Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, October 20, 2008

I had to go to BICF yesterday, because I had to return a book to the church library. I was looking at it the other day and discovered that it was due in March of 2004. It was overdue. Saturday night Claire called me and asked where I was going to church. I told her, and she said she wanted to go with me. I told her that I might not be able to get her in, and she might be coming a long way for nothing. BICF is a fellowship for foreigners living in China. Local people are not allowed. The issue, of course, is that in China, religion is regulated by the government. The government does not care if people go to church. And foreigners are allowed to attend Chinese churches, or to have their own churches if they want to. But the government is very touchy about anything that looks like foreigners controlling religion for Chinese people. I don't invite people to BICF, because I don't want them to feel bad when they are rejected. Mainly for this reason, I don't go myself, either. I need to be part of a church where everyone is welcome.

Basically, BICF is forbidden to admit Chinese citizens. So you are supposed to have proof of foreign citizenship in order to be admitted. But they do make exceptions for people who have lived outside of China for an extended period. I'm not sure why, but I suppose it is because Chinese people who have been inculturated into American society are seen as fitting in better than the uncultured masses. Claire has lived outside of China for many years; she clearly qualifies for the unofficial "exemption." The problem is that Claire had no connections at BICF, so I was pretty sure she would be treated like any other Chinese citizen.

Well, the guy at the door was picky today. I had my University ID with me, but he would not let Claire through. He said, "Are you a couple?" Couldn't help wondering why he asked that--must be another one of those exemptions. I was tempted to find out, but I thought better of it. I don't mind trying to break a rule once in awhile, especially rules like this that fly in the face of everything Christians are supposed to believe in. But I didn't want to be dishonest. I said, "She's a friend." Well, that was the death nell. "You cannot bring your friend."

I have given up trying to comprehend the psychopathology of someone who calls himself by the name of Christ, and then volunteers to stand at the door of a church and keep Chinese people out. Of course it isn't the first time in history that such things have happened. In the old south before the civil rights reforms, Black folks faced discrimination too, although it was a little better for them, because most churches would let them in as long as they sat in the back. In the International churches here in Beijing, they are not allowed in at all (again, unless they have been to the States and been inculturated into American society).

It's a sensitive issue. Every time I discuss this with BICF folks, they always protest that they have no choice; the PSB will shut them down if they admit Chinese citizens (not sure, but I think the PSB probably looks the other way with regard to the exemptions I mentioned). But in my opinion, they are far to willing to do the PSB's dirty work for them. I should emphasize that there is certainly nothing illegal about what they are doing. And since I don't go there, it really isn't any of my business. If a bunch of foreigners want to get together once a week and play church, why should anyone complain? But think how different Beijing would be if some of those folks could find grace to break out of their cloistered environment and move to China. No reason not to; the Three-Self churches in Beijing are bilingual, and they welcome foreigners. The one I go to actually has a separate English service. It was set up for foreigners, but you don't have to be a foreigner to go there. Lots of university students also attend.

Hudson Taylor took his message of hope into the interior of China a hundred and fifty years ago at a time when foreigners were treated with extraordinary suspicion. Over the years, he recruited hundreds of missionaries and baptized thousands of Chinese believers. So here's a question: If Hudson Taylor were attending BICF, do you think he would volunteer to stand at the door and keep Chinese people out of church? I just can't picture it. Certainly organizations like BICF have played an important role in ministering to international folks. But it may be time to start phasing out these elite churches, which operate in a manner so completely foreign to the Christian message.

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