Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard, better known as the Four Horsemen, were the biggest threat in the mid 1980’s era of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). In every NWA promo they talked trash about the competition, flaunted their title belts, and backed up their trash talk in the ring. Their tight knit group has been described as the reason the NWA survived as long as it did.
Although the wrestling league is no longer around, the legacy of The Four Horsemen is long lasting and has inspired battle rap’s Christian artists whose rap group goes by the same name, but stylized with Roman Numerals.
Th3 Saga (a URL battler who came up from URL’s Proving Ground), A-Ward (who battles mostly on King of The Dot and is in the running for the KOTD championship chain), Street Hymns (a backpacking wordsmith who battles on Bullpen Battle League), and Loso (a free agent who many believe is the next guy to take over battle rap) are The IV Horsemen. And although the name their team bares is a wrestling and not a biblical reference, the quartet does share one thing in common – their religion.
“Violence is like the native language of battle rap,” Th3 Saga tells The Source. “We’ve grown to a place where killing people in battle rap or talking about anything negative are the norm.”
Th3 Saga, born in Brooklyn, New York, got his start in battle rap on the Smack/URL platform. He quickly got recognized as one of the top battlers of his class because he has a different approach to battling. What set him apart from his class was how he was able to entertain battle fans while subtly passing along a God inspired message.
Battle rappers today center their lyrics on insults, personal attacks, jokes, and above all, gun lines. The ten gauge, the nine, the blickie, the AR, the “gun so big I had to drag it home.” All these different schemes rappers use to dramatize their arsenal and the fans not only eat it up but demand and expect it.
So how do Christian rappers fit into this scene?
“I’ve been through plenty of situations where I shouldn’t have survived,” said Saga. “Shootouts and everything. Just because I’m Christian does not mean I’m perfect.”
Although the 26-year-old rapper has experienced things relevant to the battle culture, he found his way out of it and found his calling with God. But still, Saga doesn’t omit his past when preparing for a battle.
“I want to speak to you in your language. I want to leave you with something substantial enough that when you weed past the gun bars, when you weed past the nonsense, you’re going to gain something that you could actually go home with [and think] ‘that’s crazy.’” said Saga.
Th3 Saga’s religious background is traceable back to his grandfather who has his own church in Brooklyn, the same church Saga grew up in. The same cannot be said for Loso, who didn’t find religion until his early 20’s.
“I thought it was corny,” Loso states. I didn’t want anything to do with a life devoted to the Lord. He really came and interrupted my life.”
Raised on rap music, Loso didn’t touch a mic until after he found Christianity – so his lyrics always carried a religious message. In his first ever battle in 2015, Loso sent shockwaves throughout his hometown of Tampa, reaffirming that he was on the right path that eventually led him to Street Hymns.
“I met [Street Hymns] entering a rap competition… it brought out the top ten rappers from around the country to Chicago. We went against each other in the first round.”
Loso went on to win the competition, and although there was no talk at the time of forming a group, Loso and Street Hymns did make a connection following their battle.
The last of the Horsemen is A-Ward, a Knoxville native currently residing in Kansas City, whose older brother introduced him to Nas and the Wu-tang Clan at a young age. Like Loso, when A-Ward took up rap he had already found his faith. In his early teens, A-Ward started going to church and rapping around the same time.
“In high school I became familiar with Smack DVDs through my older brother. In 2002 I became a fan of battle rap – I watched it for over 10 years before I started [battling],” A-Ward reveals.
In 2015, A-Ward got his first battle and has continued to climb up the King of the Dot ranks currently chasing the championship chain currently held by Head I.C.E..
In a lot of ways, although Th3 Saga was the founder of the group, Street Hymns was the connection that brought everyone together. A-Ward had already heard of Street Hymns just off the buzz he was creating in Dallas and linking up through mutual friends. Street Hymns cosigned A-Ward when speaking to Saga who linked with A-Ward via social media. Street Hymns also had the connection to Loso from the rap competition, so it was only a matter of time before the four artists banded together.
Rather than just call themselves The IV Horsemen and make their rounds in the battle scene, they want to try something more ambitious. The group plans to organize a nationwide tour – performing their music, 2 on 2 battles, selling merchandise and ending each show with a panel discussion to talk about faith.
Aside from performances, the four rappers maintain a group chat where they pray for each other, offer advice, provide words of wisdom, and “sharpen each other’s swords,” Loso says, meaning keeping each other on point not with just battling but being better men in all aspects of life.
“It’s like the end of the NBA season,” said A-Ward. You have LeBron working out with Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Davis – We’re rappers on the same level working out together.”
“… I want to make sure that anybody I associate with has the same heart for God and that we can follow the same path – that we’re not steering each other off the path,” said Saga. “We feel like we’re really called by God to be that seed in Battle rap.”
Having already planted seeds in the battle leagues, only time will tell how far The IV Horsemen take their careers.
Using Holy Hip Hop To Reach the Children, Youth and Adults: A Practical Guide Grounded in Scripture From the Holy Hip Hop Music Alliance Author: The Seventh Knight Edited By: Da Preachin Puerto Rican
Man created Hip Hop, true. But, just like paper was invented by man to put the Word of God on it and made "Holy" to be used for His Purpose, Hip Hop can also be Holy" and be used for God's Purpose also (1 Cor 10:31). The Ark of The Covenant, though made by man, was just an ark until God made it "Holy". It was so "Holy" that anyone who touched it without permission was struck dead by God; please see 1 Chronicles 13:5-13. Verse 7 within that text throws out "the beat of a drum is evil" theory.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus Christ gives His disciples The Great Commission to Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. As disciples of Christ, we are to share the gospel and make disciples of men. God has also given us guidance that we are to share the gospel message regardless of race, culture, or gender, according to Romans 3:29, Rom 1:16. The Apostle Paul gives us the prime example of how he became all things to all men that by all means he might win some, according to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. In Acts 17:16-34, Paul shows how he used the existing culture of the people to preach to them Christ.
If it's for God's Purpose then God makes it "Holy". Starting in the late 70’s, in the Bronx New York, some of Hip Hop’s pioneers include DJ Cool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Cold Crush brothers, Sugar Hill Gang, Funky Four Plus One, and many more. Even these pioneers, were influenced by the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye, and more. Hip Hop came about as a means of revolting against what was popular music at the time. Even Cab Calloway was doing "hip-hop" back in the 1930's in the form of Jazz and BeBop! It was intended to voice our feelings whether spiritual or otherwise in a way that was, shall we say, was "unconventional" at the time. Certain traditionalists believed that it would never last because it lacked substance and marketability.
