For Christianity, over the past two years, many major events had a profound impact on its own development, among which Donald Trump’s electoral defeat and the COVID-19 pandemic were undoubtedly the two most important ones, and their impact has continued to this day.
Trump's defeat has many effects. Yet, for Christianity, undoubtedly the decline of Christian conservatism and evangelicalism that he represents in society may be the major blow. This can be observed in the religious policies of his successor, Biden. Biden's interest in Christianity is clearly a far cry from Trump's. This is not because Biden is a Catholic rather than a Protestant evangelical, but for the reason that Trump's presidency was the result of a combination of forces in American society, not a single religion's vote that propelled him to the presidency.
The status of Christianity in the Biden administration shows that he will not make Christianity the core of his concerns. Biden probably cares more about broader American centrism, such as the economy. In the Sino-US competition, trade friction has become a topic, while Christianity has lost its place and attention in the past.
For some churches in China, from a certain perspective, this means that Christianity has lost a platform for internationalization, and international resources in both political and economic aspects.
The pandemic has an impact from a domestic perspective. This influence is not only negative for Christianity in China, but also for Christianity throughout the world as a whole. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has two radical ramifications. One is the restriction of on-site gatherings, which leads to a decrease in the sense of identity and commitment. The other is the pressure of the economic downturn, which results in diminished funding to the Church.
Let's look back and reflect on the past year, applying addition and subtraction to list the footprints of Christianity in 2021.
Let's look at subtraction first.
1. The social influence of Christianity was declining.
2. The megachurch was shrinking.
The compression of physical space and the economic downturn had inevitably rendered the megachurch unable to maintain the scale and the influence of the past. This meant that it was also losing influence on the Chinese Church by manipulating teachings.
The decline of the big Church implied that the voice of Christianity in society might also weaken. It was basically the big Church that gave it a voice in the past. Therefore, it was possible that Christianity might start being silent for a long time.
3. The mobility of church members had increased, and the stability of the Church had weakened.
The economic downturn and online gatherings caused believers to have a lower sense of identity with the churches they were part of. Coupled with the income change that the economic downturn brought about, there would certainly be a change in the composition of believers, so the mobility of church believers would go up. This signified that the stability of the Church was gradually weakened and was constantly being reorganized.
4. The pastors' community was in decline.
The instability of the Church had changed the career trajectory of the pastors who had relied on the Church in the past, which not only entailed the dimming of their sacred halo but also suggested that their economic income had fallen sharply, bringing them the pressure of survival. Just like the dropping number of believers, preachers were also rapidly diverted. It might become a trend for them to change to secular professions.
Let's look at the addition now.
1. The small church had more space for activities.
In the past, the big Church dominated the doctrine and had the right to speak for orthodoxy, and the small Church had to be attached to the big Church. To date, as the big Church declined and its control became less powerful, the free space for the small Church began to expand, which helped to increase the vitality of the small Church.
2. The number of free believers began to increase.
A group of believers with ideas came out and began to seek their own path of faith and resources for growth. They were active in thinking, and occupied cyberspace to freely group, communicate and have heated discussions. They were no longer satisfied with the teachings and concepts of the traditional Church, and their versatile understanding of faith and the gospel was not in line with the Church anymore.
3. Free small groups grew in number.
Small groups of free believers who were equal members kept growing and are believed to become mainstream in the near future. Meanwhile, they were also the bearers of the new blood of Christianity henceforward. It was the belief framework they constructed that would provide us with new Christian blood and all-around thinking about faith.
For the past year, and even for a foreseeable future, Christianity in China will be in a state of silence. However, just like the seeds that are being bred under the earth in the cold springtime, behind this silence, hope is slowly growing. And when the sun warms up, flowers will surely flourish.
- Translated by Shuya Wang