August 25, 2008

Unmasking China

The Olympics have passed us by for another four years. And, if you are like me, the impression left by Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Nastia Liukin, and those 15,000 absolutely amazing Chinese Chinese Opening Ceremony performers have already begun to fade.

But there were other stories; stories I hope you do not allow to fade; stories that had to do, not so much with athletic achievements or entertainment, but about the realities of life in China. A few reporters actually dared to take the watching world behind the Chinese scenes, reminding us that not everything in Beijing was exactly as it seemed. The city – for better or for worse – put on its best Chinese New Year’s mask, as it were. Phony (but beautiful) buildings were erected. Computer generated streetscapes were beamed in for the televised marathon, hiding slums and poverty. A little girl was pulled from the stage at the eleventh hour for having crooked teeth. Everything had to be (or at least look) perfect.

I suppose we could have a debate about what one should think about these various facades. Was it a political move, making China appear to be far more progressive and open than it really is? Or should we simply smile at the pretend buildings and the straight teeth and say ‘that’s entertainment’? I’ll let you be the judge.

But one thing cannot be ignored by those of us who are followers of Jesus. Despite how things looked in Beijing, China is not as open and free as the IOC, the Chinese organizers, and the vast majority of American news outlets would have us believe. There are still great injustices, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Here is just one excerpt, from the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail:

It's been a brutal Olympics for China's non-registered church. Just a snapshot of the crackdown happened in Beijing, where all major house churches were forced to stop meeting during the Games and most of their leaders were arrested or put in seclusion. That excludes the names on nearly a dozen pages of documented Chinese church arrests and assaults publicized by Canada's Religious Liberty Commission just before the Olympics.

That’s the reality we must never forget. For all the talk about the world coming together at the Olympics (no matter where they are held); and for all that there is to admire, learn from, and rightly enjoy about an event like the Olympics – we must remember that the world that we see on television is often very different from the reality … especially for the persecuted church. Pray for them.

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