Rap music from its inception has always had lyrics that were encoded to reach those who were in the streets of urban America. Even the slave songs, which by the way had God (Holy) and "rap" in them), expressed spiritual and physical themes. No different than those who were in slavery cried out to GOD from their hearts in a musical form that was relative to their culture, so too does the Hip Hop Culture cry out. Psalm 19:14 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” Ephesians 4:29 says, Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Let’s look at a passage of scripture from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for who Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. What does this mean? It means that the "food itself" is not considered unholy. It's only unholy, when the idol worshippers who specifically prepare the food to worship their false gods influence you! The same goes for music.
Again, we ask you. Can GOD take something that was unholy and make it holy? This time, let's use a "someone" instead of a "something”: Saul witnessed and approved of the stoning of "Stephen" a man full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:54-60). That same "Saul" became "Paul" and wrote two thirds of the New Testament. How could this be possible, if the power of God to transform is not supreme? God can be worshipped in many ways to include using "Hip Hop" to do so (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17), just as God used Paul to preach and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You know the verse "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim 6:10) well nothing is wrong with the money itself, is it? Money in itself is not evil but it can be used for evil purposes. Just look at how some people operate with it. Money can also be used for "holy" purposes like building the church, giving to those that need it from the "benevolence fund" amongst other things. The same can be said for "Hip Hop." It can be used for evil or it can be used for righteousness. Jesus said that himself earlier in Matthew 12:34-37: For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good person brings good things out of a treasure of good things; a bad person brings bad things out of a treasure of bad things. "You can be sure that on the Judgment Day you will have to give account of every useless word you have ever spoken. Your words will be used to judge you-to declare you either innocent or guilty."
Then later in Matthew 15:10-20 Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand! It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean." Then the disciples came to him and said, "Do you know that the Pharisees had their feelings hurt by what you said?" "Every plant which my Father in heaven did not plant will be pulled up," answered Jesus. "Don't worry about them! They are blind leaders of the blind; and when one blind man leads another, both fall into a ditch." Peter spoke up, "Explain this saying to us." Jesus said to them, "You are still no more intelligent than the others. Don't you understand? Anything that goes into your mouth goes into your stomach and then on out of your body. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make you ritually unclean. For from your heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others. These are the things that make you unclean. But to eat without washing your hands as they say you should-this doesn't make you unclean."
In Genesis 3:14-19 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
In Exodus 3:1-10 One day while Moses was taking care of the sheep and goats of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, he led the flock across the desert and came to Sinai, the holy mountain. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as a flame coming from the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire but that it was not burning up. "This is strange," he thought. "Why isn't the bush burning up? I will go closer and see." When the Lord saw that Moses was coming closer, he called to him from the middle of the bush and said, "Moses! Moses!" He answered, "Yes, here I am." God said, "Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on "holy ground." I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." So Moses covered his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, "I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave drivers. I know all about their sufferings, and so I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious land, one which is rich and fertile and in which the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites now live. I have indeed heard the cry of my people, and I see how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country."
What can we conclude from this? THE EARTH WAS CURSED BY GOD AS RESULT OF SATAN'S ACTION AND ADAM'S SIN, AND YET GOD MADE A PART OF THE EARTH "HOLY" TO CALL MOSES!! He told Moses to "take the sandals off your feet for the place in which you stand is HOLY GROUND!" (Exodus 3:5) If God can make a "part" of the "Cursed Earth" "Holy," then are we, as Christians, doubting what our "Father" can do?" Would we dare to say that God can speak through a donkey, but not through Hip Hop? Of Course Not! Just like with any information, we have to be careful of how we interpret it (2 Tim 2:15). Remember, Satan can make what seems "right" wrong and what seems "wrong" hidden.
Hip Hop can be Holy to serve Our Master, Jesus Christ. Music is neither good nor bad in itself but it depends on what the purpose of it is for by the individual. How it's used determines it's value; whether it's used for God or whether it's use for Satan. The word "Holy" in the Bible means to "separate or set apart for God's use or for special use." Hip Hop is a music genre. It has no "intrinsic" qualities of good or bad. You and I both know that the words to songs carry the major part of their value. I say major because the music also make a contribution to the message of the song. The basic formula for music is Lyrics + Melody = A Song.
The Bible says in John 6:63, The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. The spirit that is influencing a person when he/she creates the lyrics or music is the key to being holy. Then, the spirit that is influencing the person doing the song determines the power that is released in the selection. So the music genre is not as much the issue as the spirit that influences the creation of the material.
What is most important is that one seek The Father and find out what HIS will is according to scripture (Acts 17:11). Find a quiet place with no distractions and read the word, and meditate on it until you get understanding, and seek spiritual counsel from mature believers who are knowledgeable in GOD’s word (Proverbs 4:7, 11:14). This synopsis is presented with scripture as the guidance and the Holy Spirit as the counsel (Heb 4:12, John 16:13). Just because it's not the “traditional method” doesn't mean that Ministers of the Gospel can't use this method to spread the Word of God (Mat 28:18-20).
It's not the music that's the enemy. It's the presentation of the fruit. If the masses are continually fed "sour lemons" then the demand for lemons will continue because it's what they are "used" to and have become dependent on. If you turn those same sour lemons into "lemonade” (pressed and sweetened by the Word of GOD), then the masses will gain a new taste and this is what the enemy fears.
GOD has made Hip Hop Holy! Now use it to establish His Kingdom in the Earth and win them back one at a time – James 5:20 – Amen.
Russian rap has a new hero: God. Your guide to the fantastical — and frightening — world of Russian Orthodox hip hop
Rapping priest Nastoyatel
Hip hop and religion probably don’t seem the most obvious bedfellows. But over the past few years Russia has seen the emergence of a genre marrying the two: Orthodox hip hop, a local equivalent of the burgeoning Christian rap scene in the US. In fact, the new Christian hip hop is perhaps not so different from the mainstream: as elsewhere the lyrics tend towards the misogynistic, with women depicted as two-timing temptresses who will draw you into their web before running off with another man. Infidelity aside, the main topics covered have a familiar feel: brotherhood, revenge for murdered friends and sport. But there's another very specific subject that keeps cropping up: God.
While some believers chastise the new genre as an unholy alliance, others are happy to increase the size of the flock by whatever means necessary, especially if it means getting young Russians into churches. Something, at least, seems to be working. Although the Russian Orthodox church struggled for survival under Communist rule, it has staged an impressive comeback in the past 20 years, and particularly under President Vladimir Putin. According to American think tank Pew, the proportion of Russians identifying as Orthodox Christian more than doubled from 31% to 71% between 1991 and 2008.
The upswell of religious sentiment has had an influence on culture, especially fashion: clothing emblazoned with crosses is an increasingly common sight, as are women wearing headscarves out of piety. But this influence can have a much darker side — a certain deep-rooted racism that often accompanies Orthodoxy. That’s not to say that Orthodox Christianity or its cultural offshoots are intrinsically racist, but the new God-fearing rappers help to promote Church-sanctioned traditional Russian values and a form of nationalism that can be dangerously xenophobic. Although Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor often includes songs with hate-filled lyrics on its extremism blacklist, any bans have only boosted the popularity of the genre.
