- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The International Monetary Fund says the “Age of America” will end in the ash heap of history in 2016, give or take a year or so, to be replaced by the “Age of China.”

That’s when the value of the Chinese economy will reach $19 trillion annually, shading ours by a few billion in petty cash. A decade ago, the Chinese economy was only a fraction of the size of America’s. That was before we shipped our factories to China and the Democrats and Republicans in Washington discovered they could borrow money with abandon from the Chinese to finance FDR’s famous formula of “spend and spend, elect and elect.”

This news of imminent Chinese economic superiority - the triumph of Adam Smith over Karl Marx - should arm the old men in Beijing with the confidence to tolerate the growth of religious faith in their midst. But on Easter Sunday, the government turned the observance of Easter into the Chinese fire drill of yore and lore.

The frightened old men of Beijing dispatched swarms of cops, with enough sirens, bells and whistles to answer a train wreck, to an evangelical congregation in Beijing to round up 40 men, women and children on their way to a park to lift their voices in song and praise to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. No one can accuse the Chinese government of enforcing draconian law with a subtle hand. Subtlety is an ancient Chinese art as applied to Szechuan shredded chicken or pork with chef’s garlic sauce, the artist’s vision and the coinage of proverbs. But not to governing. “Peasants, like lobsters, release their essence only when heads are smashed.” Or something like that. Some of the proverbs are subtle, too.

Kathy Lu, a member of the congregation at Shouwang Church, told a correspondent for the Voice of America that many members of the church were arrested. “Around 40 were taken away,” she said. “Over 500 members were not allowed to leave their homes. One of the deacons returned to his home last Friday afternoon and the police came to ask him if he planned to attend the Easter Sunday service. He said yes, so the police said, ‘From this moment you cannot leave this house.’ “

China divides Christians into two categories, “official Christians” who worship unmolested in government-approved churches with government-approved theology, and “others.” The official government statistics put the number of “official Christians” at 15 million, but the growth of Christianity in China is a phenomenon of the hounded and persecuted, which by some estimates number 100 million. Some of these congregations, such as Shouwang Church, independent of other Protestant denominations, openly defy the government.

“As Easter is very important to us we must stick to our decision to worship outdoors,” Jin Tianming, the senior pastor of Shouwan Church, tells Agence France-Presse. “This is our uncompromising position and a matter of faith. If they arrest our followers, this is the price we are willing to pay.” This infuriates the Communist leaders, whose contempt for faith allows no understanding of it. Pastor Tianming’s remarks reflect the history of the Christian churches, which often — indeed, usually — thrive best in the face of official suppression. The old men of Beijing may soon be in a place to ask the ancient Romans about that.

The persecution of Christians, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, is growing as the evangelical churches grow ever more swiftly. “In the past five years, every year, the degree of persecution increased, of how many churches were persecuted, how many Christians were arrested, sentenced, abused or tortured,” says Mark Shan, spokesman for China Aid, which tracks religious persecution in the Middle Kingdom. “It’s a common phenomenon. Every year is like this.”

The Chinese government targets any group, religious or not, that looks like it’s growing. The persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement emphasizing, among other things, calisthenics and deep breathing in pursuit of “morality and virtue,” came to the attention of the world a decade or so ago. The Chinese ambassador to Washington invited me to lunch one day to make sure I understood how evil his government imagined Falun Gong to be. “Do you know,” he asked, “that Falun Gong does not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?”

“Well,” I asked, “is it now the policy of your government to recognize that Christ was divine?”

He answered with a rueful frown. “We will talk now of other things.”

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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