China? The boom in Christian conversions has tracked the booming economy as people seek meaning in their lives that neither Communism or capitalism can provide.
Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.
Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.
“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.
“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”
China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.
By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.
“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
Interesting to see how the growing embrace of Christianity changes China. Would the government crack down if Christians begin to demonstrate a little too much independence? I think it a certainty. A totalitarian regime only tolerates religion if it is channeled to support it. The Greek Orthodox church and the Soviet Union, or the Catholic Church and Franco — both instances of the state using the church to keep the faithful in line.
The Communist government may eventually find Christians more troublesome than other dissenters and look to limit the growth of the Church even more. But Christianity has proven itself incredibly resilient in China and any move to stifle its growth may have the opposite effect and lead to an increase in converts.