22 April 2016

China's TSPM: Political Christianity, Sacral Architecture and Oil Money?

Let's hope there's more to their gospel than this.

In no way do I mean to defend the Beijing regime. While officially 'Communist' the CCP abandoned Mao's ideology almost forty years ago. Since then they have struggled to find an identity and have basically resorted to a form of Authoritarian Nationalism.

No one wants to return to the Cultural Revolution and under Deng Xiaoping the Chinese government embraced Capitalist reforms. Today, they greatly fear the internet and the means it represents to force open the doors of their society. With a huge population and complex society its fear underground movements. While China is often portrayed as heavy-handed and indeed can be, in some ways it's like the Wild West. In terms of finance and markets it's pretty chaotic and thus again there's a real fear of money coming in from the outside that works to foment subversion.

Beijing has permitted religion to flourish as long as it is under the auspices of government surveillance and accountability. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) is an umbrella designation and quasi-bureaucracy for Protestant churches. As long as they register and follow the guidelines they can construct buildings, sell books and run seminaries.

What Beijing fears is the underground church, believers meeting in secret and disseminating ideas and literature out of view. It is these people, largely Pentecostal that have earned the greatest ire and have felt the severest forms of persecution.

The TSPM churches have been experiencing something of a golden age and yet Beijing is beginning to look askance at some of their activities, influence and possible collaborations.

They don't like seeing skylines full of crosses. Even if the semiotic meaning hasn't been worked out, people intuitively know the tallest structures make a statement about a society. The TSPM Christians are also aware of this and are in some cases deliberately trying to 'claim' a city or neighbourhood.

Of course these claims are dubious as the buildings and crosses are extra-scriptural symbols and don't actually reflect the regenerative work of the Spirit. Cross-topped steeples represent a less than Biblical theology.

That said, there are undoubtedly some cities that have very significant populations of professing Christians. Beijing is fine with this but they don't want the social narrative to be taken over by these people. An abundance of crosses is subversive.

I would agree with Beijing but for totally different reasons.

Beijing is worried about money, Western and American money flooding their society, funding these churches, their activities and possible litigation.

They may have some justification for this fear, but this doesn't excuse the crackdown.

But it also doesn't excuse the churches and their leaders in engaging in political activity. The crosses are theologically illegitimate but even if they're valid, an argument can hardly be made that these symbols somehow are salt and light in Chinese society. Given China's history they probably just as easily represent Western Imperialism.

But then when the pastor and his wife are arrested they mysteriously possess almost $200,000 between them?

That is pretty suspicious and problematic on many levels. Is all this money above board?

Is this political? Or is this just plain old corruption and theft?

Is Beijing telling lies? Are these people innocent of all charges? How do they explain the money? I've heard no defense other than that they're being persecuted over the issue of crosses. While I don't doubt that's the case, there are still some items in need of explanation.

Now if they were part of the underground I could understand that they're not using bank accounts. That's still a lot of money, especially for the Chinese economy.

And yet the folks cited in the article are TSPM. There's no reason for them to hide their money. They've already acquiesced to the Beijing regime in order to have their buildings and denominational bureaucracies. At that point once they've capitulated to the state, illegal or hidden money appears very suspicious indeed.

What's it for?

We don't know. But it looks like it could be used to make trouble and sadly I must admit that's my suspicion.

Again that doesn't justify arrest, or the draconian sentence, but it also casts shame on the activities of some TSPM leaders and certainly their American backers.

China Aid while noble in intent is actually harming the witness of Christ by all but allying itself with the US Establishment. It's location in Midland Texas is also suspicious as it all but identifies itself with the one of the centres of the American energy industry. When one considers the nexus between US energy and CIA activities it's hard not to be suspicious.

Had China Aid decided to locate in South America, Europe or even Canada the perception would be different. As tensions between Washington and Beijing increase, the Chinese government is likely to grow increasingly irritated by such an organisation seeking influence within their country.

The Beijing government is wicked but so is Washington and the Church should never be calling on Babylon-Egypt for aid.

The Christians in China are suffering the Shapur Effect, refracted persecution resulting from their association with British, European and American colonialism. But in some cases the church in China is inviting it by associating with Beijing's enemies and seeking their aid.

I mourn for these people that have been locked up, even if they were engaged in dubious financial and political activities. But I lament (in general) the direction the church in China seems to be headed. American Christianity is doing its best to export its heresy.



  1. The BBC article you linked states that the husband and wife had embezzled money from their congregation. Given the circumstances, that's plausible. Corruption is endemic in all sectors of the Chinese Communist Party and state apparatus. There's no reason to believe state-sanctioned churches are immune.

    From the government's perspective, when this pastor openly resisted the removal of crosses from church buildings, he betrayed their trust. They expected this from the underground church but not the TSPM. The harshness of the sentence in this particular case may reflect that.

  2. It's interesting to combine the distrust of modern Chinese Christians, with the early forms of Christianity brought by Syrian Nestorians to such cosmopolitan centers as Chang'An. They remained a benign presence, though not terribly strong (numerically). I hope the Underground continues to prosper, and learns from this scandal (if it's truly that): Don't trust the Americans.

  3. Yeah I don't know if Beijing is telling the truth... is it corruption that he's getting nailed for? Was he allowed to embezzle funds but then when he didn't follow the rules, then he got nailed? Or is the corruption charge altogether false as I'm sure many will say? I don't know.

    The Nestorian story has utterly fascinated me for many years. It's a very interesting and yet largely unknown/forgotten chapter of Church History. At the same time you can look into the expansion of Manichaeism which followed the same Silk Road paths and lasted even longer. The fall of the Tang and its cosmopolitanism spelled their suppression and doom. Nationalism is a curse to all.

    Of course the later revived Christianity under the Mongols was of a different character and far less attractive. It's always intriguing to think about how Christendom at one point considered an alliance with the Mongols to crush Islam.

    I tremble a bit for the Church in China. Pentecostalism and Dominionism seem to be the driving forces.