In 1947, Carl F. H. Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was out with triumph. With its profound insights, the book made the American church at that time realize that the church had only paid attention to its own affairs and ignored social justice for too long. It was time the church changed itself and tackled Fundamentalism.
With a radical attitude, the American evangelical Christian theologian criticized the American church, which lost much influence and credibility at that time. He wrote that Fundamentalism had generated modern Pharisees and Levites, making a detour for the suffering people. He bluntly pointed out that when looking at the performance of fundamentalists, you would think that humanitarianism had lost from Christianity.
Dr. Harold John Ockenga, the pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, made a rousing call on the introduction page, "If the Bible-believing Christian is on the wrong side of social problems such as war, race, class, labor, liquor, imperialism, etc., it is time to get over the fence to the right side. The church needs a progressive Fundamentalism with a social message... It is impossible to shut the Jesus of pity, healing, service, and human interest from a Biblical theology. The higher morality of redemption does not invalidate moral consistency. "
In the spring of 2022, the incident of a Christian mother of eight chained outside in winter in Fengxian county, Jiangsu Province aroused public attention, indignation, and outcry. It was precisely because of the efforts of countless netizens who chose not to “forget, abandon, and give up” that the local authorities had to issue new notices which contradicted to the previous ones again and again.
The Xuzhou mother incident is of milestone significance. Its significance should not only be limited to society. Although the reversal of the incident has been driven by the conscience and goodwill of countless unknown ordinary people, including the participation of many Christian groups, on the whole, we Christian groups may have to admit: maybe we have just been concerned about our own affairs for too long and ignored social justice, and it is like a thorn which makes it necessary for us to revisit the heartfelt call of the Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Fundamentalism.
May the deep Xuzhou mother incident become a watershed to wake up today’s Chinese church’s “uneasy conscience”.
The Christian community’s reaction to the chained mother incident
Although the local authorities have issued multiple notices, the incident has not been finalized. Because there are still many questions that have not been answered, such as where is the real Li Ying?
Compared with the fourth edition of notice, in which three parties were punished, netizens ask how to change and stop similar phenomena. Most people who are silent often find it difficult to speak out their own voice, but countless netizens are forwarding the movie Blind Mountain which centers on the issue of selling women for marriage over and over again to express an attitude: because this is not just a place in Xuzhou, it is not just a matter of eight children and one woman who was locked in chains, and those who are “humiliated and insulted” deserve basic justice and humanitarianism.
Thankfully, there are many Christians involved in the incident. There are 70-80% Christians in my WeChat account. From the end of January to the present, almost every day from morning till night, the content accounts for 70-80%. Not only that, but I also saw dozens of Christians’ WeChat official accounts constantly questioning and appealing in the corner of their own weak self-media platform, and some Christians continued to discuss and question in the WeChat group.
Needless to say, many Christians don’t know or care about this matter. A Christian writer with whom I have been familiar with, said that no one in his WeChat circle of friends and his WeChat group discussed this matter.
At the same time, there are many frictions and quarrels between those who care about this matter and those who don’t. The differences are obvious: one side thinks that the church should not shield itself from caring for social justice. The side argues, “Imagine if these people are your brothers and sisters, can you still be so heartless and indifferent?” The other side thinks that these human tragedies are bound to happen in the fallen world, and we can only pray for this. In the end, they claim, “God is in charge of everything, just read the scriptures and practice spiritually. Let the outsiders do it in this fallen world!”
This time, a percentage of pastors and Christians also ask directly: Where are local Christians and churches and what are they doing in the face of these decades-long evils? I did not investigate the situation of Christians and churches in Fengxian County, but I do not know the details, and I do not dare to judge. However, Xuzhou has never been a weak area of Christianity. Recently, I also heard two Christians say that they, from Xuzhou, were ashamed of this. “This is what happened in Xuzhou, shame,” they added. Indeed, if Christians have done nothing in this matter, it will become a reality that makes us ashamed.