To help you get started with this increasingly influential scene, here's five of the biggest acts.
There’s a scene in Pulp Fiction when Samuel L Jackson cites Ezekiel 25:17 — a verse about revenge, Old Testament-style — before killing a man. Wildly successful rap duo, 25/17, from the Siberian city of Omsk, took their name, and their inspiration, from this iconic quote. Their shows sell out the moment tickets go on sale, although their regional focus — they rarely perform in Moscow or St Petersburg — speaks volumes about the provincial nature of their fanbase. To the non-Russian speaker, their gentle music and soft delivery lyrics may seem harmless but take a few seconds to watch their videos and it won't be not long before you see an act of violence of one kind or another. Their lyrics cover the expected trio of topics — friends, revenge and infidelity — but occasionally make forays into nostalgic and romanticised recollections of a late-Soviet childhood, all of which is framed within religious language that touches on miracles, Judgement Day and “true faith”.
Little is known about Oligarkh, a St Petersburg-based hip hop producer who keeps his identity firmly under wraps. His debut album Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom) was an instant hit when it was released in December 2013, although the instrumental nature of the music makes him the least political musician on this list. He nevertheless manages to get his godly message across by mixing in the sounds of choirs and bells and filling his music videos with religious imagery (think Jesus Christ on the cross and lots and lots of Orthodox Christian churches). With a keen marketing sense, Oligarkh released his last music video on the last day of Orthodox Lent. A comment on his Last.fm page sums up the rapping DJ-slash-preacher: “Well, now we need a Boiler Room live in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.”
Sol Zemli (Salt of the Earth), a five-member outfit from Moscow, has a cult following in both the capital and the Russian regions. The band’s fan sites boldly claim that their music is what “Fyodor Dostoevsky and Alexei Balabanov would sound like if they made rap music”, although it’s actually closer to the politically charged songs of Russia's 90s criminal underworld, known collectively as shanson, reworked to sound like hip hop.
Komba Bakh is one of the oldest bands on the Orthodox Christian hip hop scene, with close to 15 years experience under their belt. The band, from the historic town of Kostroma, not far from Moscow, mix hip hop with Russian and Belarusian folk tunes and reggae. Eager to distance themselves from all things related to western show business, they eschew the use of foreign words — which they see as a product of US entertainment industry — in favour of their own coinages: they don't have albums, they have “editions”. Their website even contains a glossary of their terminology: a computer, for instance, is known as an “enemy machine”.They reject international influence in favour of pan-Slavic brotherhood with neighboruing nations like Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. When they're not rapping about national identity, the band channels their patriotic sentiments through art — their website also plays host to a collection of their paintings — a curious mixture of post-apocalyptic scenes and idyllic Russian landscapes.
When it comes to rapping about God, Maxim Kurlenko (aka Nastoyatel) certainly knows his stuff. And he should: the 40-year-old is a practising priest in the small Cheboksary, a small town on the Volga; his stage name is a reference to a monastic rank. His sermon-like tracks fuse biblical verses with right-wing political messages (“Where has morally pure, white Russia gone?” he asks in one song) and attacks on “liberasty” — a portmanteau of liberal and pederast. Not a fan of hip hop? Not to worry. Kurlenko also produces a spoken-word podcast, God is With Us, which tackles similar issues.
Rev. C. has nearly finished his latest book, a compilation of daily devotions for pastors in China. To get his manuscript from Hong Kong into the hands of his students on the Chinese mainland he’ll have to — well, for his safety that can’t be published. Neither can his name, since he agreed to speak to TIME on condition of anonymity. So let’s just say this slight and soft-spoken Protestant has spent years giving Chinese authorities the slip to deliver his spiritual message to Chinese Christians.
Rev. C. is convinced that Christianity alone can shake the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) indomitable grip. He’s willing to go jail for this conviction. In fact, he already has.
“It’s a blessing to go to prison,” he says, “to suffer for Jesus.”
He’s not alone. While Hong Kong’s pastors are not allowed to proselytize, sermonize or establish churches in mainland China without official permission, many defy these prohibitions to cultivate a network of underground “house churches” in homes and workplaces.
Hong Kong has historically served as the springboard for evangelizing on the mainland. But as President Xi Jinping kicks off a renewed crackdown to bring Christianity under state control by instituting new religious regulations, pastors in Hong Kong — since 1997 a semi-autonomous Chinese territory — are finding themselves in the crosshairs.
“The Communist Party of China is afraid of this thing. They want to control the Christians,” says Rev. C.
Christianity, he says, has grown too big in the eyes of Beijing, which has historic reason to fear the politicization of religion.
One hundred and sixty-eight years after Christian-inspired rebels nearly brought China’s Qing Dynasty to its knees in the Taiping Rebellion, communist China looks set to host the largest population of Christians in the world by 2030 — a development that is no small source of anxiety for the officially atheist country’s authoritarian leaders.
Proselytizing may be forbidden on the mainland, but step off Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferry and into the audio and visual assault of ticket touts, digital billboards, souvenir hawkers and street acrobats and you’ll find Christians come to spread the gospel. As selfie-stick wielding masses jostle in front of the city’s harbor and glass skyline, leaflets attesting to Jesus’ love and eternal redemption are pressed into the hands of mainland tourists.
Hong Kong, with its greater freedoms and religious liberties, has played a vital role in oxygenating the growth of Christianity on the mainland.
Unlike in many parts of the West where Christianity is waning, a religious gold rush has swept through China since the Cultural Revolution and its fierce suppression of religion ended in 1976. Scholars estimate there are now as many as 80 to 100 million Christians, compared to 89.5 million communist party members. As more and more Chinese seek a spiritual alternative to political repression, Christianity continues to gain ground, increasing by an estimated 10% per year.
While Christianity is undoubtedly thriving in mainland China, faith is permitted only in official, “patriotic” churches; unregistered houses of worship may be prolific, but they are also subject to periodic crackdowns. According to Christian advocacy group China Aid’s most recent statistics, 1,800 house church leaders were detained in 2016.
Parishioners clutch fir branches in place of palm fonds as they pray at an underground Palm Sunday service run by dissident Catholic Priest Dong Baolu in the yard of a house in Youtong village, Shijiazhuang, China, March 20, 2016.Adam Dean—Panos
For these underground congregations — which are illegal, if often ignored — the Hong Kong Christian establishment offers a vital lifeline, supplying everything from monetary support, to Bibles, to blacklisted Christian literature, to training and assistance founding new churches. The gospel is smuggled over the border in every format imaginable: broadcast on pirate radio waves and disseminated through USB flash drives.
“They need our help because we are in the freer world and they are not,” says Hong Kong’s retired Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen.
