Partnership not Persecution: A Modest Proposal for the Future of China and her Christian Intellectuals

Why the current spiritual awakening on Chinese campuses may offer China with its best hope for a future of peace and prosperity.

If China’s political leaders forswore persecution and instead looked to partner with Christian intellectuals committed to a ‘faithful presence’ theology, the implications for China’s future could be earth-shaking.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD | Senior Editor

Obama’s current visit to China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and his call for improved human rights in China at the same time when Chinese officials are in the midst of a crackdown on both student protests in Hong Kong and student-filled Churches in Beijing has thrown a media spotlight on the future of Christianity in China among its young intellectuals. (See, The rise of Christianity in China and Cracks in the Atheist Edifice.)

The Great Wall stretches for over 4000 miles, nearly as wide as the current divide between China’s government and her Christian intellectuals.

While the government has worked hard to erase public memory of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, images of crowds and tanks continue to haunt Chinese officials, especially in light of the global phenomena of social media driven revolution. As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Political analysts have speculated that the government crackdown is a reaction to the protests across the Middle East, which leaders here fear could encourage similar uprisings.”

Since university students played a key leadership role in those protests, it is only natural to assume that Christian university students are a potential threat to political stability in China. However, as the number of Christians in China begins to surpass the number of communist party members, the broad spiritual awakening on Chinese campuses could actually offer a bright hope for peaceful engagement of Christian intellectuals in the future of Chinese culture-making. (See, Vibrant Faith Among Future Chinese Culture Makers: Christians Now Outnumber Communists, especially on Campuses.)

By working against a new generation of Christian leaders on many of China’s leading universities, the Chinese government may actually be working against the very intellectuals who might become their strongest allies against an Egyptian-style revolution.

A Call for ‘Faithful Presence’ Among Chinese Christian Intellectuals

While some Chinese Christian intellectuals may indeed choose to embrace “power-based” approaches to culture-making, many espouse the “faithful presence” advocated by University of Virginia Christian public intellectual James Davison Hunter. Based upon Jeremiah’s prophesy to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, Hunter calls for Christians to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”[1] (See, CT’s excellent interview with James Davidson Hunter below.)

While written for the American cultural context, Hunter’s ‘faithful presence’ theology clearly applies to China’s current political situation as well.

Hunter’s faithful presence approach to culture-making emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. As Hunter asserts in his Oxford University Press volume To Change the World:

“If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”[2]

While Hunter wrote ‘To Change the World’ for the American cultural context, his ‘faithful presence’ approach to culture-making is clearly applicable to China as well.

The presupposition that the goal of Christian intellectuals is regime change is as mistaken as it is foolish. Christians intellectual leaders primary concern is only that “the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[3] They serve to remind God’s people to follow the scriptural admonitions to: (1) “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,”[4] and, (2) pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.”[5]

Do you not need such citizens to make China great?

A Call for Restraint Among China’s Government Officials

Sadly, the current government crackdown could force Christian intellectuals into the unenviable position of choosing revolution over cooperation. As former Wheaton College professor Dennis Ockholm asserts: it is not Christians but governments who force the church to choose between “Christ Against Culture” and “Culture Against Christ” positions. [6] The last thing the Chinese government should do at this time is force their Christian intellectuals into this a position of cultural opposition.

Crackdown or Cooperation? Police usher worshippers onto bus at the site of a planned outdoor prayer service led by the Shouwang Church so popular with Christian intellectuals and top university students

Instead, I would propose that the Chinese government pursue a different strategy altogether. When Jerusalem’s first century political leaders first faced the powerful social-disruption often caused by Christian spiritual awakening, their initial instinct was a crackdown similar to current events in Beijing–incarceration, inquisition, and threats.

However, Gamaliel—a wise and honored leader—proposed a different strategy: let the Christians alone. He said in essence, “If the Christians are wrong, then their movement will eventually collapse on its own. However, if they are right and we persecute them, then we may not only find ourselves on the wrong side of history, we will be the ones who lose in the long run.”[7] Sadly, Gamaliel’s counsel prevailed only the briefest season when Jerusalem’s leaders quickly returned to their reign of terror—a reign that only served to strengthen and spread Christianity across the Roman world. Still, Gamaliel’s counsel is very much in keeping with the wisdom of China’s ancient tradition of the responsibility of each regime to act virtuously toward their citizens lest they lose their Mandate of Heaven to rule.

Two hundred years of Christianity in China have only proven the wisdom of Gamaliel’s counsel concerning Christianity in China. When Mao Zedong made it his personal mission to eradicate the one million Christians in the Middle Kingdom, the intense persecution he sponsored only served to strengthen and scatter Christianity throughout China. Today there are no less than 87 million Protestant and Catholic Christians in China, and no reason to believe that their numbers won’t continue to grow.

