The Sunday Telegraph carried a couple of interesting pieces on the growth of Christianity in China, though I think the author missed a few issues. The first article looks at the growth of Christianity as the country's "new social revolution" and the other looks at the reason Christianity is growing (hint: democracy protests and Western values). Both subjects are inflammatory for the Chinese people and their government due to the country's sad history of failed social revolutions and policies against Western values and democracy.
China's rulers are said to be ambiguous about Christianity's growth. Some see its emphasis on personal morality as a force for stability. House churches which go along with the authority and theology of the official organisations are often left alone.
But many reject the party's control over Christian practice and doctrine, and these are seen as a threat. After all, 80 million members would mean there are now more Christians than Communists in China.
Writing from Beijing, Richard Spencer describes the spread of Christianity in rural and urban areas. Converts, as well as those who attempt to promote their religion, face challenges foreign to most in the Western society (another older article addresses the challenges in a bit more detail here). Spencer finds individual examples that do a good job of illustrating this point.
While the article covers the necessary main points, Spencer overlooked a few areas, beginning with the reaction to this growth of China's other approved religions, Taoism and Islam. Christians now outnumber Muslims in China (as well as members of the Chinese Communist Party), according to the article, and I can't imagine the rapid growth of Christianity sits too well with them.
According to a friend of mine who recently returned from a summer trip in China, the government does not want the country to become highly religious, though China's constitution gives citizens the right to practice in a "reasonable" manner. Perhaps Taoists and Muslims keep quiet about the growth of Christianity for fear that conflict between the groups could create a government crackdown? Chinese government officials abhor anything that could hinder the countryâ€™s economic development.
The article also fails to examine where Catholicism and Protestantism are growing. From what I know from a friend who is Catholic, Catholicism is growing in areas that are developing economically, but I would like to know where the growth of Protestantism is occurring. Is it right alongside Catholic growth? Or separate areas? China is quite a large place, and its linguistic diversity rivals Europe's. Also, what Protestant denominations are growing in China?
The third area in which I believe the article fails to inform the reader is in examining the high number of atheists in China and their reaction to the growth of Christianity. Many of the Chinese elite do not take religious people seriously and will laugh if you tell them you believe in God.