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.”
Los Angeles/Atlanta/New York (January 9, 2018) – ChristianHipHop.com announced its Official List of Top 125 Holy Hip Hop Pioneers and Ministers of the Gospel over the past 20 years (1996-2017) advancing the Holy Hip Hop Genre of music worldwide, as follows:
The E.P plays more like a journal than an album. YH open the door of his life and invites listeners to come and put their feet up. Jesus is naturally an integral part of his life so you see Jesus pursuing, shaping, and blessing YH throughout his life. It also reminds us how Jesus does the same for us. The Lord's hand is own YH, I'm looking forward to seeing what God does with him in the future.
Yung Apostle "Wayve" #9
Raw, gritty, and authentic you can tell he is a product of his culture but you can also see he has been redeemed. It's encouraging to see someone young, full of energy, pushing hard for the Lord. This authentic drill music sound and flawless delivery combined are sure to reach people that would otherwise pass over CHH.
B.I.P Mulatto's Diary #8
B.I.P reminds me a lot of J. Cole. He's not biting his style but I do get that same feeling when he begins to bless the mic. That something great is about to happen. B.I.P delivers greatness throughout his album and unlike J. Cole B.I.P. glorifies the Lord while doing it.
Derek Minors #7 High Above
The EP High Above was thought-provoking, convicting, and uplifting all at the same time. I love authentic music, and this entire project bleeds authenticity from every pore. Derek Minor bears his heart in a way that is relatable but more importantly presses us forward into the hands of the savior.
Propaganda #6 Crooked
Propaganda blows through facades and fig leaves to shows the stain of sin that touches every part of society. He also shows how Jesus is the only solution to our crooked hearts. There are some albums that you can play in the background while working. Propaganda delivery demands that you take notice of every noun and verb. If you take the time to listen like it deserves you will grow in your faith and knowledge. Absolutely amazing from beginning to end.
Artificial Christians #5 Rivera Nights
If you like slick writing, jazzy vibes, amazing production, and undeniable style, you are going to love these artists. Outside of the writing and style, Jesus takes residence in their music from start to finish. You can really tell these artists have a heart for the Lord. The epitome of beauty in Hip Hop.
Sevin "Church in the Jungle" #4
Sevin is a lyrical animal, I've been listening to him for almost a decade. He has a flow smoother than honey, crazy wordplay, and an incredible heart for the gospel. Every syllable is designed to reach somebody, and this is by far my favorite project from him. I wish I could copy it and give it out in my city. Warning* Some profanity (A lot less than your favorite show on Netflix show though!)
Lecrae #3 "All things work together"
I will always be thankful for Lecrae and his music. Listening to Lecrae's first album was a big part of my salvation. His latest album hits home with encouraging and transparent tracks like "Broke", "8:28", and "Cry for you". It's amazing to see his platform expand to reach people from all walks of life. There is a lot of mixed feelings out there about Lecrae. I think its wise to spend less time debating about him and more time praying for him.
Beautiful Eulogy #2 "Worthy"
Worship and intense self-examination at its finest. Worthy takes you on a journey through your heart, poking and prodding every corner and begging you to give everything to Jesus. Its a marriage between worship and hip-hop that is not easily accomplished. My all-time favorite album from Beautiful Eulogy that I will be listening to for a long time.
KB #1 "Today We Rebel"
"Today We Rebel" is a masterpiece with the hand of the master all over it. I could write an article on every track (I already wrote one). You can feel his love for Jesus from start to finish. It also causes you to want to love Jesus more. What more can you ask for from a CHH Album? Almost every song pushes you to follow Jesus and love his people. If you haven't heard the album yet get your war clothe on and join the rebellion."
KB wrote a masterpiece called the "art of drifting". The song describes the ugly fall of a Christian entertainer. The story is not foreign one, a once dedicated Christian slowly slips into sin. If you are like me, you have heard more than one horror stories about great Christian ministers who's ministries ended in adultery, sexual immorality, pride, drug abuse, and other deadly sins.
This is where their drifting ended, however, it is not where their drifting began. Pursuing God is like paddling a canoe upstream, in order to make progress you have to stay faithful. However, if you relax, or, if you decide to pursue things other than God, you will find yourself miles down river in a place you were never meant to be.
Here are 6 ways to make sure you avoid sin and continue paddling up stream.
Remember your Purpose
Why are you making Christian Music? To glorify God? To love people through your gifts? I hope so, and I also hope God blesses your efforts! I also hope that your actions and decisions reflect your purpose. Its easy to start making decisions to become successful that have nothing to do with glory of God. We should always be asking ourselves while we make decisions, does this glorify God? Is this Love? If not, you are not only drifting, you are paddling the wrong way. It is important to remember that God cares more about your character than your success.
Refresh your Perspective
Where do you want to be in 3 years as an artist?. I know a few years ago I would have said signed to Reach with a huge platform. Now, my answer is different. What if God never allows your music to blow?What if you only reach a few? Would you be ok with that? The truth is God is in control. The bible says promotion comes from God alone (Psalms 75:6-7).
Record dealsand large platforms aren't bad. But neither is obscurity are a small platforms. The truth is God doesn't honor one over the other. God cares about your faithfulness not the number of people that you reaching.If you have a record deal and all the media coverage you ever wanted, that doesn't mean your honoring God. If you start chasing record deals, blogs, and fame you will find yourself drifting.
Read your Bible
You can read your favorite devotional, or follow all the best people on Twitter, or listen to your favorite podcast, but it is not a substitute for the bible. Its like skipping all your meals and only eating vitamins. Eventually your going to die. You need the hear from God yourself. That means you need to read the Bible. Psalms 1:2-3 says " meditate on the word day and night and... you will prosper."
Andy Mineo once said "My priorities wrong, I talk about you more than I talk with you". It's really easy to get so caught up doing ministry that you forget about who you're doing ministry for. I have definitely been there. But you need God, you need his wisdom, joy, and satisfaction. If you neglect communing with God, you will find yourself overworked, undervalued, and bitter. Drink in the goodness of God and always pray.(1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Stay in Community
Now, I don't mean go to church. Yes, church is good and you should definitely go. However, church and community are not synonyms. There are a lot of churches where you can go in and go out without saying anything to anyone. That is not what God originally had in mind.
Community means finding fellow believers that you share your lives with. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We should be encouraging, warning, helping, and loving each other in an authentic way. If you don't have authentic community you are either already drifting or you will be soon. Visiting small groups at your local church is a great way to find authentic community.
Kill your ego
It would be easy to dismiss artists who have slipped into sin as hypocrites or fakes. You can think that will never be you. But remember, you are a human just like them. The bible says watch out if you think you can't fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). The truth is if you neglect the Bible and prayer, alter your purpose, lose your perspective, and become isolated you will find yourself drifting. However, if you consistently pursue God and keep him first, you will overcome!