A Partnership for Peace and Prosperity

If China’s political leaders forswore persecution and instead looked to partner with Christian intellectuals committed to a ‘faithful presence’ theology, the implications for China’s future could be earth-shaking. Under-girding Communist egalitarianism and Confucianism ethics with the soul-strengthening power of authentic Christian spirituality could result in exactly the kind of revolutionary society the communist party first envisioned when it came to power.

Contrary to current Beijing policy, the specter of 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square is the best reason NOT to keep Christian intellectuals at arms length.

Such a synthesis might even form the foundation for the same kind of greatness that supported American society in its earliest days. The United States was not founded as a ‘Christian nation,’ so much as an unusual fusion of Christian ideals and Enlightenment intellectualism. America’s Christian/Intellectual synthesis (now nearly completely abandoned) helped form one of the strongest nations in history.

Might a similar synthesis be key to China’s future peace and prosperity?.

The World’s Next Great Nation

Western civilization is cracking under the weight of a rampant materialism made possible by our own failure to produce Christian citizens. It is a moral failure we invited upon ourselves by jettisoning our own Christian/Intellectual synthesis. And it is the same materialism that now threatens to devour China’s youth as well.

The moral strength provided by genuine Christian intellectualism could help shape the People’s Republic of China into the greatest nation on earth.

Yet in your very midst is the one community who might yet possess the key for a different future for China. Don’t destroy them. Embrace them. Foster an ongoing dialogue between government leaders and Christian intellectuals. Trust will be hard-won on both sides. But with so much at stake, it is trust that simply must be forged. Perhaps invitations to include top international Christian intellectuals might eventually enrich the conversation. [8]

No matter who the conversation partners might be, they need to listen carefully to one another in order to find the peace and prosperity so desperately desired by Christians and Communists alike. Who knows what fruit such a conversation might bear?

Who knows what a great nation might emerge from such a partnership?

 

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Faithful Presence

James Davison Hunter says our strategies to transform culture are ineffective, and the goal itself is misguided.

Interview by Christopher Benson in Christianity Today

Over two decades have passed since Allan Bloom’s famous polemic, The Closing of the American Mind, shook up the American academy. The time is ripe for another shakeup. Enter James Davison Hunter, whose latest contribution, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World(Oxford), promises to shake up American Christianity. An endorsement for Bloom’s book applies just as well to Hunter’s: It “will be savagely attacked. And, indeed, it deserves it, as this is the destiny of all important books … Reading it will make many people indignant, but leave nobody indifferent.”

Hunter, professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, is author of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America and The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America’s Children.

To Change the World comprises three essays. The first examines the common view of “culture as ideas,” espoused by thinkers like Chuck Colson, and the corrective view of “culture as artifacts,” as recently argued by Andy Crouch in Culture Making. Both views, argues Hunter, are characterized by idealism, individualism, and pietism.

Hunter develops an alternative view of culture, one that assigns roles not only to ideas and artifacts but also to “elites, networks, technology, and new institutions.” American Christians—mainline Protestant, Catholic, and evangelical—will not and cannot change the world through evangelism, political action, and social reform because of the working theory that undergirds their strategies. This theory says that “the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals—in what are typically called ‘values.’ ” According to Hunter, social science and history prove that many popular ideas, such as “transformed people transform cultures” (Colson) and “in one generation, you change the whole culture” (James Dobson), are “deeply flawed.”

The second essay argues that “the public witness of the church today has become a political witness.” Hunter critiques the political theologies of the Christian Right, Christian Left, and neo-Anabaptists, showing that unlikely bedfellows—James Dobson, Jim Wallis, and Stanley Hauerwas—are all “functional Nietzscheans” insofar as their resentment fuels a will to power, which perpetuates rather than heals “the dark nihilisms of the modern age.”

The third essay offers a different paradigm for cultural engagement, one Hunter calls “faithful presence.” Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. “If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world,” Hunter writes, “it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”

Christopher Benson, a writer and teacher in Denver, Colorado, spoke with Hunter about To Change the World. Benson’s work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, Books & Culture, Christian Scholar’s Review, Image, and The City. Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, assisted in the interview…

CT: How does your paradigm of cultural engagement differ from the others?

JDH: All the paradigms speak to authentic biblical concerns. Yet the desire to be relevant to the world has come at the cost of abandoning distinctiveness. The desire to be defensive against the world is rooted in a desire to retain distinctiveness, but this has been manifested in ways that are, on one hand, aggressive and confrontational, and, on the other, culturally trivial and inconsequential. And the desire to be pure from the world entails a withdrawal from active presence in huge areas of social life. In contrast to these paradigms, the desire for faithful presence in the world calls on the entire laity, in all vocations—ordinary and extraordinary, “common” and rarefied—to enact the shalom of God in the world.

Christians need to abandon talk about “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” and “changing the world.” Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care—again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.

