experience, and finally wait until conditions are ripe, then we can come back to discuss this issue."
Shortly after the 4th Plenary of the 18th National Congress convened this past year, Wang Zuoan, still holding his post as the Director of SARA and at the same time filling a spot as a member of the Central Committee, issued a report in The People’s Political Consultative Daily titled, "Advance Religious Work Within Conventional Rule of Law." In line with the Congress' "CCP Central Committee Decision concerning Some Major Questions in Comprehensively Moving Governing the Country According to the Law Forward," Wang discussed three aspects of his thinking concerning the future management of religious work: legislation to further improve the direction of religious affairs management, full implementation of religious affairs functions according to rule of law, and play an active role in the construction of religious law.
He first discussed the problem of religious legislation. "Compared to the new situations and tasks facing religious work, compared to the need for formation of a complete system of legal norms for religious affairs, compared to the religious figures' and the majority of religious people's expectations, the work on religious legislation remains unsuitable and lagging behind reality. Starting with religious work, we must actively and prudently advance religious legislation in accordance with the needs for comprehensive rule of law.
He was still talking about religious issues and legislation; however three years later, SARA Director Wang Zuoan’s point of view had changed significantly. What factors brought about this change?
Of course, there are multiple factors. First of all, this past year has seen a number of high profile social incidents that had to do with religion. These include the Kunming terrorist attack, the Zhaoyuan murder case, and even the Wenzhou cross demolition controversy.
Second, religion is not just an irreverent sector of society; rather it is an important sector that can no longer be avoided, especially in such a powerful country as China.
Third, religion is increasingly becoming a topic of discussion and examination in the legal and public spheres. This has also inspired the nation to re-examine the issue of religion and the rule of law.
Moreover, the 4th Plenary of 18th Congress took the issue of "the rule of law" to an unprecedented new height. When the well-known scholar Yu Jianrong spoke about controlling cults he said, "I have repeatedly called for the re-examination of religious management which should be to placed under modern state control. "'Rule of law' is the most important concept in modern governance. Religion is something that relates to hundreds of millions of religious believes in China and naturally needs to be included under the 'rule of law.'" Wang Zuoan stressed that "advancing religious work within conventional rule of law" also follows the natural course of history. The progress of religion and the rule of law will have far-reaching influence on not only the future of religion, but also for China's development.
On November 22, at the "Symposium on the New Journey of Rule of Law on Religion; Study the Thought of the 18th National Congress 4th Plenary Session" was held in Beijing. Wang Xin, a Christian pastor, spoke on "The General Principle of the Law, The Power of Love – Praise for the 18th Congress, 4th Plenary, Accelerate the Pace of Construction in the Field of Rule of Law on Religion." From this we can see how some in the Christian community approach the issue. The organizer of the event, Professor Liu Peng, Director of the Beijing Pu Shi Institute for Social Sciences, also shared what he learned from the 18th Congress 4th Plenary. He believes, "the decision of the 4th Plenary Session marked the beginning of a journey towards the rule of law on religion."
9. Paris 2014 Special Revival Event Held Hoping Chinese Churches Will Promote Revival in Europe
Taking the gospel to the Middle East and to Jerusalem is the focus of many Chinese churches and Christians. But in fact, the mission field for the churches in China is the whole world and each piece of territory is equally important. This past November, at a special revival meeting in Paris, Chinese churches from fifteen European countries issued a united call and invitation: for revival in Chinese churches and that the church will go to Europe to spread the gospel and plant churches, so that declining Christianity in Europe will once again experience the fire of revival.
Many Chinese pastors serving in Europe point out that Europe is in a state of spiritual darkness. Declining church attendance and the rapid growth of Muslim immigrants to Europe poses a threat to the development of Christianity. Even such renowned Christian countries as Britain are predicted to become Muslim nations.
The only way for the church to change society is by revival. These Chinese pastors expressed their expectations for China: China is now strong and there are many people who travel to Europe If more and more Chinese people can go to Europe with a sense of mission, it will bring spiritual revival.
This special event was organized by Revival Chinese Ministries International (Hong Kong) under the theme "Ignite the Flame of Revival." Pastor Bao Dening of Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong, who has served the Chinese church for over forty years, said that Chinese people are "pervasive" now. Every country is dotted with Chinese people and Chinese churches must wake up to urgently spread the gospel. He said, "In the past, Europe had a big revival and there were many believers. Now Europe needs a major revival. I believe that Chinese can spread the gospel so that Europe can have another wave of revival. Chinese churches must accept a mission: You must go and make disciples of all nations."
Of course, even though there is immense potential, there are also serious challenges. Chinese churches in Europe need mature pastors as well as people who can really serve in the church. What European churches with centuries of Christian tradition need is not religion, culture, and philosophy that cannot satisfy them, but true revival brought by the fullness of the gospel.
This special event will help people see that along with the development of China and Chinese churches, the world is in need of and waiting for the export of manpower and the other resources of Chinese churches. The threshing floor has already been crying out just as Jesus said in those days, "the harvest is plentiful, the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
In the future Chinese churches might possibly become the next wave of significant sustainable strength for the development of Christianity, but it all depends on which way Chinese churches of today will go.
There are two roads in front of Chinese churches: if today's Chinese churches have a heart for ecumenical missions and are kingdom-minded, if they steadily and earnestly prepare and cultivate themselves internally and externally, then they will become a blessing to the world. On the other hand, it would also be very natural in the course of world missions for the current Chinese churches to bring with them all sorts of problems such as division, independent coordination, immaturity, and imperfect institutions; the negative consequences of this would be far-reaching.
10. Christian Prodigy Li Wenqi Shows the Power of Faith and Home-Schooling
While many people were still savoring the previous year's resounding performance of "Come Back" by the Christian Huang Qishan on "The Voice of China" and appreciating his unique style, this past year God once again rose up for us in the music world a talented young Christian woman: the sixteen-year-old Beijing girl Li Wenqi.
The secular media reported on her saying that it appeared as though there was a dark horse in the running for "The Voice of China." In fact, compared to a dark horse, she is more like a surge of clear spring water, not only because of her voice, but also because of her pure character. In an instant, people could see on the screen that music and musicians actually can be spontaneous and carefree.
Many people lament Li Wenqi's one night of fame. In fact, her road to "The Voice" was not so smooth. Early on in the first season of "The Voice," Li Wenqi took the stage and burst into an old song by Cui Jian with a different flavor and different character. Her fresh little voice got Yang Kun, Liu Huan, and Harlem Yu to all turn around. Unfortunately, after that video was banned, Li Wenqi's first "Road to The Voice" came to a grinding halt. Perhaps it was because when she was on stage Li Wenqi was asked by Harlem if she had some sort of music background or training and she replied that she had being singing in front of 400 people at her church since she was 4 years old. Maybe our media and the arts world need to be less sensitive when it comes to religion.
But God will not let a truly good voice disappear. So, this year more mature Li Wenqi appeared again, giving the audience a stunning performance on stage. In an exclusive interview with Xiami [China's Spotify], when this brilliant girl talked about her source of strength, she talked about God, music, home schooling and dreams. In addition to being a singer, her more important identity is as a devout Christian. This stems from the education and example set by her father, Li Ying-feng, who is a devout Christian and a musician.
Li Wenqi's experience shows us that, although we are living in a nation that does not understand the gospel, and when we give evidence of our faith, there will be obstacles and barriers; yet people need the light. And when we work hard for it, eventually the result of being salt and light will play out and we will become the spiritual lighthouse for the world.
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