In some parts of China, persecution of the country’s Christian population has gotten much worse recently, but that may be only half the story. The Economist tackles the mild normalization of Christianity in China, as the religion grows and even some members of the official communist party become more open about their faith. One theme of the piece is that official persecution of Christians, though real, is less than one might expect. According to one estimate, 7,400 Chinese Christians were victims of persecution last year—less than .01 percent of the country’s Christian population.Otherwise authorities are reluctant to crack down because Christian churches have become more economically and politically active in ways the government might find useful:
Some wealthy business folk in Wenzhou have become believers—they are dubbed “boss Christians”—and have built large churches in the city. One holds evening meetings at which businessmen and women explain “biblical” approaches to making money. Others form groups encouraging each other to do business honestly, pay taxes and help the poor. Rare is the official anywhere in China who would want to scare away investors from his area.In other regions local leaders lend support, or turn a blind eye, because they find that Christians are good citizens. Their commitment to community welfare helps to reinforce precious stability. In some large cities the government itself is sponsoring the construction of new Three Self churches: Chongyi church, in Hangzhou, can seat 5,000 people. Three Self pastors are starting to talk to house-church leaders; conversely, house-church leaders (often correctly) no longer consider official churches to be full of party stooges.
This involvement cuts two ways, however, as not every cause Christian churches dedicate themselves to will find favor with the ruling authorities. Occupy Central, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, was and continues to be heavily influenced by Christianity, with several of the leaders being themselves Catholics. Read the whole Economist piece to get a picture of the ways in which Christianity might be going somewhat more mainstream in China—and what that might mean for the future of the country and its churches.