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Christianity still growing in China

07 November 2014

A FEW quick notes on the rumblings after the Roman Catholic Church's Extraordinary Synod on the Family: it was deliciously nostalgic to see Cardinal Burke complaining that the Church was now "a rudderless ship", as he did in an interview with a Spanish religious weekly.

It reminded me of Lord Habgood's observation that the people who complain about "lack of leadership" almost always mean that there is leadership which is going in the direction they think wrong. I suppose this is a variation of the ethical view that holds that it is always different if we do it: it isn't leadership unless we do it.

Ross Douthat, in The New York Times, continues his attack on change in a more thoughtful way: "The question of divorce and remarriage is among the issues where the Catholic claim to a special authority, both contra Protestantism and in its own right, has historically been strongest, because it's place where the binding force of tradition and ecclesiastical stewardship of the same have helped Catholicism hold a line that's very clearly rooted in scriptural, indeed gospel authority."

 

THE only two specifically Anglican stories this week were unimproving: the resignation of the former Archbishop of York Lord Hope from various appointments in the wake of the Cahill report on the abuse of children by Robert Waddington, the former Dean of Manchester. This was the only honourable course, I think, after the judge found that "Our conclusion, having heard his [Lord Hope's] evidence, is that his concern for the welfare of Robert Waddington seems to have been paramount in his response to these allegations."

Yet it deserves to be remembered to his credit that when there was only one honourable choice, he took it.

The other story, picked up by The Sunday Telegraph some time after it appeared on these hallowed pages (News, 17 October), appeared to be a case of life imitating St Gargoyle's: a lay canon of Manchester Cathedral had lost his appeal against the police who had confiscated the rifles and shotgun from his home after an argument about the placement of an electrical socket escalated.

The other party in this disagreement was the vicar. The disarmed canon, Adrian Golland, took a robust view of clerical authority. "Despite the ill feeling, Mr Golland ignored a request by the archdeacon to stay away from St Paul's. 'I was not prepared to be excluded from a church I had attended some 15 years longer than Rev McKee,' he said."

In the spirit of those Americans who point out after every school shooting that if only teachers were heavily armed, these things would happen differently, I'm tempted to observe that if only all elderly members of the congregation were armed, there would be a great many more pews still in English churches.

 

THE ECONOMIST had a long and thought-provoking piece on religion in China. It is one of the most under-reported stories of the past 20 years that millions of adults have converted to Christianity (and, to a lesser extent, Islam) in the former atheist countries of China and the Russian Empire.

"There were perhaps 3m Catholics and 1m Protestants when the party came to power in 1949. Officials now say there are between 23m and 40m, all told. In 2010 the Pew Research Centre, an American polling organisation, estimated there were 58m Protestants and 9m Catholics.

"Many experts, foreign and Chinese, now accept that there are probably more Christians than there are members of the 87m-strong Communist Party. Most are evangelical Protestants.

"On current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China's Christian population the largest in the world. Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire."

This led me to a delicious fantasy in which some Chinese dictator became the new Constantine, and in a thousand years' time there would be melancholy Anabaptists claiming that everything had gone wrong for Christianity when it became the state religion of China.

The most fascinating nugget was the way in which conversions to Christianity in China have moved up the social scale as they have become more urban: in the 1980s, it was the hope of miraculous cures in the absence of any functioning health system in the countryside which spread it. Now it is spreading among educated urban types who see in it good for society.

The hardest to forget was the claim that "In 2000 Jiang Zemin, then party chief, and himself a painter of calligraphy for his local Buddhist temples, said in an official speech that religion would probably still be around when concepts of class and state had vanished."

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