Some scholars have analyzed the tragedy of the chained mother in Fengxian and other places. The reasons behind this tragedy and the declining concept of feudalism are closely related to family forces: clan interests, face, family inheritance are greater than justice, law, and human conscience.
If local Christians and churches do not face, shout, or watch ahead like prophets, it will naturally damage the social image of the church. Of course, this is not only faced by local churches and Christians in Fengxian or Xuzhou alone, but our whole body of Christ needs reflection and repentance: our absence and indifference - blaming ourselves for sin, justice, and judgment.
What reflection should we have today?
So far, the mother of eight incident has caused many arguments and reflections among Christians.
Some Christians said, “This matter may not only be a question of justice, but I find that it is a social problem, not just an individual phenomenon, but is widespread everywhere. Not only in the remote and poor northwest but also in the relatively developed eastern coastal areas. Therefore, this is a persistent disease in a society. This includes polarization between the rich and the poor, extreme values, vulgarization of morality, and complete degradation of human nature. At present, the dilemma facing China is similar to the situation that Western missionaries had to make an overall assessment of China’s situation before they entered China. The problem to be solved must not only be regarded as a social problem, but also the spiritual problem of the whole ethnic group including a social problem. Today, the church often emphasizes foreign missionary work, but rarely looks at missionary work from the perspective of how to face the spirituality of an ethnic group and how to face life and death.”
Some Christians trace back to the changes brought about by the second wave of Catholicism and Protestantism coming into China from the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D. - 1644 A.D.).
They stated, “Oh! The 'firsts' created by missionaries in China were too numerous to mention. When they left this missionary workshop in China, the total number of them was no more than 10,000, and the total number of Christians in China was no more than 1 million. However, what great and wonderful work the missionaries did! They not only passed the gospel on to the Chinese people struggling with accumulated bad habits and customs but also showed the unparalleled power of the gospel wherever it went, bringing grace, release, healing, and renewal of civilization.
“Now, there are at least tens of millions of Christians in China ..... However, in the face of the first created by missionaries and the renewal of Chinese civilization brought by missionaries, today’s churches and believers should be ashamed. Although we didn’t put down the torch of the gospel, we narrowed the gospel to personal salvation, only cared about personal salvation, and neglected the broad dimension of the gospel renewal, thus separating the relationship between the gospel and society and culture. Therefore, Chinese churches can’t give out the light they deserve and become tasteless salt.”
May the mother of eight incident become a watershed to stimulate the Chinese Christian community to participate in social justice. May all kinds of goodwill and repentance inspired by it become a small mustard seed, and let the church and Christian groups wake up again and realize that we can’t avoid and evade participation in social justice.
Carl Henry finished the book with this, “The evangelical task primarily is the preaching of the Gospel, in the interest of individual regeneration by the supernatural grace of God, in such a way that divine redemption can be recognized as the best solution of our problems, individual and social. This produces within history, through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, a divine society that transcends national and international lines. The corporate testimony of believers, in their purity of life, should provide for the world an example of the divine dynamic to overcome evils in every realm. The social problems of our fay are much more complex than in apostolic times, but they do not on that account differ in principle. When the twentieth century church begins to “outlive” its environment as the first century church outreached its pagan neighbors, the modern mind, too, will stop casting about for other solutions. The great contemporary problems are moral and spiritual. They demand more than a formula. The evangelicals have a conviction of absoluteness concerning their message, and not to proclaim it, in the assault on social evils, is sheer inconsistency. But the modern mood is far more likely to react first on the level of Christianity as a life view, than at the level of Christianity as a world view. Obviously, from the evangelical viewpoint, the two cannot be divorced. But from the non-evangelical viewpoint, a baptism of Pentecostal fire resulting in a world missionary program and a divinely-empowered Christian community would turn the uneasy conscience of modern evangelicalism into a new reformation – this time with ecumenical significance.”
- Translated by Charlie Li