For evangelicals eager to sustain this fount of converts, Hong Kong serves as “the stepping stone into mainland China,” says Rev. Wu Chi-wai, general secretary of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement.
More than 60% of Hong Kong’s churches engage in work on the mainland, illicit or otherwise, including preaching and theological training, according to the Church Renewal Movement’s most recent, 2014 survey. They do so armed with Bibles, sermons, and, if the work is not officially sanctioned, an arsenal of disguises and convoluted transportation plans to counter omnipresent state surveillance.
Such business can be risky, resulting in anything from police harassment to deportation or detention in “re-education” centers. But as Rev. C. says, “Many church leaders believe that if you have not yet been to prison you are not committed enough in your faith.”
While China’s faithful have rapidly multiplied in number, they lack experienced leadership and qualified pastors. So Hong Kong has become a central hub for short-term theological intensives, distance Bible seminaries and networking conventions.
“Hong Kong’s role is to help them become a self-propagating, self-administrating establishment,” says another Hong Kong missionary, who, like Rev. C., could not be named for safety reasons.
But the future of this relationship is threatened by a revision of the 2005 religious regulations which came into force last month. The 77 vaguely worded provisions indicate the government’s priorities as it doubles down on extralegal worship amid a broader push to cement party-state authority.
For the first time, religious exchanges with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau have become a target. China’s house churches were previously barred from “foreign affiliations,” but now any religiously motivated trips abroad must be vetted by Beijing.
“According to the new regulations, believers from mainland China are forbidden to attend unauthorized overseas religious conferences or training, or serious penalties will be imposed. Hong Kong is part of the overseas areas,” says Bob Fu, president and founder of China Aid.
Many Hong Kong pastors are suspending or outright canceling their work for fear of endangering their followers.
“Now is a sensitive time. Many pastors tell me they will have to wait and see how [the regulations] are enforced,” says Rev. Wu.
Many pastors say Beijing’s interference in their work is symptomatic of China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s political autonomy.
“Beijing sees Hong Kong as place of insurgency, a place that needs to be brought under control,” says Brynne Lawrence, an associate at China Aid.
From China’s perspective, Hong Kong needs to be reintegrated into the mainland, political economist and Hong Kong transition expert Michael DeGolyer writes in The Other Hong Kong Report, a Hong Kong-based academic journal. While Hong Kong enjoys greater liberties than the mainland under the “one country, two systems approach” instituted after the 1997 handover from British to Chinese sovereignty, DeGolyer describes this agreement as a temporary transition period during which differences generated during 150 years of separation are to be respected, and overcome.
Rev. Wu says Hong Kong has long been seen as the “subversive seabed” from which provocative ideas — religious or secular — seep into the tightly controlled mainland.
In 1923, nationalist revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen defined Hong Kong as ground zero for resistance.
“Where and how did I get my revolutionary and modern ideas? I got my ideas from this very place, in the colony of Hong Kong,” said Sun, who attended the first independent Chinese church, founded in Hong Kong.
The enclave has long served as a harbor for agitators and insurrectionists. It was a hotbed of communists during the 1920s and ‘30s, a base for Japanese imperialism in the Second World War, a sanctuary for nationalists fleeing the PRC, a refuge for Russian émigrés fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution, a home in exile for Indonesia’s national hero and communist leader Tan Malaka, a source of funding, supplies, and ideological encouragement for the Tiananmen Square protesters, a safe haven for NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and, most recently, the birthplace of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. Beijing’s flag-waving state media did not fail to note that several Christian leaders helped spearhead those 12-week Occupy protests in 2014.
“[Nobody is] allowed to use Hong Kong for infiltration subversion activities against the mainland to damage its social and political stability,” Zhang Xiaoming, the head of China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, said during a state media interview last year.
The admonition appears to extend to Christian evangelizing.
“They do no want the water from the well poisoning the river,” says Cardinal Joseph Zen.
The Chinese Communist Party has long associated Christianity with subversive Western values, which are perceived as antithetical to Xi’s push for conformity to orthodox party thinking. Xi has even said the government “must guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means and prevent ideological infringements by extremists.” He advised religions to Sinocize by accepting Chinese traditions and socialist core values, which really means submitting to state authority.
Religious leaders say hostility toward Christianity peaked under Xi, who became party leader in 2012 and has presided over a crackdown on civil society to quash dissent and establish what academics have termed his complete “controlocracy”.
“They don’t want to totally restrict religion, they want to bring it fully under their control,” says the Hong Kong missionary.
Christian groups say sporadic persecution has intensified and campaigns to demolish unregistered churches, tear down crosses, raid homes for unauthorized gospel literature, arrest church leaders and monitor congregants have all become more common. Last November, local authorities in Jiangxi province reportedly told residents to take down Christian iconography inside their homes and replace it with portraits of Xi.
The sweeping new religious regulations “try to legitimate the repressive measures adopted in the past few years,” and provide a legal framework for future crackdowns, says Yang Fenggang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University.
Aiming to curb unregistered religious activities, the regulations give underground churches an ultimatum: join the official, antiseptic Three-Self Patriotic churches where faith is subordinate to party dogma, or face criminal repercussions left to local enforcers’ interpretation — traditionally anything from fines, to detention or even enforced disappearances.
“In the U.S., the citizens could say that the law protects us, the first amendment protects our religious freedom. In China it’s the other way around. The law is just to help the government crackdown on the churches,” says Rev. Wu.
To cope in such a hostile environment, China’s underground churches have adopted guerilla-like tactics. Rev. C. described Christians who use balloons to obscure their faces from CCTV cameras while they walk to church, shops that act as fronts for Sunday schools, and coded conversations that allow pastors to talk openly about planting new churches.
“China’s Christians have endured decades of persecution,” Rev. C. says. “They know how to deal with the Chinese government.”
Plus, he adds, “Beijing can’t arrest them all. There are too many Christians now and not enough jails.”
It’s Hong Kong’s future, and the ability to adapt to unfamiliar oversight from Beijing that he worries about. “We’ve been safe here for the last 20 years. In the coming years? We just don’t know.”
Few religious leaders were optimistic in their forecast for the metropolis.
Cardinal Zen said those who believe in the perpetuity of Hong Kong’s sovereignty under the “two systems” approach are blind to its steady erosion. “Here we have no future unless we want to be Beijing’s slaves,” he put it bluntly.
One Christian academic, who asked not to be named, tells TIME that Hong Kong’s liberties — including free expression — are withering fast under the unfavorable attentions of Beijing.
“My worry is that some church leaders in Hong Kong are surrendering,” the academic says. “They just obey the government and do whatever they are told, keeping their mouth shut and not daring to criticize policies. You can already see this happening.”
Trouble began brewing even before the rollout of the new regulations. Mainland Christians were sporadically barred from attending conferences and conventions in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong pastors have increasingly paid a price for trying to spread the gospel beyond the territory’s border.
