Cablegate: Growth, Change, Caution: Christianity in Shenyang

DE RUEHSH #0019/01 0410859
R 100859Z FEB 10 ZDK





E.O. 12958: N/A

SHENYANG 00000019 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: According to priests and expatriate
residents active in the local Christian community, there have
been few recent difficulties for registered churches, though
churches remain cautious in their activities. The Protestant
Church has seen rapid growth compared to the Roman Catholic
Church, but the latter remains active in social services.
Congregations in all denominations are becoming younger.
House churches and registered churches rarely interact.
Unofficial churches remain active in the city, with few
reported difficulties in recent years. End Summary.

Flocking To Church

2. (SBU) The number of Chinese joining Christian churches has
increased rapidly in Shenyang. According to Pastor Jiang
Zijin, head of Shenyang's largest Protestant Church, Dongguan
Church, Shenyang now boasts 150,000 Protestants, a third of
them living in the city proper. His church has added more
than 10,000 worshippers during each of the last three years.
Long-term-resident expatriates agree that the Christian
Church has seen explosive growth. The crowds are so big that
one local Christian Church now has two Chinese services every
Sunday and multiple Korean-language services. The Chinese
service PolOff attended was standing room only, and the
pastor made use of PowerPoint. He told PolOff more than two
thousand Chinese attend weekly. At a church in another
district, PolOff saw hundreds of worshippers coming out of a
Saturday service, and a congregant told PolOff there are more
than 10,000 members of the church. By contrast, according to
Fr. Joseph Zhang, a priest at Shenyang's main Catholic
cathedral, his denomination is growing only slowly. Zhang
reported there are about 100,000 Catholics in all of Liaoning

3. (SBU) House churches continue to attract worshippers. One
of our Christian locally employed staff (LES) estimates the
number of Christians worshipping at unofficial services is at
least equal to and is perhaps double the number attending
official services. An expat with some knowledge of local
house churches told PolOff of being at a meeting attended by
more than two hundred leaders of unofficial churches. The LES
said that congregants at the unofficial churches are a mix of
young and old.

4. (SBU) Pastor Jiang reported that 60 percent of registered
Protestant Churchgoers in Shenyang are elderly but that the
newcomers tend to be younger followers. He now organizes
special events for his college-aged and twenty-something
congregants. At the service PolOff attended at the local
Christian church discussed above, the congregation was
predominantly female and a good quarter of the congregation
was under thirty. Every Sunday afternoon the church hosts
fellowship for younger congregants. According to Fr. Zhang,
the Catholic Church has seen slow growth despite many new
young members. These young congregants are replacing an older
generation that has long been the majority of the Church.
While the Protestant and Catholic churches are experiencing
similar demographic trends, the rate of newcomers to the
Protestant Church is exceeding its "replacement rate" by a
much greater margin than is the Catholic Church.

Church And State Relations Improving...Somewhat
--------------------------------------------- --

5. (SBU) Fr. Jiang reiterated the oft-heard contention that
as long as the Church does not threaten the government or
stability and stays away from politics, it will be left
alone. He revealed, for example, that government and Public
Security Bureau (PSB) officers regularly worship in his
church, though this is not publicized. A local expat pointed
to a 10,000-person-strong fellowship event held last summer
in Shenyang's suburbs, which went completely undisturbed, as
further proof of a hands-off policy. Nonetheless, church
leaders and members remain cautious. Pastor Jiang
acknowledged there are red lines that he must avoid crossing
and that these are subject to change. Expats in the Christian
community said they must always be careful to avoid the
appearance of proselytizing.

6. (SBU) One Amcit expat acknowledged she hears occasional
stories of house churches being raided and people being
detained, but she could not point to specific incidents or
regions. According to our LES and a Korean expat here, house
churches are careful to remain small--with no more than
50-60 people attending an individual service. If the church
grows too big, it splits apart. It appears these churches are
not open to foreigners so as to avoid attracting unwelcome

SHENYANG 00000019 002.2 OF 002

attention from local authorities. Our Christian LES has not
heard of any raids occurring for several years.

7. (SBU) While foreigners are allowed to attend Chinese
Christian services, Chinese are not allowed to attend foreign
services. Thus, at a recent weekly fellowship for foreigners,
PolOff saw around 100 mostly African, Indian, and Pakistani
attendees and no Chinese worshippers. Our Christian LES
reported visiting this service once and was discouraged by
the African pastor from attending again. (Note: Our LES
believes foreigners may be more nervous about attracting
attention from the government as they run the risk of being
kicked out of the country. End Note.) At the Catholic Church,
however, Chinese interested in the faith, in learning
English, or in speaking with foreigners are able to attend
the English-language Sunday service; most are university
students. Despite laws prohibiting teaching of religion to
anyone below 18 years of age, Pastor Jiang says his church
now offers Sunday school classes to around 200 children of
his congregants. Our LES reports other local Protestant
churches doing the same.

Official And Unofficial Churches Not Playing Together
--------------------------------------------- --------

8. (SBU) Conversations with local religious leaders suggest
relations are good between churches of different faiths and
denominations but that there is little interaction with
non-registered "house churches." Fr. Jiang said he believes
members of house churches look down on members of
government-approved churches, seeing congregants at approved
churches like his as having "less authentic" faith and being
somehow co-opted by the government. The Amcit expats PolOff
spoke with said house-church worship was the most common form
of Christian fellowship five to ten years ago, but now they
primarily worship in official churches. A Korean expat with
knowledge of the house church community also worships
primarily at official churches. (Note: It is possible the
Korean expat is more connected to the unofficial churches
because of the heavy Korean presence in and influence on the
Christian community in the northeast. End Note.)

Serving The Community...In More Ways Than One

9. (SBU) Fr. Zhang, also executive director of the Catholic
Social Service Center (CSSC) of Liaoning Province, has
coordinated a number of activities, including support for
HIV/AIDS patients and education outreach, youth volunteer
works, support for rural communities, and support for migrant
workers. He receives little help from the government, though
the Religious Affairs Bureau has recognized the quality of
CSSC's work. He has also been prevented from registering CSSC
as an NGO, and many of the center's social activities have to
be done under other names to avoid the appearance of
proselytizing. Pastor Jiang told PolOff that he has plans for
engaging younger members of his congregation in community
service, though he did not expand on these plans.

10. (SBU) The Korean expat said a group of wealthy
businessmen in the house-church community have organized a
charitable group, some of whose members recently visited a
Shaanxi Province colony set up for people suffering from
Hansen's disease (leprosy). One of the group members owns a
popular Shenyang restaurant that, according to the expat,
remained closed on Sundays when it first opened. Because of
its popularity with government officials, however, the
restaurant soon began staying open on Sundays. In the
private rooms upstairs, one can enjoy a gospel performance
from a trio of waiters -- the most friendly to be found in
this district -- and the singing is followed by a brief
lesson. Downstairs the owner sometimes distributes gifts
bearing advice on how to live a happier life, and religious
icons are sold openly. The expat believes that the owner
maintains this level of freedom due to a combination of
wealth and political connections.


© Scoop Media

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