Thursday, June 02, 2005

Is China the Next (Holy) Roman Empire?

No, this is not another speculative post regarding when LDS missionaries will be allowed into China. While "those in the know" will tell you that such approval was almost granted until an errant U.S. bomb hit a certain Chinese Embassy...who really knows? Yes, this thread is about religious liberty in China and the possibility that China could become the largest "Christian" nation in the world in the next 10-20 years. We can only hope that LDS missionaries are allowed into China so we can "compete" with Catholics and Protestants for converts. No, I have no inside knowledge (my cousin, former Taipei Mission President Stamps, and I haven’t talked for about a year...about time to call him up again!).

As any newsreader knows, China is becoming an economic superpower. Heck, as any buyer knows...plenty of U.S. purchases are "Made in China," whether we are talking Hong Kong or China (but not Taiwan of course). China has recently bought up portions of companies with oil reserves in Alberta Canada, is working to create an Alberta-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, and bought up Canadian interests in Oil reserves in the Sudan when they became politically too hot for the Canadian oil company Talisman Energy.

But...did you know that China may become a "Christian" superpower? While America has been at the forefront of the Christian missionary movement for years (some of my cousins were Protestant missionaries in China in the pre-WWI days), other countries have begun sending missionaries to the United States (mostly Hispanic speaking missionaries). What if China started sending missionaries into the world rather than the other way around? Sound far fetched? Read on true believer...

In 1950, there were 2.7 million Catholics and 700,000 Protestants in China. In 2004, estimates place those numbers at 5.3 million Catholics and 16 million Protestants...and that is only those attending "State" churches. State Churches, or "Patriotic" Churches, are those run by the Communist government; i.e. they choose who can be the priest/pastor and who will be priest/pastor where. In contrast, there are an estimated 12 million Catholic believers, and as many as 35 million Protestant believers, who attend "street" or "underground" churches which are not under government control.

So, the question is thus:

1. Large growth in Christians in China in the last 50 odd years.
2. Increasing acceptance of religion in public life by the Communist party; as it transitions to a market economy, personal liberties, such as religious liberty, appear to be slowly winning ground.
3. Will this growth continue? While Stark’s wildly optimist LDS projections are not turning out, similar growth in China could result in as many as 100 million Catholics and 500 million Protestants in the China of 2050. Granted, this is only 600 million out of 6 billion (assuming no further Chinese population growth), or 10%...but that is a huge number of believers.
4. Rome used to be a large empire which persecuted Christians as the Chinese now persecute "underground/street" Christians. Could the tables be turned? Could China eventually become a massive Christianizing force in the world? Hm...

Also, whither the LDS faith in China? As an "American" Church...we certainly face an uphill battle. One, as "law abiding" we won’t send in unauthorized/illegal missionaries to set up street churches. Two, because we aren’t about to let China appoint and choose who the Bishops/Stake Presidents would be...we aren’t going to be considered a "Patriotic" church.


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