As the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) collects its annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, China has designated a church attended by the offering’s namesake a protected historical and cultural site. But a religious liberty watchdog wonders if the designation is part of an effort to deflect attention from religious persecution in the Shandong province, Christianity Today informs.
China’s decision to protect the historic Southern Baptist missionary’s church “is ironic,” given Shandong’s status as “one of the worst places in China” for Christian persecution, said Massimo Introvigne, editor in chief of Bitter Winter, a magazine that monitors religious liberty in China. But “it makes sense” in “the framework of international propaganda.”
“At a time when everybody is talking about religious repression in China,” Introvigne, an Italian sociologist of religion, told Christianity Today, the government may be attempting to state, “You say we are persecuting Christianity in Shandong, but exactly in Shandong we are honoring Lottie Moon.”
News of the historical site designation for Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai in Shandong broke last month in the Chinese publication China Christian Daily and made its way to the US via a release from the SBC’s International Mission Board, which has received $4.5 billion through the Lottie Moon Offering since its inception 120 years ago. The IMB’s Week of Prayer for International Missions this year is December 1–8.
Wulin Shenghui Church was constructed in 1872 by Southern Baptist missionaries but was closed to foreigners for decades before reopening in the late 1980s. Preserved within the church is a monument honoring Moon erected by Chinese Christians in 1915, three years following her death.
Moon lived in Penglai, then known as Tengchow, from 1873 to 1912 and attended the church for much of that time. She gained fame for her passionate evangelism, her reports back to the US, and her death, which some claim was due to starvation from giving all her own money to Chinese people suffering in a famine. (Others claim the starvation story is a myth, including historian Regina Sullivan in her book Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary to China in History and Legend.)
Chinese authorities reopened the church building in 1987 during a visit by representatives of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), an SBC auxiliary that promotes missions. At the time, Chinese officials said local Christians would be permitted to use the building for worship, and the WMU announced plans to take American tour groups to the area beginning the following year.