It is a commonplace here in the West to believe that our governments routinely and habitually lie to us. I personally would never take this position, given that we have a free press, but, sadly, conspiracy theories are rampant. But put all that aside for a moment, and head East, and consider this statement from the government of the People’s Republic of China, as reported by the Guardian: “A Communist party campaign during which crosses have been stripped from the roofs of more than 1,200 Chinese churches is being conducted ‘for the sake of safety and beauty’, a government official has claimed.”
Again, from the same article, we have this lovely claim: “A five-storey church in the city of Wenling was demolished ‘voluntarily’, the government-controlled Zhejiang Daily newspaper announced on Sunday. The newspaper claimed the church had expanded without going through the proper approval process. It not only affected city planning but also posed a severe threat to road safety.”
In Communist China lies are so grotesque that they exist in a parallel universe that is somehow beyond challenging. (And it is not just China where this happens, but that is another story.) What seems clear is that the state is slowly moving into top gear in a new anti-Christian campaign, one aimed not just at buildings, but also the people in them. This marks only the latest stage of China’s Christianophobia, which, in fairness to the Communists, long predates the coming to power of Chairman Mao.
There are in fact several things that can be done to help our Christian brethren in China.
The first concerns publicity. The Chinese authorities hate bad publicity and are very sensitive to what others think about them. We can be sure that they read reports like that of the Guardian. So the more we keep this in the public eye, the better.
The second way, which should not be discounted, is this: visitors to China should make a big thing about going to church on a Sunday when in the People’s Republic, and let their official minders know that this is what they want to do. George W Bush made a point of this on his trip to Beijing, and that sent an important message. Lower profile visitors can reinforce this message. We judge China by the way it treats its Christians.
The third way is to put pressure on our own governments. While the US and UK are never going to do anything to disadvantage their trading relationship with China, they can withhold the hand of friendship in the cultural arena, and culture and sport are things the Chinese take very seriously. As for trying to get people like President Obama and Mr Cameron and Boris Johnson to take religious persecution seriously in China or elsewhere, we know that that is an uphill struggle, but it is one we must not give up on.
Finally, the Catholic Church needs to hold the line on the Chinese question. Let us be clear. The government of the People’s Republic has no moral legitimacy. It continues to threaten Taiwan and to hold Tibet against the will of its people. China is the world’s largest colonialist and imperialist power. It denies freedom of religion, and the freedom of the Catholic Church to organise itself, being the only country left in the world which claims to right to appoint bishops for the Catholic Church. The Chinese government is brutal and repressive of all dissent.
Let us pray and hope that this changes, and changes soon! Meanwhile, may all the martyrs of China, who number many hundred of thousands, pray for us, and may the Church in China continue to grow.