Chinese Puzzle

Things are changing for China's church

One Christian leader told me about his first trip to China. On the long airplane trip, he read a popular novel about a Chinese believer who was imprisoned because he had a Bible. When this leader got to China, he was shocked to see people reading their Bibles openly. He began to wonder: Was the novel all fiction?

Well, it was a novel. But in this issue, both of the experts debating strategy for religious freedom around the world mention China in unflattering terms. There is indeed a bloody history of repression and slaughter in China, and religion was only one of the aspects of Chinese society that felt the heavy oppressive hand, especially during the communist Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

In today's China, however, things are changing for the church (as they are for the economy). I saw some of those changes during a brief trip to Shanghai and Jiang-su provinces last fall. Family events have kept me from writing a full report, but I want to share just a few things with you now.

First, legal Bibles are not in short supply. The Red Guards confiscated Bibles, so that after the Cultural Revolution, the most pressing need of Christians in China was for Bibles. A decade of illegal Bible smuggling met part of the need, but it put Christians in the difficult position of supporting an illegal activity. After three years of negotiations, the Amity Press was able to begin printing Bibles legally. The printing plant I visited has printed almost 30 million copies since 1986.

Illegal Bibles, however, are still illegal. In 2001 a Hong Kong businessman was arrested for smuggling copies of an annotated version used by the Shouters. He faced a possible death sentence for "propagating an evil cult." Fortunately, after President Bush took an ...

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