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In Theory: China narrows religion rules to ‘maintain social harmony’

New rules established last month in China may mean legal consequences for religious citizens there, according to ucanews.com, which calls itself "Asia's most trusted independent Catholic news source."

The amended Regulations for Religious Affairs place an emphasis on "sinicization," a policy of modifying religions to align with Chinese culture, reflecting efforts by President Xi Jinping to stem foreign influence on the country, the website reports.

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Arrest, confiscation of property, large fines and the closure of unregistered churches are among potential penalties prescribed by the updated law.

"To consolidate the socialist regime and maintain social harmony, we must manage religion well," said an author of a 2016 article in the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. "Certain anti-Chinese forces still use religion to subvert, Westernize and split China."

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Q. If religions that are traditionally Western are seen as a threat to Chinese culture, what does that say about the cultural stability of Western nations in favor of religious freedom?

The ultimate stability of any nation or culture depends on whether or not its moral foundations are based on who God is and what he commands. God exists eternally without change, his laws are unalterable truth and his word stands forever. To deny him is to embrace fallacy and is a sure path to self-destruction.

In the case of the current Chinese government it is apparent that Christianity is seen as the primary threat. And, in fact it is, because the Chinese government has usurped the place of God in its citizens' lives, and God will not be mocked or replaced. Western democracy, in contrast, does not attempt to dethrone God or deter its citizens from serving him. This places it on a more enduring foundation.

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Psalm 2 records God's scoffing at the nations who deny him and his son Jesus Christ, whom he has appointed to be King of Kings: "He will speak to them in his anger and terrify them in his fury, saying, 'But as for me, I have installed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain' … Do homage to the Son, that he not become angry, and you perish in the way. For his wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in him!"

The Bible teaches us in the Book of Acts 5:38-39 that a religious leader of Israel named Gamaliel cautioned his peers against their persecution of Peter and the other Apostles' preaching of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ: "in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."

Any nation that keeps fighting against God is ultimately doomed to crumble. Any nation that repents and turns to him will be blessed.

Pastor Jon Barta

Burbank

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The Chinese have recently added elements of Western-style capitalism and material prosperity to their rich history. What they haven't adopted is any semblance of democracy. At the moment President Xi is being openly touted as "Emperor for life," the limit of two terms in office eliminated.

There should be no illusions that the current regime will concede any cultural ground to the West. And why would they? In the case of religion, over 85% of Chinese practice some form of native folk religion — Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, or others, often intertwined — or are irreligious. Roughly 2.5% are Christians.

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Christians frustrated with the lack of popularity of their beliefs in China should look at the early history of their own religion. A forbidden, oft-persecuted sect arising in a minor province on the Roman Empire's fringe became the world's dominant religion.

This success did not come by bucking the Empire. Remember — "Render unto Caesar ...". Nor did it happen by early Christians telling people how to live or by being exclusionary, but rather by offering something radically new: unconditional love.

U.S. democracy rests on Constitutional protections of the rule of law and of our personal liberties, a stable system so far. A perversion of the idea of religious liberty is now being pushed by the current regime, with the support of Christians seeking freedom to believe for themselves but not for others, turning their backs on their own history.

Roberta Medford

Atheist

Montrose

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There is a perpetual tug-of-war between religion and culture. Each influences the other, and at the same time critiques and holds the other accountable. Because of this latter dynamic, religion and culture have often wished to be free of each other, to have a pure form of themselves, unbothered by the other. But history has shown that such complete separation is virtually impossible.

From religion's point of view, we can see this tug-of-war from the most ancient of Judeo-Christian times. A great amount of ink in the Torah is devoted to keeping the identity of "God's people" set apart, establishing strict purity codes and rules governing interaction with foreigners, and often repeating the warning, "do not be like the other nations … be holy." But intermarriage, eating each other's food, borrowing each other's rituals and other prohibited practices continued.

Likewise, despite admonishments to the earliest Christians not to "belong to this world," ancient Roman and Greek political structures, cultural forms and philosophical systems were inextricably interlaced into Christianity as it formed and remain to this day.

From culture's point of view, China's fears of Western religion are not unfounded. European and American colonialism of the 18th through 20th centuries went hand in hand with missionary efforts, where both churches and schools founded in new countries perpetuated and enforced Western 'civilization,' the word often becoming a weapon of oppression and dominance.

However, their current crackdown on religion seems to be an attempt to close the wrong barn door. "Westernization" now takes place far more through consumerism, technology, the Internet and the movie industry than it does through religion. Indeed, Western religions themselves are in a battle with these same forces over social mores and the values of the faithful.

"Maintaining social harmony," as the Chinese Communist Party wishes to do, is never so easy as "maintaining social uniformity," something which is impossible to do. Religion and culture always have and always will influence and interfere with each other, in uncontainable ways — and since either without the other tends toward abuse, this is probably to the resounding good of us all.

Amy Pringle

St. George's Episcopal Church

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La Cañada Flintridge

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Christianity is indeed a competing message to Chinese autocracy. It is President Xi's new exemption from term limits and the enshrinement of his philosophy ("socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era") in the country's constitution that suggests a competing one-man cult of personality — namely Christianity — would need to go.

But the search for religious freedom has been a driver of world history, from the Pilgrims to Palestine, before and since. Cults and caliphates spring up in places that seem ready for them and, in a Darwinian irony, recede into history when the fitter faith survives. China's crackdown on Christianity will not kill it; instead it is a recognition of Christianity's power.

I'm reminded of Quebec's successful push (and France's attempt) to keep French pure via the Charter for the French Language and Loi Toubon, respectively. Both are an acknowledgment that an invasive culture (in this case, English) has taken hold. But the barn door is open and the horses have escaped. Or whatever the French word is for horses. Who even knows?

As western nations have embraced their own forms of "sinicization," organically accepting what they want of Chinese culture and leaving the rest, it is useful to understand that Western nations remain exporters of their culture, from Marco Polo onward and, while it didn't work too well for Magellan, it will not be a government crackdown that kills Christianity or Western culture.

Marty Barrett

Board President, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills (UUVerdugo)

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