In 2016, China Aid held a training in Hong Kong attended by over 400 mainland Christians. Not long after the event, Fu said three facilitators from the Chinese University of Hong Kong faced repercussions when they tried to visit the mainland: in some cases they were beaten, and in others warned.
“The authorities have their lists. If you are on the list, you have become a target, and you are not allowed to cross the border,” says Rev. Wu.
In an unprecedented incident portending the tightening restrictions to come, in 2015, Rev. Philip Woo was summoned from his Hong Kong office across the border. Religious affairs authorities there instructed him to stop teaching mainland students, and to stop posting online advertisements offering to ordain mainland pastors. Since then, he says he’s also been warned by Hong Kong’s authorities to call off trips to the mainland, where he has been unable to return for over a year.
“The Chinese government should not be trying to interfere,” he says.
But for the Communist Party, there are practical reasons to clamp down, says Fenggang, from Purdue University.
Christians, drawn to the faith’s moral compass, “have shown the will to challenge the injustice of the party-state,” he wrote by email. “Their presence is a challenge to the moral authority of the party-state. The more the party-state feels the lack of moral authority, the more it [will] try to suppress Christianity.”
Participants raise their hands in prayer during the first Global Chinese Alpha conference in Hong Kong, April 10, 2007.
Yet paradoxically, the more severe the persecution, the more people are drawn to Christianity.
“By clamping down on it, the Communist Party has multiplied it,” says Carsten Vala, chair of the political science department at Loyola University.
He also noted that while most Chinese Christians are not interested in seizing political power, Christianity and communism are inherently at odds, competing over the souls and loyalties of the people.
“Protestants have arguably created the most sustained structural challenges to the Chinese Communist Party’s ordering of society,” Vala says.
Rev. C. says he is motivated by the belief that if Christianity continues to grow in China, it’s conceivable that 20-25% of the country could be Christian. At that point, he says, “the Communist Party will not be able to handle it.”
“With Christianity [there will be] morals, ethics, just laws, and a will to enforce it,” he says.”Only Christianity can change this country.”
This is nearly 1 person every day in Chicago is gun-downed.
Here is what the NRA Spokeswoman (Dana Loesch) recently had to say about this national tragedy on February 22, 2018:
"Many in legacy media love mass shootings – you guys love it," Loesch said Thursday after taking the stage for the annual conservative conference. "Now, I'm not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media in the back (of the room)."
"And notice I said 'crying white mothers' because there are thousands of grieving black mothers in Chicago every weekend, and you don't see town halls for them, do you?" Loesch continued.
Why are there no mass protests, marches, lie-ins, town-halls being held in Chicago? Where are the pastors? Where is the Church? How could 67 people be shot down in an American city, and this is not on the news each and every day and solutions being sought to end the blood-shed. NRA raises an interesting point that every person in America, who has a conscience, should consider. Where is the outrage? Why is no one talking about Chicago?
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Steve Hilton: Silicon Valley’s surveillance capitalism has resulted in Big Tech killing off human privacy By Steve Hilton | Fox News
The case against Big Tech seems to be building by the week. And interestingly, some of the most powerful evidence is being provided by those who really know what they’re talking about: tech insiders.
Full disclosure: I am a tech insider myself. I run a tech company in Silicon Valley. My wife is a senior executive at Facebook and many of our closest friends have senior roles in companies like Google.
If you suspect Bitcoin is going to crash, I just want you to know, you're right. Here is the truth about Bitcoin that no one else will tell you.
Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive responsible for growing the social network’s user base, recently argued that Silicon Valley had “created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
Palihapitiya lamented Big Tech’s role in our democratic debates: “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem – this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem.”
He cited the role of mobile messaging service WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) in the killings of seven innocent men in India after hoax messages about strangers abducting children were shared.
“That’s what we’re dealing with,” Palihapitiya said. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He said he tries to use Facebook as little as possible, and that his children “aren’t allowed to use that s---.”
His comments are in line with another huge figure in tech, early Facebook investor Sean Parker, who blasted the addictive properties of Silicon Valley’s technology: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Parker argued that Facebook “literally changes your relationship with society” and “probably interferes with productivity in weird ways.”
Parker said that because the whole point of Facebook is to keep people using it. He said “the thought process … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” That’s why the inventors of tech services like Facebook give their users “a little dopamine hit every once in a while,” for example through ‘likes’ and comments: “It’s a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Parker went on to say that the men who designed and built these social media platforms, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, “understood consciously” what they were doing. “And we did it anyway.”
Many commentators have made the comparison between these insider admission and the moment when the tobacco companies finally admitted that their products kill people. No one has suggested that technology actually kills people by design. But in other ways, the case against Big Tech is even more damning than the case against Big Tobacco, simply because Big Tech is so much more powerful and plays so much greater a role in our modern world.
The tech companies love the fact that they have risen to the apex of the business pile. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft top the list of the world’s most valuable corporations.
The companies love to boast in high-minded terms about how their mission is not something as mundane as making money. No, they are all about “changing the world,” as Apple CEO Tim Cook recently claimed. Well, with all that wealth and power comes influence. And increasingly, despite our Silicon Valley overlords’ self-regarding and cloyingly sanctimonious smugness, it’s not for the good.
Let’s look at the charge sheet. It goes well beyond the “addiction admissions” of whistleblowing insiders like Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya.
Because the business model of many of these tech firms relies on selling ads, their relentless focus is on gathering data on their users – that would be you – to enable advertisers to better target their messages.
With a phone in everyone’s pocket, these companies can now literally track your every move. And the creepiness seems to get worse by the day. Only this week we heard that clothing company L.L. Bean said it is planning to install sensors into some of its boots and coats to track how they’re used.
This intense data-gathering of your most intimate decisions – where you go, who you talk to, what you like or don’t like – is only going to get worse. With new “home assistants” like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, Big Tech is now right at the heart of family life.
Children are growing up talking to Alexa as if “she” is a member of the family. Silicon Valley is actively exploring computer chips that would be inserted into people’s brains, so that artificial intelligence software can be “merged” with human thought. Who owns all this data and what will happen to it? Quite apart from the sheer creepiness of tech companies wanting to invade your brain, we know from recent experience that literally everything can be hacked – whether by criminals or foreign governments like China that hacked our own government and stole millions of Americans’ most personal data.
Silicon Valley’s surveillance capitalism has killed off human privacy. Did anyone ask them to do that? They say people want the convenience of data-enabled services – but for most people, there’s no alternative. If everyone else is on Facebook you have to be there too, and you can only do that if you tick the box that signs away your privacy forever.
Artificial intelligence, of course, is not just about invading your privacy: it’s assaulting our economy too. Studies predict that huge swaths of jobs will be destroyed by Big Tech as it advances into new areas of economic activity and automates jobs from truck driving to accounting.
