Church / Culture / June 18, 2014

Should Christian Missionaries Leave China? A Question for Jonathan Merritt

Yesterday, Jonathan Merritt attempted to demonstrate what he believes to be an inconsistency in Hobby Lobby’s fight for religious freedom. Merritt contends that it is inconsistent for the company to contend for religious freedom rights in America through their Supreme Court Case against the HHS mandate while doing business with a country like China whose religious liberty restrictions are well documented.

Others have responded to Merritt including Russell Moore, Matt Anderson, and Bart Barber. Their critiques expose some of the flaws in Merritt’s vantage point.

But I want to raise one simple question for Merritt: Should Christian missionaries leave China?

In his article, Merritt claims, “If Hobby Lobby was concerned with religious freedoms — not just those of conservative American Christians — it would quit doing business in China.”

Does this expectation to “quit doing business in China” apply to Christian missionaries inside China as well? As you are likely aware, China is a restricted access country. Therefore, most missionaries enter the country through creative access platforms. These platforms allow them to work (in some cases, run “Christian businesses”) while enabling them to share the gospel with those around them.

In the course of doing business, they might have to bring in Chinese parts made by low paid workers; they might sell products to Communist government employees tasked with enforcing the one child policy; the list could go on an on. Furthermore, to live, they may buy products from marketplaces sourced by child labor (though they almost certainly don’t know where it comes from).

This isn’t a new question. God’s people have taken God’s message to places with horrendous human rights records for centuries. Israel lived and functioned in a totalitarian Babylonian regime. Paul sold tents in marketplaces throughout the oppressive Roman empire. In each case, the people of God “do business” with the people of the culture for the sake of the great commission.
In other words, it is impossible for a Christian missionary inside China to untangle itself from the country’s economy. Merritt is right to point out the atrocities happening in the country. But what does that mean for missionaries who have to live and function inside the country?

So, the question is simple: If it is inconsistent (and therefore unacceptable) for Hobby Lobby to be “doing business inChina,” is it inconsistent (and therefore unacceptable) for Christian missionaries to be doing business inside China?

I’m quite sure that Merritt would agree that he is not calling for a missionary exodus from China. But, in his effort to demonstrate an inconsistency in Hobby Lobby’s thinking, he seems to have actually exposed one in his own.

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