It’s Easter weekend (复活节 in Chinese), and unlike the predictable annual mainstream media goofiness (like Jesus walking on ice floes or Shroud of Turin “discoveries” or “albatresbians”), here’s something from sinologist Dr. Brent Fulton that’s (a) informed, and (b) actually has a legitimate holiday tie-in. :)
The Chinese Communist Party’s basic stance toward religion has not changed since it was spelled out in 1982 with Document Number 19. Commonly referred to as the “three designates” formula, this policy restricts religious activities to approved locations, requires that they be conducted by approved clergy, and limits their scope to the geographic sphere in which a given member of the clergy is permitted to practice. In theory, the policy limits the growth of the church by rendering itinerant evangelism illegal, severely restricting the number of leaders qualified to serve in churches, and effectively placing a cap on the number of churches that can operate in any given city or region.
Ever since Document 19 was released, activities neither specifically permitted nor specifically prohibited have existed in this gray area. Although Party policy has basically not changed for more than 25 years, and although the types of incidents mentioned at the outset of this article continue to occur, that gray area has expanded significantly. Without discounting either the reality of incidences of Christian persecution or their seriousness, it is remarkable how much Christian activity takes place on a daily basis that is technically not allowed yet goes unchecked.
Where, then, is the tipping point? Why are some (in reality, most) gray-area activities ignored, while others are attacked with a vengeance? There are a handful of triggers that, if present in a particular activity or situation, will greatly increase the likelihood of official intervention.
More from Dr. Fulton on the nature of the relationship between the Chinese gov’t and Chinese Christians can be found here:
Other related stuff: