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.

Mel Gibson, Jim Caviezel in “Satanic Attack”?

So much has been written about Mel Gibson’s movie version of Anne Catherine Emmerich’s The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ that I didn’t think I would have much to add, except my hope that its Aramaic dialogue might at least make people curious about Syriac, a dialect of Jesus’s language still spoken by Assyrian Christians from parts of Turkey and Iraq (although now in decline).

However, an email has reached me urging me to “pray” for the film. The email goes on a bit, but to summarise, it claims to report a message from a friend of Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus in the movie. This person knew Caviezel at Washington University, and apparently Caviezel has told his friend that

There are strong non-Christian movements which have arisen in recent days who are extremely hostile towards the Gospel.There are lies being circulated among the media pertaining to the film. And there are even special interest groups among “Christian” leaders who are trying to remove certain aspects of the movie to better align themselves politically which would remove significant truth from the movie.

Caviezel and Gibson have faced death threats, and this is all, of course, a plot from Satan.

As ever, one looks for confirmation for these dramatic statements from some creditable source. A couple of sites devoted to “prayer requests” carries the same email, one attributing it to Rod Handley. This seems to fit: Handley was working at Washington University at the time Caviezel was there, but it’s odd that this name is not included on the email forwarded to me or on the only other on-line source. The email also claims that when asked by his friend what he had learnt by playing Jesus, Caviezel had replied “Two words: Unquenchable Fire”: an enigmatic quote which appears to have been lifted from an interview he gave to CBN.

So, what is this “significant truth” that will be taken out of the film? If it’s so important, why doesn’t the email writer tell us what it is? And who are the mysterious “strong non-Christian movements”? Could be something completely innocent. Or it could be an anti-Semitic reference to deicide and Jews.

The email contains a couple of other odd claims. One is that the film is “not allowed” in France. I can find no reference to this at all anywhere else – indeed it seems that the film is opening there in April. I assume the current anti-French climate, along with reports about how France views religion has led to the belief that Robespierre has risen from the grave.

The other odd statement is that Aramaic, being widely spoken among Muslims, will show them “The Gospel”. This is not quite right, although Aramaic, Arabic and Hebrew do have a number of words that are mutually comprehensible.

UPDATE (29 Feb): The claim about The Passion in France appears to have something to it after all, according to the latest Sunday Telegraph:

French cinema chains are refusing to distribute or screen Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ because of fears that it will spark a new outbreak of anti-Semitism. France is the only European country where there is still no distribution deal for the film.

UPDATE (3 March): Reuters reports that The Passion will be distributed in France by a Tunisian Muslim:

Tarak Ben Ammar, a major film broker with business ties to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Bersluconi, told interviewers the film stressed forgiveness and blamed the Romans rather than the Jews for Christ’s death…Ben Ammar, who produced Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” and Roberto Rossellini’s “The Messiah” in the 1970s, has also been involved in the production of such popular films as the “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” series.