The article “This US church with expansion in its DNA wants to open a temple in China” appeared yesterday on CNN.
The “US Church” is obviously The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that is still considered a US Church, even if most of its members now live outside the US.
In the title of the article the name of the church is not mentioned, not even one of the traditional nicknames, like LDS Church or Mormon Church, but it is simply called “this US Church”.
The article is about the recent announcement made by President Russell M. Nelson that the Church is planning to open a temple in China.
On April 5, during the final session of the faith’s General Conference, church President Russell M. Nelson announced that one of its new temples would be in China.
President Nelson, who has long-standing ties to Shanghai, was careful in how he described the temple that will be established in China.
“In Shanghai, a modest, multipurpose meeting place will provide a way for Chinese members to continue to participate in ordinances of the temple … for them and their ancestors,” Russell M. Nelson told his audience.
He noted the church’s legal status in mainland China “remains unchanged”: it is not legally recognized and it will not send missionaries to that country.
“In an initial phase of facility use, entry will be by appointment only,” he said. “The Shanghai Temple will not be a temple for tourists from other countries.”
The announcement of a temple in China, and the surprise with which it was received, reminds me of the temple built in the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) long ago.
In November 1968, Elder Thomas S. Monson, at the time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, promised LDS members in then Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) that “every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”
The promise included the blessings of a temple, an important part of Latter-day Saints worship. Many Latter-day Saints in the GDR regarded that comment as a prophecy, which at the time, seemed unlikely because the irreligious Communist government of the GDR had a long record of hostility toward organized religion.
In those days, few Latter-day Saints were allowed to travel outside of the GDR to attend temples in Switzerland and elsewhere, and even fewer could afford to do so.
However, seventeen years later, Thomas S. Monson returned to participate in the dedication of the LDS Temple in the city of Freiberg in the GDR.
That surprising result, a miracle for many, was at least in part the consequence of the way church members in Germany followed the 13 Articles of Faith of the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches its members everywhere to lead Christ-like lives of faith, virtue, compassion, and integrity as indicated in those Articles of Faith.
The 12th Article of Faith, more specifically, states that members of the church should obey, honor and sustain the laws of the land and be good citizens, including in countries like the old Communist German Democratic Republic or the current People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese State is officially atheist, and the tens of millions of Party members are barred from holding religious beliefs.
Despite a constitutional commitment to religious freedom, only a handful of faiths are permitted to operate in China, each under umbrella organizations with strong links to the Communist Party. Buddhism and Taoism are considered domestic faiths, while the others are foreign religions, with varying histories in the country. The State Council says it is “open” to foreign organizations, but only if they respect China’s sovereignty.
In practice, this means that religious bodies’ first loyalty must be to the Communist Party, not a foreign Church leadership, because the Chinese government is very suspicious of religion as a vehicle for potential political opposition.
The CNN’s article explains that,
As far as non-official faiths go, the Mormon Church is perhaps the gold standard for such a group in China. Current and former members, as well as outside observers, agreed that the Church is scrupulous about following Chinese law and avoiding anything that could be seen as proselytization.
Nee contrasted this with “other forms of Protestant Christianity or evangelical traditions coming out of the US, who have a much more aggressive or underground strategy for spreading the faith…
“Marcelo Gameiro, a Church member living in Shanghai, said that he does not talk about the church “because it is against the law.””But I don’t hide (that) I am a member of the church,” he added. “When I was in Huzhou, I used to go to the Hangzhou branch, it took me three hours to get there, and people started to notice I was going somewhere every Sunday dressed in a tie, so I did tell them where I was going with no problem, I just did not preach the gospel to anyone.”
The long term vs. the short term
The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states that the Church will eventually cover the whole Earth.
“This gives both the church organization and the members of the church a kind of patient confidence that eventually every nation on earth will allow Mormon missionaries to proselyte and establish church congregations.
“Mormon doctrine also permits “baptisms for the dead,” allowing for the potential salvation of those already deceased, who can then “choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.”
This alleviates somewhat the need to spread the word of Jesus to people before they die, that has been stated as a motivation for some evangelical missionaries to take great risks in the name of saving souls.
This patience allows the Church to play the long game in China, confident that one day it will be able to bring its message to the country’s vast population…
“But it’s all about the long term vs. the short term. If we shared our beliefs in violation of Chinese law, a few people might join our Church and then the Church would be shut down and kicked out of the country.” (“This US church with expansion in its DNA wants to open a temple in China“)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in China Website
To help members of the Church and others to understand the special situation of the Church in China, a special website has been created that helps answer basic questions.
The following is the stated purpose of the website:
Many individuals from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while living in other countries. Chinese language congregations are now found in many countries.
Many of these Chinese members remain where they have been working or studying, but many also return to China and may not understand how they should comply with Chinese laws in relation to religious practice.
This website seeks to answer “Frequently Asked Questions” by PRC Church members outside China and by Church leaders who work around the world with those members. It gives needed basic information for PRC Chinese members returning to China, including whom to contact for information, attending Sunday Church meetings and encouragement to observe relevant Chinese laws. Also provided are links to online Church resources in simplified Chinese.
Over the years, the Church has built a strong relationship of trust with the People’s Republic of China by always respecting the laws and traditions of that country. The Church teaches its members in each country to obey, honor, and sustain the law, to be good parents and exemplary citizens, and to make positive contributions to society.
The Church takes very seriously the prohibition of proselytising or missionary work in China, following its own tenet of always respecting the laws and traditions of the host country. This includes making sure that no Chinese citizens join worship meetings.
“We have to ask to see if they have a foreign passport to attend,” said Jason, a lifelong member of the Church who worked in Shanghai for almost a decade until relocating back to the United State in 2018. “I have frequently been this person watching the doors and on many occasions I have sadly had to turn away Chinese citizens who wished to worship with us.” (CNN)
It will be interesting to see how things evolve and how long it will take for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to finally have a temple in China.