Thursday, July 4, 2013

Is China Slowly Inching Towards Allowing Unrestricted LDS Activity? Two Mormons Featured On Chinese Television

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walks a political tightrope in the People's Republic of China. Although the Chinese government permits LDS activity, it is highly restricted. The Chinese government does not permit direct proselytization of its citizens by foreigners. Furthermore, worship services for foreign-passport holding Latter-day Saints are separate from worship services for Chinese citizens, whose branches are directed by their own local priesthood leaders. In addition, Church members are counseled not to mail religious materials to China or carry scriptures or other Church materials into China beyond a copy for personal use, and Latter-day Saints are advised not to discuss or promote the Church while traveling in China. The LDS Church has even gone so far as to establish the Mormonsandchina website to provide a common clearinghouse of information on dealing with China and to prevent misunderstandings. Church leaders last met with Chinese government officials in August 2010 to better regularize Church activity in China.

The scrupulous respect shown towards the Chinese government by the LDS Church, in keeping with the Twelfth Article of Faith which proclaims that "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law", may be paying off. On Mormanity, Jeff Lindsay, a resident of China, discloses that two members of his branch, one of three branches in Shanghai, were recently featured on significant television broadcasts. First, there was a recorded TV broadcast about Jeff Olsen, who actually just returned to the US: This was a lengthy story giving positive attention to a foreigner who has made a difference in China. And second, Debra Roundy, who teaches English with her husband at Jiao Tong University through BYU's Kennedy Center program, was on TV for a five-minute segment that highlighted her involvement with local Chinese people as she shares her passion for dance. She works with many local Chinese as they practice and perform group dances.

Since the Chinese government seeks to actively control information being transmitted to their citizens, the appearances of two Mormons on Chinese television would be most unlikely if the Chinese government was actively opposed to Mormonism. Consequently, this is a strong indication that the Chinese government may be slowly and incrementally relaxing their attitude towards Mormonism. If this trend continues, we could see the larger urban areas of China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Canton, opened to unrestricted LDS activity within five years, leading to the possible announcement of a temple in China within 10 years. At this point, this is strictly conjecture, but don't forget that the government of what was then the German Democratic Republic allowed a temple to be built on their soil while they were still officially "Communist"; the current LDS President, Thomas S. Monson, was instrumental in making that happen. Five years later, the Berlin Wall fell. I suspect the Chinese government would prefer a more orderly transition.

This is why I was enthused when Barack Obama selected Jon Huntsman Jr. to serve as our ambassador to China. Huntsman is not one of those Mormons who locks into missionary mode and is obsessed with pounding on doors and spamming every living creature with the "Golden Questions". Instead, Huntsman preferred to soften Chinese hearts and provoke Chinese interest by exemplifying Mormonism through his behavior FIRST. All too often, we look upon other people as prospective converts first and human beings second; Huntsman is more mature and understands that taking the Amway approach to "sharing the Gospel" can drive people away from Mormonism. Too bad Huntsman chose to cut his mission short and run for President; who knows what he could have accomplished had he remained. Perhaps the Lord inspired Barack Obama to select Huntsman as ambassador in the first place.

Why is China important to us? Because as Latter-day Saints, we believe that one of the prerequisites for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is for the Gospel to be carried to the ends of the earth. Not just transmitted through the airwaves, but PHYSICALLY carried by authorized messengers of the Lord. This requires missionary activity in China as well as in other remaining places not penetrated by the Church, such as the Middle East. Perhaps the removal of the Islamofascist President Morsi by the Egyptian military may be a precursor to the return to the Church to Egypt, and its subsequent spread throughout the Middle East. At the same time, we must continue to defend the Gospel where it is already established. This may be a tall order, but the Lord does not give us a task save He prepares a way for us to accomplish it.


J-T said...

I'm an LDS member living in Shanghai and personally know the people cited in this post and I am very familiar with the situation discussed.

Please do not speculate on "unrestricted" LDS activity in China. China Communist Party is nowhere near ready to allow freedom of religious practice. The Chinese govt is very concerned with propagation of ideas and thoughts that they do not control, especially with organizations that have the ability to organize people to action. This places religions in a special category of restriction which will never allow churches to operate with autonomy under the current regime.

As for the appearances of LDS members on Chinese TV, this means absolutely NOTHING. We have an LDS member who was a finalist on a Chinese reality show, one who is married to a Chinese movie star, one who has organized a non-profit, others in high level US gov positions (not Huntsman), and various businessmen in high level positions in China. I myself have been on Chinese TV, interviewed for newspaper articles, and spoken at dozens of events to Chinese around China. All of this has NOTHING to do with the Church and at no-place is the church or any connection ever made reference to. The Chinese media and society constantly has contact and integration with thousands of non-Chinese and simply by being here we become part of it.

The situation out here is much different than you might think and speculation won't help.

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