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The dawn of China's civil rights era

"The dawn of China's civil rights era" Continued...

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

-with reporting by Emily Belz

Following Esther

The issue of worship reflects a deeper struggle for China's future

By Promise Hsu

The choice of Esther for Sunday sermons [transmitted to members online] during the period of outdoor worship is symbolic. Prior to being forced out of the previous rented premises in early April, Shouwang's Sunday sermons had been around the Acts of the Apostles for a few months. That is about the beginning and expansion of the Christian church. And Shouwang was planning to plant churches in other parts of the city or the country.

The book of Esther tells a story of how God delivered the Jewish people from a genocide in Persia plotted by the empire's highest official. The immediate reason for the plot was that a Jew in the Persian capital refused to kneel down and pay honor to the highest official.

In the case of Shouwang, the issue of worship place is a reflection of a deeper struggle over the legality of the non-state-owned church in China. The government under the atheist Communist rule of course does not want any independent religious organization to exist and expand.

But more than 30 years after [economic] reform was put in place, it looks impossible for the authority to control everything. It has considerably shifted its ground on the economy, having to allow non-state-owned companies to exist and expand. Now, it is increasingly faced with the continued rise of the non-state-owned churches, which it has long considered belong only to "the Western culture."

A few weeks or months might be still too short to solve the decades-old problem. As a matter of fact, there have been different opinions about the Shouwang governing committee's decision to worship outdoors even within the house church. Some people held that the church could worship as separate groups indoors (since Shouwang currently has dozens of family Bible study groups and fellowships) and some others warned that it was too sensitive to hold outdoor services at present when what was called "Jasmine Revolution" was spreading from North Africa to Asia.

On May 31, the Shouwang governing committee sent emails to church members announcing Pastor Song Jun, Minister Jiang Lijin, Deacons Ji Cheng and Yuan Yansong left Shouwang Church due to disagreements over outdoor worship. For more than once, the Shouwang governing committee has issued open messages explaining the outdoor worship decision. In a letter, it said, "We ask the Lord to preserve the unity of our church, that despite of our different viewpoints, we may still be able to submit to and bear with one another."

As for how long the outdoor worship will last, Shouwang Church said that if the problem of worship place could not be solved, they would continue to worship outdoors until Christmas 2011. They would reassess the situation and devise new plans for the coming year. That means Shouwang seems to have been prepared for a longer road ahead. In the history of the Christian church, a year or even a decade would not be a long time. But the next few months or even the next few weeks might witness another turning point for the church in a country whose ancient name is, surprisingly, "God's Land."

-Promise Hsu is the English pen name for a writer who has been a member of Shouwang Church since 2006

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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