“War on Christians” in China

John L. Allen Jr., one of the most esteemed reporters on the Catholic Church, recently wrote “A reminder from China that the ‘War on Christians’ is truly global.” However, Mr. Allen was unable to provide the most basic details of the alleged persecution, and seems rather puzzled about it himself. But that did not stop him from proclaiming, “China is a danger zone for Christians.”

 

The basic charge seems to be that 60 people have applied to the Czech Republic for political asylum claiming that China is persecuting them for being Christian. Mr. Allen notes, “Chinese press reports tried to cast doubt on whether the asylum-seekers really are believers, suggesting they’re simply illegal immigrants using religion as a pretext.” At present, there is no evidence to the contrary. But rather than wait for some evidence, Mr. Allen proceeds to write about a number of unrelated cases. But these are also suspicious, some seeming to stem from the Cultural Revolution.

The lede involves China’s alleged removal of crosses from the roofs of 4,000 churches. This is a rather bizarre way to persecute Christians, and suggests some type of building code violation. While it may be a form of religious harassment, Mr. Allen fails to make the case.

China is quite capable of real religious persecution, rather than mere symbolic acts, as shown by its relations with Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong. Even in these cases, there are two sides to the story. If China wanted to persecute Christians, there would be far more than a handful of alleged cases. Mr. Allen says there are 111 million Christians currently in China, with an additional 10,000 converting every day. His alleged persecutions total far less than 100. If China were really a danger zone for Christians, far more than a tiny fraction of one percent of Christians would be affected. Nor is there any indication that Christian literature, media, or social media is being affected, as is commonly the case when China targets some entity.

Christians have had a martyr complex for nearly two thousand years. Tertullian, one of the Church fathers, said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Preaching that thousands of Christians chose martyrdom rather than give up their beliefs was a major selling point. But historians have shown that the vast majority of these claims were fraudulent. Romans did not persecute people for worshipping Jesus (until Diocletian, who mainly destroyed books and buildings). Some Christians were punished for disrespecting local gods, thus threatening the welfare of that locality. But the total of all such cases was still a very small fraction of Christian boasts of martyrdom. Mr. Allen seems intent on maintaining this Christian tradition with his pale yellow journalism.