Silicon Valley’s only response to the economic devastation it’s about to unleash on American workers is to push forward the idea of a “Universal Basic Income” – a government wage regardless of whether you work.
Translation: “We, your tech overlords will be doing all the interesting work. Sadly, there won’t be any jobs left for you serfs – but don’t worry, we’ll makes sure the government gives you some money so you can sit around all day and make the most of your newfound leisure time. Enjoy, little people!”
Big Tech’s baleful economic impact extends to another disastrous feature of our modern economy: a stifling of competition. This has contributed to the lowest level of start-ups in decades, and the wage stagnation that has hurt American workers so badly. When sector after sector in our economy ends up being dominated by a handful of giant corporations, workers lose their bargaining power. This trend is made worse by the growing dominance of the tech companies that are not only dominating their own markets – whether that’s in media, through ad sales, or book retailing – but in fundamental aspects of business life. Just try starting a business these days without using Google, Facebook or Amazon products.
The one marketplace that Silicon Valley has not yet managed to dominate, however, is China. But it’s not for want of trying. Companies like Apple and Google are desperately sucking up to the brutal authoritarian communist regime in China in order to gain access to the vast market.
But in the process, our own leading companies are aiding and abetting China’s plan for world domination by handing over technology – like artificial intelligence – that China will use against us.
And finally let’s not forget the role of Silicon Valley in shaping our culture and the way we think. Sometimes you see it in pernicious side effects of automated systems for getting users to consume content.
We saw this this week with the Wall Street Journal’s expose of YouTube’s role in pushing its users towards extreme videos and conspiracy theories. But frankly, we can also see this in the manifestation of the liberal bias that pervades Silicon Valley and the tech industry.
HANGZHOU, CHINA — There’s nothing secret about Chongyi Church, one of the largest in China. Its lighted steeple and giant cross penetrate the night sky of Hangzhou, the capital of coastal Zhejiang Province. Nearly everything at the church is conspicuously open: the front gate, the front door, the sanctuary, the people, the clergy. Chinese or not, you are welcome seven days a week. No layers of security guards or police exist. Walk right in. Join up. People are nice; they give you water, chat. Do you have spiritual needs? Visit their offices, 9 to 5.
For China, it is a stunning feeling. Most of the society exists behind closed doors and is tough, driven, material, hierarchical. The country values wealth, power, and secrecy – not to mention that both government and schools officially, at least, promote atheism.
Yet Chongyi looks and feels like any evangelical megachurch in Seattle or San Jose. There are big screens, speakers blaring upbeat music, coffee bars. The choir is a huge swaying wash of white and red robes. Chongyi seats 5,000 people and holds multiple services on Sunday.
“Some Sundays we are full,” says Zhou Lianmei, the pastor’s wife. “We also have 1,600 volunteers.”
Western visitors used to seeing empty sanctuaries in the United States or Europe can be dumbfounded by the Sunday gatherings held in convention center-size buildings where people line up for blocks to get in – one service after another. In Wenzhou, not far from Hangzhou, an estimated 1.2 million Protestants now exist in a city of 9 million people alone. (It is called “China’s Jerusalem.”) By one estimate, China will become the world’s largest Christian nation, at its current rate of growth, by 2030.
Indeed, an acute problem facing urban churches in China is a lack of space. Chongyi Church is building a million-dollar underground parking lot to replace one that worshipers under age 30 have taken over as a meeting place.
“I come because I found a love here that isn’t dependent on a person,” says Du Wang, a young businesswoman in Hangzhou. “It is like a river that doesn’t go away.”
Yet there is also trouble brewing for China’s faithful. As evangelical Christianity grows sharply, officials fear it could undermine their authority. Already, Christians may outnumber members of the Communist Party. That has far-reaching implications both for Chinese society and for a party that frowns on unofficial gatherings and other viewpoints. In China, party members cannot be Christian.
More than half of China’s Protestants attend illegal “house churches” that meet privately. The rest go to one of China’s official, registered Protestant churches, such as Chongyi. The official or legal churches, known since 1949 as the “Three-Self Patriotic Church,” operate under an arrangement that says in effect: We are patriotic, good citizens. We love China. We aren’t dissidents. We go to official theology schools. So the party will let us worship freely.
And – until recently – it has.
Yet in the past year authorities have attacked and even destroyed official Protestant churches, as well as unofficial ones. Many Evangelicals feel they are now on the front lines of an invisible battle over faith in the world’s most populous nation, and facing a campaign by the party-state to delegitimize them. Underneath it all is a question: Will China become a new fount of Christianity in the world, or the site of a growing clash between the party and the pulpit?
“There’s an enormous struggle across China brought by the rise of worshipers that seem to really believe,” says Terence Halliday, a director of the Center for Law and Globalization in Chicago who has worked in China. “Christianity now makes up the largest single civil society grouping in China. The party sees that.”
• • •
When China opened and rejoined the world in 1979, US President Jimmy Carter asked China’s Deng Xiaoping for three “favors.” Mr. Carter asked that churches shut during the brutal Cultural Revolution be reopened. He asked that the printing of Bibles resume. And he asked that missionaries be allowed back into China. Mr. Deng accepted the first two requests, for open churches and Bibles. But he rejected the one for missionaries.
Thus began a slow restoration process harking back more than a century. The first Protestant church in China was built in 1848 in Xiamen, known then as the Port of Amoy. By the 20th century, American and British missionaries saw China as a rich field. Every city of importance had a church. Missionaries founded China’s first 16 colleges, and they spurred the first reforms for female emancipation.
But after Mao Zedong’s victory in 1949, authorities chased out the missionaries. During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1972, officials closed and trashed churches as China turned violently inward. Mao partly justified the violence as necessary to bring China into the 20th century. But much of it was used to kill off his enemies, real or imagined, including the faithful.
The era produced “the most thorough destruction” of religion possibly in “human history,” write scholars David Palmer and Vincent Goossaert. Authorities threw Christians in prison. They burned Bibles and executed believers to make an example.
Philip Wickeri, a leading Anglican in Hong Kong, shows visitors two Bibles that illustrate how far things went in the 1960s, and how much they have changed since. One is a small plain New Testament made of mimeographed sheets embossed with hand-written Chinese characters. It is a Cultural Revolution-era “samizdat” Bible, painstakingly produced. Different church cells memorized parts of the Gospels, copied them, and then combined them to form a single New Testament. The shadowy venture lasted several years, during which 150 Bibles were made.
Mr. Wickeri’s second Bible is gilt-edged and nestled in a rich box of bamboo. It is dated 2012 and was produced by the Amity Printing Company in Nanjing. It was part of a run that included the 100 millionth Bible published in China since the opening in the early 1980s.
• • •
For decades, Christianity here was considered something for older female peasants. But the demographics of religion are changing dramatically. China’s new faithful are younger, more educated, more urban, and more affluent.
