Ms. M.W. shared this article with us, and I think it's so significant that I scarcely know where to begin to comment on it:
As I mentioned, I scarcely know where to begin, nor really, what this all might portend, but it is certainly grounds for some high octane speculation. Let us begin with what I suspect are the key paragraphs in the article:
"'Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country's religious policy. In the future, we will continue to boost the development of Christianity in China,' said Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
Wang said Chinese Christian theology should be compatible with the country's path of socialism.
"'The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China's national condition and integrate with Chinese culture'" Wang said at a seminar on the Sinicization of Christianity in Shanghai, part of an event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China."
And later these statements:
"A five-year campaign to promote Christian theology in China, launched in 2013, will provide theological guidance for church rostrums in China and will promote the positive and correct theological thinking with a range of publications, exchanges, discussions and evangelism.
"'This will encourage more believers to make contributions to the country's harmonious social progress, cultural prosperity and economic development,' Gu said."(all emphases added).
Note firstly that the article refers to the growth of Protestantism in China, and says little about the beleagurred Chinese Roman Catholic church, nor is there any mention of the Eastern Orthodox Chinese Church. One may, of course, appreciate why the Chinese should be "semi-officially" interested in forms of Protestantism, for in the case of Roman Catholicism, the teaching magisterium lies in Rome, and hence, its "theologizing" would ultimately lie outside the type of malleable "adjustment" of doctrine to suit "socialist reality" and "harmonious social progress" being sought. Additionally, Rome's opposition to abortion and birth control runs squarely counter to China's own compulsory birth control laws. In the case of Orthodoxy, again the teaching magisterium lies ultimately outside governmental control, even of the most harsh kind, as the Soviets discovered. For the Orthodox, patristic and liturgical tradition are the measures of "positive and correct theological thinking."
Which brings us to Protestantism. From the historical point of view, Protestantism naturally commends itself to the Chinese situation, with its promotion of individual responsibility and work ethic, and even, in some Reformers' hands, the promotion of a generally "capitalist" system while at the same time advocating a strong moral and social order, duty to responsible governments, and so on. Protestantism, which also spawned so many different denominations, would also be more malleable to the kinds of "adjustments" being spoken about in the article, and indeed, during the 19th century spawned various "social gospel" movements and generally backed progressive or left-leaning political agendas, even, in a few instances, some significant stabs in the direction of "liberation theology" that might be appealing to a mixed economy state like China.
The real question is, what is the motivation here? I suggest - in my high octane speculation of the day - that the real motivation may be two-fold, one a domestic agenda, and the other, a geopolitical one. The domestic agenda might be being driven by the realization that eventually, China's Communist ideology simply does not afford the type of social cohesive power that religion does, and hence, the future cohesion of Chinese society might lie in some sort of broad amalgamation of the two, a kind of Sinicized "Social Gospel" approach. The geopolitical agenda, however, might be motivated in a view toward "evangelizing' this amalgamation to the Protestant world at large, and thereby - so they might think - extend China's reach and influence, and simultaneously "improving its image" in world opinion. In either case, the program being announced would seem to be a total one: a reexamination and "Sinicization" of all signal components and monuments of Christian doctrine, including some very ancient ones. In the long run, to make this program work, China will have to come to some modus vivendi with Roman and Orthodox Catholicism, and that will be a much more difficult task.
And finally, there is Islam, and here again, any notion that China would countenance fatwahs being issued by a fundamentally independent clergy is bound to be anathema, and China has to consider the long term implications of its emerging global geopolitical status vis-a-vis the Islamic world carefully. It would appear that China is adopting an approach that won't be greeted happily by radical elements in that world.
The bottom line folks, is that this is one to watch.
See you on the flip side.