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[1] The Prophet Jeremiah: chapter 29, verse 7

[2] Hunter, James Davison.  To change the world: the irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[3] The Gospel of Matthew: chapter 6, verse 10

[4] The Apostle Paul’s Letter to Titus: Chapter 3, verse 1.

[5] The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to Timothy: Chapter 2, verse 2. (See also, 1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7)

[6] “Culture against Christ,” Evangelical Theological Society, San Francisco, November 1992.

[7] The Book of Acts: Chapter 5, verses 33-39

[8] Conversation partners as diverse as James Davidson HunterMiroslav Volf, Vishal MangalwadiGeorge Weigel, NT Wright, etc.

 

Obama and Romney Weigh In on the Future of Higher Education

While the economy (as always) remains the primary concern for American voters, higher education has become a greater issue than any election in recent history. Soaring tuition, skyrocketing student debt, and plummeting unemployment rates among recent college graduates have put this issue near the top of the list of concerns for young voters (and their parents!)
Time Magazine’s 10/29/12 cover story “Reinventing Higher Education” provides first hand insight into how the two presidential candidates would solve the nation’s current higher education crisis.

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Don’t Stop Now On Higher Ed Reform

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President Barack Obama greets students before the Joplin High School commencement, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Joplin, Mo. (RICH SUGG / THE KANSAS CITY STAR / AP)

Michelle and I are who we are only because of the chances our education gave us. Great teachers and the chance to earn a college education with the help of scholarships and student loans were our gateways to opportunity. And today more than ever, the education we provide for our children and our workers is the key to a good job and a secure middle-class life.

I’ve always believed that education begins at home, with parents who take responsibility — who read to their kids, set limits on the TV and instill a lifelong love of learning. But there’s no substitute for a good school or the teacher who stands at the front of the classroom.

We know that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by more than $250,000. A great teacher can change the trajectory of a child’s life. That’s why, even as we faced one of the worst economic crises in history, I fought to keep teachers in the classroom. During my first two years in office, we worked with states to help save the jobs of 400,000 educators.

But we did more than just invest resources in our schools. We demanded reform in return. And for less than 1% of what our country spends on education each year, we spurred nearly every state to raise standards for teaching and learning. We did this by working with governors of both parties, because giving our kids the best education possible shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue — it’s an American issue.

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Demand Real Change In Higher Education

By 

Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney participates in a 6th grade language class at Universal Bluford Charter School on May 24, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA. (MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES)

My father had a favorite saying: “Nothing is as vulnerable as entrenched success.” When I think about the future of American higher education and its importance to our nation’s long-term success, his cautionary advice comes to mind.

We are rightly proud of our extraordinary universities and other institutions of higher learning. Many of the most important scientific breakthroughs occur in their labs, and young people from around the world flock to their campuses to study. For decades, we have known that these institutions were promoting inquiry, inspiring creativity and ultimately preparing our citizens for success.

But today our higher-education system faces serious challenges. During the last election, President Obama genuinely inspired young Americans with a promise of hope and change. On college campuses across our country, he promised an excited generation that he would help them. Four years later, those promises have turned to disappointments.

Tuition has increased by 25% — even faster than health care costs. The President added tens of billions of dollars in federal funding, and yet more than three-quarters of families now say they feel higher education is unaffordable. Total student debt has reached $1 trillion, and the average student who borrows now graduates with $25,000 in debt. Perhaps worst of all, these students are graduating into an economy in which only half can even find jobs that match their degrees.

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Presidential Debate: College as a Passion for Learning or a Means to a Paycheck?

A diminished sense of higher education’s purpose is a problem facing all liberal-arts institutions.

By George David Clark in the Chronicle for Higher Education

Neither candidate seemed willing to imagine higher education as anything more than a means to a credential
Rob Jenkins’s recent warnings about the tendency of politicians to reduce community colleges to “job-training centers” strike me as particularly apt in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s presidential debate. Despite their “passion for education,” neither candidate seemed willing to imagine higher education as anything more than a means to a credential.
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When President Obama spoke of community colleges’ preparing their students for “the jobs of today,” it was clear he meant simply a trade and a paycheck. Jenkins points out the flaws in that limiting vision in his most recent post to this blog, and I won’t rehash them here.
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I would like, however, to expand and complicate a point made by one commenter—that a diminished sense of higher education’s purpose is a problem facing all liberal-arts institutions and that it’s the customer who will ultimately determine whether the future of American colleges will resemble more a “track” system of job certification or a place to broadly explore the various fields of learning as a means of discovering and fostering the passions that sustain a career…
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Learning from the Best: An Interview with TV and Screenwriter, Chris Easterly

TV and Screenwriter Chris Easterly (Unnatural History, Click Clack Jack, The Shunning)

TV and screenwriter Chris Easterly is a graduate of the Act One screen and television writing program and the prestigious Warner Brothers Writers Workshop. He has written for Cartoon Network’s first live-action mystery adventure series Unnatural History, as well the screenplay for Click Clack Jack, and a new project, The Shunning premiering tomorrow night (Saturday 4/26) on The Hallmark Channel.

