An Evangelical Patriot and Critic

THE IDEALS of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement appealed to evangelicals as well as to mainline Protestants in the early years of the People’s Republic of China. The life of Marcus Cheng exemplifies this. Cheng, the son of a poor artisan, grew up as a Christian in the small independent Swedish Covenant Church mission. He earned his B.A. at Wheaton College in Illinois, then returned to China and went on to become a leading evangelical educator and evangelist. In 1943, Cheng founded a seminary in the wartime capital, Chongqing (Chungking), and as its president was one of the most respected national figures among conservative Protestants when the Communists came to power.

Cheng was also a patriot. He agreed that China’s churches needed to purge themselves of their imperialist and bourgeois ties, and he denounced the “imperialist distortion of Christianity” which had kept Christians aloof from the revolution. He became one of the founding members of the TSPM. “Formerly I was ‘above politics,’ [but] I now have a real concern for politics and the economic reconstruction of our country,” he wrote in 1952.

As a high-profile evangelical, Cheng also became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a non-Communist advisory organ of the government. In 1957, the Communist Party called for people to offer their criticisms and suggestions on the work of the government, under the slogan “Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend.” In March of that year, Cheng made a strong speech on the floor of the CPPCC in which he complained of the haughty and blasphemous attitude taken towards Christians by some government workers. Contention between theism and atheism was to be expected, he argued, but should be carried out “without abuse or name-calling.” The speech received national media coverage.

But the Pandora’s box of criticism opened up by the “Hundred Flowers” movement quickly exceeded the comfort level of Party leaders, and a purge of “rightist” elements followed. Many prominent intellectuals and social leaders fell from grace. Cheng came under attack as a leading rightist in Protestant circles. He lost his leadership positions in the church and the CPPCC from that time until his death in Beijing in 1963.

By Ryan Dunch

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #98 in 2008]

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