One surprising change is that a majority of believers no longer view Christianity as something foreign. They increasingly view faith as transcending its Western missionary-derived system. Many Chinese no longer accept the idea that being Christian means forfeiting a Chinese identity.
Last summer, China’s religious affairs chief said that 500,000 Christians are baptized each year in the country. A joint study between Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and Peking University in Beijing estimated that there are now 70 million Christians over age 16 in China. Communist Party membership is about 83 million.
Even so, no precise numbers exist for the total number of worshipers. Chinese government statistics put the rise in Protestants in the official churches at 800,000 in 1979, 3 million in 1982, 10 million in 1995, and 15 million in 1999. There the accounting stops.
Carsten Vala, an expert on religion in China at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, says 40 million to 60 million is “the low end of a conservative” estimate of the number of Evangelicals. Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in Indiana, says he thinks there are more than 80 million Christians and that China will have 245 million by 2030 if growth is steady – making it the world’s most populous Protestant nation.
In some ways this surge seems counterintuitive. Being a Christian in a country that sees worship as odd or superstitious does nothing to boost one’s status. “There is absolutely no social advantage to being a Christian in China,” says Bob Fu, a pastor who escaped a Chinese police crackdown in the 1990s and now runs Texas-based ChinaAid, which monitors Christian rights in the country. “There are no cookies, no status, no outward rewards, no privileges in choosing Christianity.”
Yet as Chinese achieve material wealth and success, many feel lost. The success of economic reforms under Chinese leader Deng, launched in the early 1990s, has not helped rebuild China’s spiritual infrastructure, decimated during war and the Cultural Revolution. China’s rise has come with a cost: a loss of traditional values and the rise of cheating, corruption, and fierce competition. As Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, points out, there are 150 billionaires in China but little certainty.
“Everyone is groping and grasping,” he says. “People are turning to Buddhism, Christianity, self-help, and Taoism. CEOs and billionaires run around with their spiritual masters and visit meditation rooms.”
In dozens of interviews with believers in official and house churches, the word they use most for why they turn to church is “love.” “Chinese have a yearning heart, that is really the reason,” says one woman who goes to the Zion house church in Beijing, which has more than 10,000 attendees and whose pastor is Korean. “We need love, and in some ways it is that simple.”
One Chinese intellectual and former newspaper editor agrees that China has become sated and corrupt. But he doesn’t agree there is a significant turn toward spiritual matters.
“We are too comfortable and willing ... to say ‘yes’ to anything,” says Li Datong. “I wish there was more spiritual hunger.”
Yet Chinese parents complain of a society that teaches math and science in schools but does little to address conduct or character. The case of Little Yueyue is a symbol of the moral void. The 2-year-old girl was hit by a van in Guangdong a few years ago. The driver didn’t stop. The girl was thrown to the side of the road, and 17 people walked past before an itinerant migrant stopped to help. The event was captured on a video that went viral and spurred some national soul-searching.
Experts say the Chinese have a practical nature, and if they adopt the evangelical message, especially after years of required wrestling with Marxist thinking, they usually don’t take it lightly. Many work hard at it.
“Chinese Christians know the Bible better than some Southern Baptists,” says Wickeri in Hong Kong. “That’s not a small thing.”
Typical is the pastor Han Yufang at Chongwenmen Church in Beijing. Ms. Han is one of many women now being ordained in official churches. But for years her father forbade her to look into Christianity. She did anyway, studying it for seven years, the final two praying for most of each night. One evening she was on her knees by the bed and prayed to God, “Father, not my will but thine be done.” She says she felt a clear urge to study at a divinity school.
Another woman, a mother in her 40s, first went to church with friends. She says she felt nothing but kept going to be part of the group. She dabbled. She tried Buddhism, but, “for all the quiet, I never really found peace.” During one service the concept of “forgiveness came from nowhere and washed and melted me in a way I can’t describe,” she says. At the time she was “always fighting” with her husband. After the experience, the tension stopped. He also started attending church services with her, as did their son, who finds Bible stories “compelling.”
For the most part, Protestants try to keep the altruistic activities they do in society quiet and low-key. China officially recognizes five faiths – Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, and Taoism. But only Buddhism and Protestantism are experiencing lively growth. Evangelicals do not want to draw attention to themselves and perform most of their good works without publicity.
Yet in cases such as the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, which killed 70,000 people, churches sent groups to help on the ground. By some estimates, as many as half the volunteers were evangelical.
Some Christians are trying to improve business practices and fight corruption as well. One business group asks members to pledge a “Ten Commandments” of good behavior that includes no bribing, no taking mistresses, no avoiding taxes, and no mistreating employees. Zhao Xiao, a researcher at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, tells of a Christian in Harbin who lost $8 million his first year applying the principles but is now a leader in his industry.
• • •
One January morning last year in Hangzhou, Chinese officials showed up unexpectedly at the Gulou Church. It is a massive gray-stone edifice across the famed West Lake from the Chongyi Church. The Gulou clergy was informed that the cross on their edifice was scheduled to come down.
Church leaders were stunned. It was the first they’d heard of any plan to remove the cross. Then for much of the spring, they and other Christians in China heard of little else, as both official and unofficial churches were raided, destroyed, or dismantled in a campaign that has lasted more than a year.
Gulou itself was established by Presbyterian missionaries in the 1880s. The cross atop the steeple was enormous, a fixture next to a well-known highway overpass. It is dear to members as a symbol of their faith, says a pastor who declined to be named. For months, Gulou’s leaders delayed the removal of the cross. Meanwhile, authorities attacked churches and, as of this writing, have stripped or desecrated more than 426 of them, including knocking one down while President Obama was visiting Beijing last fall. In many cases, tearful worshipers surrounded the churches and scuffled with police. Zhejiang itself has become ground zero in China’s growing clash between church and state.
On Aug. 7 at 5 p.m., authorities returned to Gulou. They summoned the head pastor and said that at 10 p.m. the cross would be removed by crane. Word got out (the pastor only told one person since he could otherwise be jailed for calling an unofficial gathering). The church was surrounded by worshipers praying and chanting “cross, cross, cross.”
“We felt helpless,” a junior pastor says. “We told them how important this cross is, but they didn’t listen.”
“They can take the cross from our church,” he adds, “but they can’t take it from our hearts.”
Crackdowns on Christians are nothing new in China. What is different is how broad and systematic the suppression has been and how the state, for the first time, is attacking official churches. To be sure, it was clear by summer that Chinese President Xi Jinping was conducting a harsh roll-up of civil society in general – artists, lawyers, scholars, as well as Christians – as part of a new emphasis on orthodox party thinking and rules.
“The party isn’t satisfied with just keeping people behind a great firewall,” says one lawyer. “They actually want to indoctrinate.”
