Chinese Protestant Christianity has grown exponentially in the last few decades. China has become a missionary-sending country at the same time as its political and economic importance in the world has grown. Many Chinese Christians believe that God has been calling on them to undertake the great mission of converting Muslims to Christianity. The series of political decisions made by President Xi Jinping aimed at increasing the power and status of China are regarded as signs of God’s work for China to carry out this mission, especially the “One Belt and One Road policy”.
The project examines the ideational aspiration and activities of the Chinese independent Protestant church, expressed in their religious vision to convert to Christianity the vast non-Christian population in the world, specifically Muslims. While subjective and immaterial, such urban religious aspiration can be seen as part of the general Chinese socio-economic urban and national aspiration for global development and expansion. Interestingly, the Chinese Christian missionary vision seems, to some extent, to parallel China’s vision of the Belt and Road initiative. This is because the BRI provides a compatible framework within which a particular form of religious organization “with Chinese characteristics” can develop. The project attempts to explore these unintended consequences of the state’s political-economic expansion for the international religious landscape in general, and Christianity in particular. Moreover, the China-led missionary movement to convert Muslims in fact transforms the dynamics of church-state interaction from one of antagonistic opposition and dominance/resistance to an unintended convergence of interests with regard to Muslims in China. The state tries to make the country’s Muslims embrace Chinese ‘culture’ and citizenship values, while the evangelical house churches seek to convert them to Christianity. This common interest in reducing a supposedly Islamic threat to both state and Christianity is why churches are inclined to accept the CCP as a legitimate government and celebrate its politico-economic policy of global expansion and strict control of Muslims.
A fieldwork trip to Beijing from 10.Sep. to 12.Oct. 2019. Conducted interviews with church members, missionaries and leaders; attended Sunday worship, prayer meetings, collected audio records of sermons given by church leaders and written material of Wechat group discussions.
Working paper: “Rethinking church and state relations in China—the case of Chinese House Churches’ Mission to Muslims ” to be submitted to Modern China.
The relationship between religion and the state has been one of the most significant yet complex topics in the study of contemporary Chinese religion. The paper discusses the apparently unstable and inconsistent relationship between the Chinese state and Protestant House churches that produces different and sometimes conflicting forms of strategy and rhetoric. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and analysis of online sources, the paper delineates two contrary attitudes of the church towards the state, namely resistance to state dominance and, conversely, interaction and interdependence with the state. Unpacking the case of a particular pastor, called Wang Yi, shows that in fact there is resistance but that it is subtle and exists alongside a more explicit policy on the part of the church of non-resistance while interacting with the state, as illustrated by other pastors. The ambiguity of church-state relations is further evident in the unintended convergence of interests with regard to Muslims in China. The state tries to make the country’s Muslims embrace Chinese ‘culture’ and citizenship values, while the evangelical house churches seek to convert them to Christianity. This common interest in reducing a supposed Islamic threat to both state and Christianity is why churches incline to accept the CCP as a legitimate government and celebrate its politico-economic policy of global expansion and strict control of Muslims.