Emmy® and Golden Globe Award Nominee Sherry Stringfield and Danielle Panabaker Star in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie Chris adapted from Beverly Lewis’ best-selling novel. The Shunning is the retelling of some of the heartbreaking experiences of Lewis’ maternal grandmother in the Amish Community of the Old Order Mennonite Church.

Chris was given the job of adapting Beverly Lewis' bestseller into a viable screenplay

Executive producers Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr. and Maura Dunbar selected Chris to write the screenplay for Believe Pictures and Lightworks Pictures. Said Bird, “I chose to give a newer, younger writer an opportunity to write this film… We hired Chris …and he knocked it out of the park.” (See, Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Brian Bird.)

In celebration of tomorrow night’s premiere of Beverly Lewis’ ‘The Shunning’ I asked Chris a few questions about the film and about the greatest influences on his life and his writing.

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An Interview with TV and screenwriter Chris Easterly

THW: Yesterday Brian Bird told us how he specifically selected you to write the screenplay so he could keep his promise to his mentor, Michael Warren, to open doors for future writers.  What was that like?

According to Executive Producer Brian Bird, Chris' screenplay "hit it out of the park."

Chris Easterly: It was a great experiencing working for both Brian and director Michael Landon, Jr.  They are pros at developing story, so I learned a lot from them.

THW: Like what?

CE: I remember they suggested one scene in particular, and in my naïveté, I thought it might not work.  But after putting it in the script and seeing how it worked in the context of the whole movie, it really packed a strong emotional punch.

THW: What did you take away from that?

CE: (Laughs) It taught me I don’t know as much as I thought, or at least that my instincts aren’t always right!

Madeline L'Engle's 'Walking on Water' shaped Chris' understanding of Faith and Art

THW: Okay, other than Brian and Michael, who are the people who have really influenced you?  Let’s start with books.

CE: Hmmm? Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L’Engle, Evangelical is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard; and God’s Fool: The Life and Times of Francis of Assisi, by Julien Green.

THW: Beyond individual books, any authors who have helped you over the years?

CE: Definitely!  Frederick Buechner, and Thomas Merton, in particular.  Also, G.K. Chesterton.

THW: You’re a TV writer, any TV shows really impact you?

CE: Yes, I really like The Shield, and The Wire, but I can think of more movies that actually influenced me: Rainman, Glory, The Empire Strikes Back, and Taxi Driver.

Chris lists an eclectic range of influences from 'Rainman' (1988) to the artist formerly known as 'Prince.'

THW: That’s quite an eclectic list.

CE: There are also musicians like the late Rich Mullins, and even Prince who have helped shape me as an artist.

THW: Any more?

CE: I could go on all day, but that’s enough for now.

THW: Okay, going back to The Shunning, I understand you got to be on set for the film shoot. What was that like?

CE: It was amazing seeing it all come to life.  The local North Carolina crew was exceptionally professional and cool.

THW: Did you enjoy the whole movie “scene”?

CE: Absolutely! It was fun to just loiter on set, behind the video monitor, in the wardrobe trailer, at the craft services table.

With Danielle Panabaker (center) and Emmy Nominee Sherry Stringfield on set, it's too bad we didn't get to see Chris in a cameo with Amish garb and beard.

THW: Any regrets?

CE: I tried to get onscreen as an Amish extra, but they wrapped early that day.  Oh, well. Maybe next time…

THW: I would have loved to see you in Amish garb.

CE: Me too!

-THW

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Don’t miss The Shunning: Saturday (April 16): The Hallmark Channel at 9pm (8pm Central).

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Other Two Handed Warrior TV Writer and Screenwriter Interviews:

Sheryl J. Anderson (Charmed, Flash Gordon, Dave’ World)

Dean Batali (That 70’s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hope and Gloria)

Brian Bird (Touched by an Angel, The Shunning, Not Easily Broken)

Kevin Chesley (The Hard Times of RJ Berger)

Jessica Rieder (Leverage, Hawaii Five-O)

Monica Macer (Lost, Prison Break, Teen Wolf)

Michael Warren (Happy Days, Family Matters, Two of a Kind, Step by Step, Perfect Strangers).

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Also:

Chris Easterly on ‘Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God’ – Icons of Heroic Celebrity:

Randall Wallace (Braveheart, Secretariat) Speech to President Obama and World Leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast

Fresh story ideas a tough sell in Hollywood, by Nicole Sperling

Joel and Ethan Coen Spill Their Screenwriting Secrets to the Hollywood Reporter