Features

The street protester & the man in the pew

International | ... what they have in common and what they don't

Issue: "Quayle's presidential bid," June 19, 1999

In the epilogue to Tiananmen, there is a fledgling connection between the democracy movement and China's growing body of Christian believers. A recent report from OMF International called the growth of the church in China "breathtaking." In many Chinese provinces, the number of Christian believers has tripled since the Tiananmen crackdown.

Ironically, many of the Tiananmen freedom fighters were unaware of the church's size, and the magnitude of its persecution, until they emigrated to the United States. Part of the separation was socioeconomic: Dissidents tend to live in large cities and are often elitist, intellectual, and atheist by tradition. The average Chinese Christian lives in a rural area and has not received an advanced education.

In China there is still very little contact between the dissident movement and churches, according to Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Yet the protester in the street and the man in the pew may have at least one thing in common, "a cry in their soul for the emptiness and repugnance of communist ideology," Ms. Shea told WORLD. Like the dissidents, churchgoers are also looking for organizational independence. Unlike the student organizers, underground churches are far from a political movement. They seldom organize against the government, even after state dragnets arrest hundreds of house church worshippers at a time.

Over time, the connection between China's disaffected political activists and its Christian minority may increase. Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous dissident, who was exiled to the United States in 1997, has attended the National Prayer Breakfast and has worked alongside Christian conservatives like Gary Bauer and House Republican Chris Smith to promote the plight of the church.

Wei Jingsheng and Harry Wu, together with Tiananmen Square activist Wang Dan, have presented awards to human-rights activists who focus on the plight of the church.

The June 4th Anniversary Committee and China Peace, a human-rights organization, honored Ms. Shea and New York Times columnist A. M. Rosenthal at the groups' 10th anniversary dinner June 4.

Also uniting secular dissidents and Christians is the need both have for the right to free association. Little-noticed government decrees imposed after Tiananmen enforced strict registration requirements on churches and other groups. Until groups are allowed to organize and meet independent of the government, according to Ms. Shea, progress toward freedom will be hamstrung.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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