Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, December 31, 2018

A Brief Look Back at 2018 

See entire post on Facebook.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Early Rain Church 

The first few minutes of this video (after the introduction) features the Christian church movement in China, particularly illegal churches.

There is a lot of talk now about the changes in the government's approach to Christians, especially family church Christians. Much of what I read or hear in the western media is so full of hyperbole that it doesn't reflect what is actually going on. But this report is worth watching, because I think it is mostly accurate, although it could be misleading if you don't know the situation in China. One thing I contradict. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs says that the Communist part is concerned because there are more Christians in China than there are party members. I don't think anyone knows. The estimates by Western Christians are never less than a hundred million, which seems large to me. But even the China Daily estimated fifty million. So let's say, for the sake of argument that the number of Christians exceeds the number of party members. Does that really mean that Christianity is more popular than the party? Not necessarily. In fact, party membership is competitive. If the party accepted into membership everyone who wanted to join, I'm pretty sure they could outnumber Christians quite easily.

But I suppose you could say the same thing about the churches. Church membership wouldn't be called "competitive," but it does require belief--they don't just take anybody. The Communist Party can't require belief. because they don't believe in anything. They still use words like "Marxism," but today's "Communists" are anything but Marxist. Even the main propaganda papers (China Daily and Global Times) admit this. They talk about "updating" Marxism. Updating means changing. The reason you change something is because you don't like it the way it is. Nobody in China likes Marxism (I mean real Marxism). So the party uses a different method. In the universities, students vote for each other. To join the party, they must be chosen by their peers. So the Party could easily have many more members if they accepted everybody.

The real problem, I think, is that family churches are technically illegal, and beyond the control of the Party. The official government policy does allow small groups involving a family and a few friends to meet for prayer and Bible reading without being registered. So most illegal churches refer to themselves as "family churhes" in order to consider themselves as fitting with in the rubric of this policy. But that self-designation approaches the ridiculous when a "family" church has hundreds of members. So realistically speaking, the vast majority of so-called "family" churches are actually small illegal unregistered churches. The Party has always smarted at this reality, but has decided to ignore them as long as they don't get too big. But how big is "too big?" In the past, more then thirty people was considered problamatic in the countryside. But in Beijing, it was not uncommon at all to see a church with several services, each with a hundred to a hundred and fifty worshippers in attendance.

That is changing. "Family" churches that previously rented office space for their church activities are facing trouble now, because their landlords are being told not to rent to them. I talked to a sister the other day who told me that her "family" church used to have three services, each with about 100 people. Now they have divided into almost 30 cell groups, each with about 10 members.

But this piece features a large family church in Chengdu that was shut down. That's not new at all. Anyone who tries to build a large "family" church knows that it's only a matter of time before they wil have to go the way of history. Furthermore, the pastor of Early Rain Church who was arrested had a history of political activism. He talks about "faithful disobedience." This is atypical, to say the least. Chinese Christians are the most apolitical people I have ever met. They may be sympathetic with this guy's views, but they would never do what he is doing. So this little segment is interesting, and largely factual, but not representative at all.


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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Is Ukraine really the victim? 

Why is Russia always assumed to be the villain? The problem with Ukraine goes back to the huge earthquake that reverberated through the Communist world back in 1989. It began with a little known event in April of that year.

I will never forget it. I was washing dishes or something in my apartment, and the news was on in the background. I heard a brief news item that Hungary was dismantling the wall that separated Hungary from Austria. I was stunned. I thought, "That isn't going to work. Now people from all over Eastern Europe will just take a vacation to Hungary and walk into Austria." And that, is of course, what happened. Two years earlier, in June of 1987, Reagan had stood at the Brandenburg Gate and issued that famous line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The State Department told him that he could in no way say something so provocative. They took the line out of his speech. Reagan put it back in. The State Department was insistant that he must not say that. But Reagan was more insistent. He said it, and CNN played that line over and over and over again. Gorbachev did not tear down the wall, but when people began pulling it apart in the end of 1989, he looked the other way.

In China, the 1989 revolution manifested itself in the Tiananmen protests which resulted in the party leaders bringing in the army to clear the Square. It was a disaster and a tragedy for the students, but not a defeat. I have often said that the students "lost the battle but won the war." But the significant thing about the "earthquake" as far as China was concerned was that there was radical change, but the Party stayed in power. Not so in Russia. The pre-1989 "Russia" was actually more than Russia, but mostly Russia. We always called it "Soviet Union," but the full name was Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Russia was only one of those republics, but by far the largest one. I don't remember the exact chain of events, but basically what happened is that Boris Yelsin became president of the Russian Republic, which at that time was just one of the Soviet republics (although by far the largest one). Boris Yeltsin is sometimes now viewed and regarded as a bumbling idiot, but in fact, he showed extraordinary leadership in several key decisions/events which brought an end to the Soviet Union. The first was that the Russian Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party, which made him the effective leader of the Soviet Union. But what is the Soviet Union without Russia? It was completely ridiculous, but it worked. Boris Yeltsin resigned from the Communist Party (of the Soviet Union) and outlawed Communist activity on Russian soil.

Without going into all the details of how the Soviet Union fell, suffice it to say that it happened very fast, and so one by one, the former republics became independent countries. But as you can imagine, because of having been a part of the Soviet Union for many years, several of them, especially Ukraine, had lots of Russians in them. Also, if you look at a map, you can see that Ukraine is strategically important. I heard once where Putin said that if Ukraine became a part of NATO, Russia would be indefensible. So Putin obviously had a strong motive to keep Ukraine as a tributary of Russia.

Flash forward to the events on the Maidan in 2014. Ukraine was ruled by Viktor Yanukovych, who was viewed both as corrupt and as a stooge of Putin. Should the protesters have been satisfied with the calling of a new election? Perhaps. But that wasn't good enough. They were determined to overthrow his government. That presented a problem for the Americans. Americans tend to be sympathetic with the overthrow of repressive regimes. But they are queasy about supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected government. Anyway, it happened. At the time I was told that the first act of the Parliament was to downgrade the Russian language. This was done to emphasize that Ukraine was not going to be dominated by Russia. But it was a stupid thing to do, because eastern Ukraine is largely populated with ethnic Russians, and they were more worried about being dominated by Ukraine than by Russia. So civil war (strongly aided by Russians from Russia with or without official sanction) errupted, and Ukraine has not been the same since.

So where does Putin fit in all of this? When Crimea separated from Ukraine and became a part of Russia (an event I do not have time to go into right here), I went to YouTube and watched Putin's address to the Kremlin. He stressed that Russia had no designs on Ukraine, but that Crimea was actually part of Russia, so it's return was appropriate and normal. Subsequent events have caused me (and others) to question his sincerity on that point. He had quite clearly given his assent to support for rebels in Eastern Ukraine which obviously comes from Russia.

So now we have another incident between Russia and Ukraine. Given the history, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Putin is up to his old tricks. But we should not be so hasty. If we examine this event by itself without burdening it with the history, does the evidence really show that this is an unprovoked attack? Watch the discussion, and see what you think.


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