So far, the cross on Chongyi Church remains intact. But Evangelicals here who thought they were adhering to the proper political decorum are not happy. “People are angry and feeling betrayed,” says a local volunteer who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. “If I were the government I would not do this.”
Why authorities would alienate believers who think of themselves as loyal Chinese is unclear. Many local Christians first thought it was a mistake or something engineered by local authorities in Zhejiang Province. Officials said large crosses near highways were a driving hazard.
But as more churches lost their crosses, many far from highways, and other official churches were bulldozed, feelings changed. One church quietly offered to pay a series of fines, thinking the attacks were about money. “We were fooled at first,” says one local pastor. “Then we discovered they didn’t care about fines. They went after our crosses and gave the impression they enjoyed it.” The aim was to humiliate and shame, he says.
In recent years, Evangelicals in east China were “doing well,” the pastor continues. “But that is now changing. We are going backwards now. Everything is changing with the new leadership in Beijing. We know what is happening. We are not visitors here.”
Zan Aizong, a local journalist who became an Evangelical, says the government is trying to clamp down on churches and faith without causing a global outcry. Officials “use the legal system,” he says. “They go after crosses and building codes because it will not cause an uproar abroad. They want to turn Christianity into Chinese Christianity, controlled by the party.”
In August, amid the suppression in Zhejiang, the party issued a statement that it would soon unveil an official Christian theology. Wang Zuoan, head of China’s religious affairs ministry, told the state-run Xinhua news agency that Christianity was spreading so rapidly that a new theology was needed to avoid problems. “The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture,” he said.
As the attacks continue, church leaders are debating how to respond – whether to publicly challenge the crackdown or try to ride it out, the argument being that authorities could do much worse things if provoked.
“Many Christians are scared of the government,” says Ling Cangzhou, a Christian blogger in Beijing. “In China you rely on the government for jobs, position, for money. Families and relatives are affected. Dissidents don’t get promotion or advancement.”
• • •
One effect of the new religious persecution in China is that it is bringing the official and unofficial wings of the Protestant Church closer. For years, the two sides have often been clashing siblings: In essence, private house churchgoers saw the Three-Self churches as compromised by the party. Official churches often saw house churches as misbehaving cults.
Yet now, as they share a common threat and as more young people take up Christianity who have little knowledge of the historical divide, the two wings are starting to converge, reinforcing a grass-roots movement that has already been under way for some time.
Worshipers are being introduced to Christianity in official churches and then moving to house churches for a deeper experience of Bible study and preaching. In turn, house churches are becoming less secretive and are reaching out to influence the official churches. “There is a growing but quiet cooperation among Three-Self pastors who aren’t as invested in the institution – who care more about church and the basic evangelical mission,” Mr. Vala says.
To be sure, real differences remain between the two sides. Three-Self pastors are trained at theology schools watched by the party. Mr. Zan, for example, attended one and says that former President Hu Jintao’s concept of a “harmonious society” was taught as something to emphasize in preaching, which Zan calls “propaganda.” “Official churches are not allowed to touch subjects like the Apocalypse or eschatology,” he says. “A lot of the preaching is about how to be good and loving and ethical, which is fine. But they are often antiseptic and less radical.”
Many house meetings last all day, whereas official churches have 60- to 90-minute services. “The [Three-Selfs] are too big,” says a musician from Anhui who started at an official church but moved on. “You can get lost in them. Smaller is more like home, more like the love you feel at home.”
In Beijing, the official Chongwenmen Church is near the train station, found by walking through a rabbit warren of streets and noodle shops. It is old and slightly creaky. Services are packed and believers are devout. Across town, the official Haidian Church is a huge white modernist structure in a high-tech zone. Outside there is a band and chorus and kids with “I [heart] Jesus” caps. People wait in line for services by the hundreds.
One private Calvary church feels much different. Set in a seminar room in an office tower, it seems far less institutional but more intimate. The pastor is from Taiwan and won’t talk with reporters. Yet in all three churches the focus is on Christianity as a life practice and not a philosophy, and of the Bible as a revelation whose meaning brings change and redemption.
During services at these churches in August, as the cross removal campaign intensified, pastors spoke openly of the “meaning of the cross.” Hymns sung included “ ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ ... with the cross of Jesus, going on before.”
Chinese authorities used dynamite this week to destroy a well-known Christian megachurch in the northern part of the communist country.
The decision to demolish the Golden Lampstand Church in the Shanxi Province came amid the Communist Party's long-established fear that Christianity, seen by authorities as a Western way of life, is a threat to the government’s power, The New York Times reported.
Why Was the Church Destroyed? The state-run newspaper Global Times described the church's destruction as part of “a city-wide campaign to remove illegal buildings,” quoting an anonymous government official who said the house of worship was “secretly built” and disguised as a “warehouse.”
But clearly, the church wasn’t much of a secret, because in 2009, members of the congregation said police confiscated Bibles and imprisoned several of the church's leaders. Nevertheless, the church was leveled Tuesday, according to ChinaAid, an American watchdog group that monitors religious freedom in China. The group's founder and president, Bob Fu, said China's “repeated persecution” toward the megachurch shows the government has “no respect for religious freedom or human rights”:
“ChinaAid calls on the international community to openly condemn the bombing of this church building and urge the Chinese government to fairly compensate the Christians who paid for it and immediately cease these alarming demolitions of churches.” Is Christianity Illegal in China?
While Christians are severely persecuted in China, it's important to note that — on paper — Christianity is not illegal in the Asian nation. While China's official stance is atheistic, Christianity is one of five approved religions in the country.
The other approved faiths are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholicism, though the Catholic Church in China is forced to operate independent of the Vatican. The Chinese government, however, maintains its tight grip on Christianity via a nonreligious, nationalistic body — the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) — established to regulate the church.
And that very much restricts the freedom Christians have in China. A central tenet of the Christian faith is spreading the gospel, or evangelism, but the “Three-Self” aspect of the TSPM totally restricts that.
Each congregation in China is to be self-governed, self-funded, and self-propagated, according to The Gospel Coalition. Furthermore, since the government is paranoid of established groups, due to the power they could wield, movements and denominations are also forbidden.
So in order to spread the Christian message effectively, believers have been forced to establish so-called “underground churches,” which are created outside the purview of the TSPM, because those within the government database are subject to constant censorship and supervision.
Is This an Isolated Incident?
According to the Times, under Chinese President Xi Jinping's leadership, the government has frequently destroyed churches or removed their crosses and steeples. Xi has indicated he prefers a tight control over Chinese society.
In April 2016, the Chinese president gave a speech on religious policy. During the address, he urged the Communist Party to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means,” warning any religion in the country must “Sinicize,” or become Chinese, The Associated Press reported.
Xi also made clear any faith-based group must submit to the leadership and whims of the Communist Party, adding, “in no way should religions interfere with government administration, judiciary and education.”