Christian China to convert the Middle East?

A couple of months after the event, I come across an interview with David Aikman, author of a widely well-recieved book on Christianity in China, Jesus in Beijing. Aikman’s book is one of a number that have emerged recently on the spread and development of Christianity worldwide, in the wake of Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christendom. Both authors rightly draw attention to a huge cultural shift underway which has gone grossly unreported in relation to topics such as radical Islam.

This is not to say that no-one noticed what was going on before; however, some older books on the subject tend to stress the “American Hegemony” aspect of the subject, especially in relation to Pentecostalism. David Martin, in his recent study of global Pentecostalism, crows that this approach (which criticised his work) has now been dropped completely. I think Martin is too dismissive here, but the model did have serious limitations.

But Aikman’s perspective has limitations of its own, as revealed in the interview. Aikman takes a triumphalist approach, in which a future Christian China is America’s ally and sets about evangelising the Middle East:

If Christians began to fill positions in China’s foreign ministry, strategic think tanks, and even high places within the government as a whole, China would become far less opportunistic about supporting any Middle Eastern group that happened to be critical of, or hostile to, the U.S. In addition, if China ever became open enough to be willing to permit Chinese missionaries to travel overseas, it would probably be supportive of efforts of Chinese missionaries to evangelize the Islamic world, especially the Arab Middle East. This, of course, would render China far less popular in the Muslim world as a whole and thereby far more likely to try to be “even-handed” in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute…China’s Christians tend to be very pro-American. They tend to support the war on Iraq and Washington’s support for Israel. They greatly admire U.S. religious freedoms and the vigorous functioning of democracy. Most are not naïve about American social and cultural shortcomings.

A lot of “ifs” here. With no sense of a time scale, we have Christianity being tolerated more, Christians getting into positions of power, to China deciding to follow an aggresively Christian foreign policy, even if that means dropping Middle Eastern allies. Aikman compares China to Rome during the time of Diocletian, when the final persecution ended with a Christian Roman Empire under Constantine in a very short space of time.

This is all possible, and a democratic China would of course be a good thing both for the Chinese and for the world. But why should Christianity and democracy go together? After all, the Christian Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek was hardly a good example. And the excessively authoritarian shepherding movement in the USA (which even Pat Robertson didn’t like) owes its origins to cell churches in China. And even if China decided that missionising the Muslims was a number-one priority and to hell with the oil, would they actually be able to?

Beyond this wishful thinking there is also dishonesty. Why are Chinese Christians so supportive of Israel? Probably for much the same reason that many Western Christians are: because God wants Jews to live in an expansionist state and provoke an apocalyptic conflict during which Jesus will return. How a Chinese foreign policy based on such premises would be either “even-handed” or helpful for anyone is somewhat unclear to me. But then, Aikman also provided a foreward for George Otis’s The Last of the Giants: Lifting the Veil on Islam and the End Time,  a book with a take on the Middle East that combines Hal Lindsey will General Boykin. On the back cover Aikman uses his status as a senior correspondent at Time magazine to promote the argument that demons control people through Hinduism, materialism and Islam.

4 Responses

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