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The Christian Left Cozies Up to China By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 26, 2009


Officers of the U.S. National Council of Churches (NCC) merrily visited Shanghai last month to converse with officials of Chinese government-controlled Protestant agencies to seek an “even deeper working relationship that allows us to consult regularly with one another and to speak and act together in response to contemporary issues."

According to the NCC, among those “contemporary issues” that will unite the chronically left-wing NCC and the official Chinese church groups are Global Warming!  After all, the U.S. and China are the world’s leading emitters of ostensibly deadly carbon.

Among the issues on which the NCC will not cooperate with the official Chinese Protestant agencies are spreading Christianity and asserting religious freedom, topics on which the NCC has long since lost interest in favor of political causes of the left.

NCC chief Michael Kinnamon met with officers of the China Christian Council (CCC) and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China (TSPM).   Both agencies were created by China’s Communist Party to govern all Protestant churches in China.  The churches under the authority of these agencies essentially support China’s one party state in exchange for official protection for their worship.  By some counts, about 20 million Chinese are associated with the officially recognized Protestant churches. Another 5 million are affiliated with the parallel government authorized Chinese Catholic churches, which are legally forbidden from acknowledging Roman Catholic authority.

But Protestants worshiping in unrecognized churches may number as many as 70 million, and Catholics who honor the Pope’s authority may number another 12 million. These unofficial Protestants and Catholics in China often worship openly but live under the constant possibility of government persecution.  Naturally, the NCC never shows any great attention to the majority of Chinese Christians who operate in unofficial churches.  Nor does the NCC express any enthusiasm for the ongoing religious revival in China, whose evangelicals and orthodox Roman Catholics espouse a brand of old time Christianity that NCC elites have for decades dismissed as archaic.

It was not always so.  The denominations that comprise the NCC spent decades sacrificially dispatching missionaries to pre-Communist China.   And the NCC was once willing to criticize China’s Communist rulers.  Fifty years ago, the NCC did lament the Chinese crack-down on Tibet and condemned the “violation of human rights by Communist and other tyrannies,” according to From Mainline to Sideline, by K. L. Billingsley.  In 1966, the NCC admitted that Mao Zedong’s China was an “opponent of peaceful co-existence with the non-Communist world.”  But only 2 years later, an NCC publication likened China’s brutal Cultural Revolution to the Protestant Reformation in its “drive to restore the vigor and purity of revolutionary goals and practices.”  In the early 1980’s, when China was somewhat easing its persecution of religion while still trying to corral all Christians into the official churches, the NCC hailed the state-imposed “unity” of Chinese Christians and commended their “genuine selfhood and integrity.”  The NCC did affirm the “God-given right of freedom of religion for all Chinese people,” but never publicly disputed that such freedom was imperiled either then, or ever since.  

There were a few million Christians in China when Mao seized power in 1949. Initially the new Communist regime fostered the TSPM, but even that regime-directed form of religion became unacceptable under the severities of the Cultural Revolution.   After Mao died, and China began to reach out to the West, the TSPM was revived and the CCC was created.  Free market economics in China and the rising middle class have accompanied the Christian revival in China, which has filled the pews of both government sanctioned and unofficial churches.    As part of its support for the Chinese official church structures, the NCC and other left-leaning U.S. Mainline Protestant groups provide funding and volunteers to the Amity Foundation, which the CCC’s conduit for receiving Western assistance.  

This recent NCC visit to China was funded by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.  According to the NCC news release, the NCC officials met with CCC President Gao Feng and TSPM Chairman Fu Xianwei.  As part of their love fest, they all together, expressed "thanks for the distinctive gifts that God has given us in our different settings (a point which is central to the witness of the Three-Self Movement)" and rejoiced "that we are related to one another in Christ, and that through one another we can grow in knowledge and love of God.  Ours is a relationship of mutual encouragement in order that the body of Christ might be built up in love."  But that love does not seem to extend very far among persecuted Chinese Christians in unofficial churches.

Naturally, the Chinese and U.S. church officials celebrated "the strong bonds that have developed over the years between our organizations and between the churches in our countries.”    And they pledged to  "speak and act together" about Global Warming, which is presumably more important than spreading the Gospel.  "We recognize that China and the United States together produce 40 percent of the world's carbon emissions," the prelates intoned.  "For this reason, political leaders in our two nations have affirmed the need to work together to reduce such pollution and, thus, to address the urgent problem of climate change.”

It is a little hard to believe that China’s rulers will permit its government controlled church bodies to speak too loudly, if at all, in favor of suppressing Chinese industry. But denouncing U.S. and Western capitalism probably is acceptable.   "As churches, we can encourage this process of political collaboration by joining our voices in defense of God's creation,” the Chinese-U.S. ecclesial statement declared.  “We can share materials on environmental protection and look for ways to provide education on ecological concerns that draws on the resources of one another."

While the NCC is helping Chinese-controlled church agencies become green, many of China’s Christians will continue to struggle just to worship without fear.  Last year’s U.S. State Department report on religious freedom in China noted that the regime’s “repression” of religion had “intensified” in some areas.  Some house churches were closed.  Unregistered churches were raided and religious materials were confiscated.  Unofficial churches that attempt to register are sometimes refused because the clergy are not TSPM trained.  Christians are prosecuted for “illegal” worship activities or for “using an evil cult to obstruct the enforcement of the law."

But for left-wing church groups like the NCC, solidarity with our supposedly suffering “planet” over Global Warming is more important than solidarity with persecuted Christians, in China, or just about anywhere else.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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