Hurting the Feelings of the Chinese People
Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings? What an absurd question; of course you have. We all have. This month, my attention was grabbed by a proposed amendment to Chinese law. This amendment would make dress or speech that “hurts the feelings of the Chinese nation” illegal, and punishable by prison time or fines. Offend the wrong person, hurt the feelings of someone in power, and you could end up in jail.
This same month, China Partnership has been praying for the exact opposite: that Chinese Christians would not nurture (often justified) frustration or resentments, but hold fast to forgiveness. When they are wronged, when someone offends them, we are praying they would radically and completely forgive. (Although I’m not addressing the issue fully in this short article, I do want to pause and briefly note that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.)
This amendment would make dress or speech that “hurts the feelings of the Chinese nation” illegal, and punishable by prison time or fines. Offend the wrong person, hurt the feelings of someone in power, and you could end up in jail.
There are many reasons Chinese believers, in particular, might need to forgive someone else. Recently, instead of charging them with illegal worship, Chinese officials have chosen charges that make Christians look like cheaters and thieves. In the last few years, the most common legal charges against Chinese believers and church leaders have been for “fraud” or “illegal business operations.” Officials levy these charges because churches, including small, poor house churches, collect tithes and use these finances to provide for their pastors and workers, as well as to give charitably in their local communities. Many pastors have faced this; members involved in overseeing their church’s finances have also faced these types of charges.
It is unlikely that unbelieving friends and relatives – not to mention future employers or society at large – understand the nuance of the charges. All they see is that this person has been labeled an untrustworthy thief. Not only has a Christian had to face persecution and pressure, but because they followed biblical practices, their good name and reputation has been sullied. There is not really much they can do about it.
Some more things Chinese Christians might need to forgive? They are unable to worship openly and freely. Especially in recent years, when they try to do this outside of government churches, or seek to evangelize and let others in their area know about the hope of Christ, the pressure has come. A year of this would be frustrating. But think of a lifetime stretching out in front of you like that. It would be easy to nurture anger and resentment at your lack of access to a simple, basic human right.
While I’ve started by listening dramatic, government-led offenses, for most people, the biggest opportunities to practice forgiveness happen in more intimate circles. Father sins against daughter; wife against husband; pastor against parishioner. There is no lack to the normal strife and tension of living in a world full of other sinful people – including within your own church and family. For most people, including Chinese Christians, these daily hurts and legitimate wounds offer plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness.
The biggest opportunities to practice forgiveness happen in more intimate circles. Father sins against daughter; wife against husband; pastor against parishioner. There is no lack to the normal strife and tension of living in a world full of other sinful people.
Real Forgiveness Has a Cost
The proposed amendment, the one that would make “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” punishable by law, has been panned by many Chinese netizens. Many Chinese have pointed out this law could easily be misinterpreted and applied for all sorts of ridiculous offenses, according to the whims of anyone with a modicum of power. It’s easy to mock a law that asks an entire nation to nurture their grudges and foster offense. That is only setting oneself up as a victim, and is clearly using victimhood as a cudgel with which to pummel someone less powerful.
Yet real forgiveness has a cost. What about when it’s not just your feelings that have been hurt? What about when you yourself have been violated, your good name lost, your reputation shattered, and your most cherished relationships broken? In that case, a little resentment seems more than reasonable; it feels just. But the Bible says we are to: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
While China might make offensive clothing illegal, Christians are to wear humility and meekness. Every believer is called to radical forgiveness, because Jesus has forgiven us of much greater wrong.
While China is considering making offensive clothing illegal, Christians are to wear humility and meekness.
I’ve seen and heard of many examples of Chinese Christians who love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. I’m sure there are also countless examples of Chinese house churches and believing families who have been torn apart by bitterness and unforgiveness. Forgiveness is hard; very likely, it is the most difficult of all the commands Christ has given us. None of us have the power to forgive in and of ourselves. It is probably even harder when your entire society is encouraged to hold onto grudges and hurt feelings. But believers are to walk in Christ’s footsteps, and forgive.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
So that’s my prayer today: may Chinese Christians have courage and power to lay down their anger and their righteousness. May they hold tight to Gods’ justification of them, and may they forgive, radically and completely, even when it costs them everything. And as they do say, may they become the aroma of life to a nation that – perhaps – is beginning to realize the rankling cancer that holding onto hurt feelings can create inside one’s soul.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband pastors a small PCA church.
Pray for Chinese Christians to forgive those who sin against them.