by Kim Ling and Cathy, SCM Hong Kong
Amity Easter Tour Reflection
April 20-29, 2006
Last April 20 to 29, WSCF-AP was given an opportunity by the United Methodist Church GBGM to participate in Amity Foundation's Easter Tour in China. Realizing the importance of this visit in opening up possible contacts with students in China, we invited two young women from SCM Hong Kong, Lau Kim Ling and Kathy to represent WSCF-AP and join this tour. The following is their reflection of the visit.
China is a fast-growing country. But at the same time, it is misunderstood by both foreigners and overseas Chinese, especially regarding religious matters. Most of us might still conjure images of religious suppression during China’s Cultural Revolution. Undeniably, the communist government did demolish thousands of churches and temples and imprisoned numerous devoted religious leaders during this dark era. Still today, China imposes heavy restrictions and control over religious affairs, like refusing to acknowledge Vatican authority and designating its own bishops, forbidding all forms of preaching outside of churches, and sending political officers to ‘attend’ various religious activities. However, the amazing thing is that the Chinese government holds in high regard the role of religions for the continued development of China. The practice of authorized churches also offers us various constructive clues for developing WSCF in China.
The Institute of World Religion of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) is an influential body with that the Central Government consults its opinions for formulating religious policies. The value of Christianity to China is one of the key research areas of significance by the government. And the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) is an official bureau tasked with monitoring religious affairs. Although the officials and the scholars do not have much understanding regarding ecumenism, each Chinese always bears in mind the importance of harmony, that harmony is the base for stability of society. The wisdom of Chinese to achieve harmony is to look for common points together with permitting the existence of difference. Therefore, coincidentally, both bodies are striving for harmony among different religions by holding regular meetings between different religious leaders every year so that the dialogues among religions can be promoted. Maybe the great attention being paid on religious affairs is a political concern for building up a new open-minded image on the stage of the world. In the meantime, it reveals the Central Government has considered the importance of religions in nurturing the souls of her citizens for the sustainable development of China. Indisputably, the traditional culture offers an excellent platform for cultivating ecumenism. And the Central Government exactly takes a vital role in it fortuitously.
On visiting the Protestant sector in China, we found out several things. The extremely harmonious and close relationship between Protestant and Moslem in China is one of our wondrous observations. It is so encouraging to hear that the churches in Shaanxi Province always have many informal contacts with local Moslem. For example, the pastors usually join Moslem religious ceremonies and vice versa. Their relationship is so that the Moslems even share their daily struggles with Christians and they pray for each other. The drinking water project proposed by the Shaanxi Christian Council to Amity is actually aimed to help those Moslem who cannot even avail of a single drop of clean drinking water. I believe there is no other place in the world that paints such a more compassionate picture between different faiths!
You may be curious about why ecumenism seems be so easily promoted in China. Is it because of the existence of powerful theological studies regarding it? Surely, it is not the case about ecumenism in China, since it is still a new term to most of its church leaders. Through discussions with the pastors in Shaanxi Christian Council, we found that Moslem in China consider Christianity as one of the denominations of their religion. To Christians in China, Moslem are part of the creation by God and so they are also under the umbrella of God's love. Plus, the traditional belief that all people around are your brothers and sisters, it makes Chinese Christians inclusive enough for all kinds of difference genuinely. Such kind of attitude is perfectly required for all human beings to accomplish not just for the world ecumenism, and even for the global peace.
Another special circumstance in China is only one denomination, called Christian 3-self Patriotic Movement, of Protestant exists. Unlike the underground churches, the denomination is authorized by the government. Certainly, these authorized churches cannot enjoy some religious freedom that is being experienced by the underground ones, but they can do more work for the local community without governmental interference. For instance, they cooperate with Amity projects to serve the needed ones, including drinking water project for rural community, cow and sheep project for rural farmers, provision of medical service for local population and so on. Such effort is highly appreciated by the government. In fact, these arouse the awareness of the government to help the neglected community. It is the way of the authorized churches to gain the credit from the government so that more space can be opened for the goodness of the society.
Actually, the churches in China are dominant in the evangelical stream and they do not concern much in the provision of social service since preaching outside churches is forbidden. Such restriction is exactly stimulating churches to find other means to let people understand Christianity. Therefore, the pastors get around, talk with the local people and try to understand their difficulties in life. Finally, they choose to share the burden of the people with action, such as contacting the funding agencies, like Amity, or the official department to initiate rural projects and raising public concern on the issue. The successful building of Children's Home in Sanyuan County of Shaanxi Province one such example of pastors’ good work for the people. The story starts from a kind-hearted villager who wants to seek help for the children that both parents in jail. Apart from their parents, all these children do not have any relatives to rely on. Thus, they become homeless and without guardians. Normally, orphanages do not accept such kids because their parents are still alive. The villager understands all these and he does not want those kids to go astray. Owing to the poverty of the villager, he is unable to build a home for those children by himself. So, he sends a message to the newspaper seeking help from the able ones. Then, upon reading the paper, the pastors in Shaanxi Province give them a hand by writing a proposal to Amity for financial aid.
Now the Children's Home not only provides shelter for such minority, but also gives those children education and other daily necessities. Obviously, without the eagerness of the pastors to search for the ones in need, no change can be actualized for them. To me, the authorized churches deserve appreciation for having done so much within the limited space. They should not be blamed for compromising with the government because, in China’s context, everything is founded on trust and trust is built on a certain degree of compromising with the government. After gaining trust from the government, the good relationship is fosters more freedom. It further implies that the churches can do more and become more influential to both citizens and the government. Such practice is very different from the Western one. In the Western world, although you do not have any relationship with any parties, due to your brilliance, you still have a lot of chances for achieving what you want. But in China, good personal relationship is always the key or the shortcut to success in all disciplines. If the churches still cling to the never-ending argument over the possession of absolute religious freedom or pushing sensitive the sensitive issues to the Central Government, they cannot make the difference that they should have to the society.
In this way, it is worthy for us to think about what WSCF should do at the beginning, if we really want to do something for Chinese citizens in the future. Being critical is always the essence of SCMers. In addition, making compromise with the current irrational restriction and working with government are never in our agenda. However, in China’s context, all this insistence is no help in fostering relationship between WSCF with China. It seems wiser for us to share our generosity and appear as helpful and friendly to the Central Government at this early stage before exposing our prophetic role in China. Maybe it is a good time for us to learn the philosophy of compromise in order to make changes for the people, particularly to the suffering ones.