12/13/2019 8:45:00 AM News from China, with ties to Baptist hero Lottie Moon By Terry Mattingly
The news reports shocked Christians worldwide, as Chinese police units demolished the giant Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province early in 2018.
It was just the beginning, as state officials continued to level sanctuaries, destroy crosses, topple steeples and harass clergy. After another megachurch was destroyed last summer in Funan, in the Anhui region, authorities arrested two pastors for "gathering a crowd to disturb social order."
But there was a different kind of news this fall, as the State Council of the People's Republic of China designated the Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai, in Shandong province, as a historical site. For millions of Baptists, this sanctuary is famous as the church home of missionary Lottie Moon, who died on Christmas Eve in 1912.
"There's no way to know why China choose to do this," said Keith Harper, a Baptist Studies professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He edited the book "Send the Light: Lottie Moon's Letters and Other Writings."
"Maybe we can be hopeful. Maybe the Chinese government sees this as some kind of positive gesture. That's what I pray for," he added. "Only time will tell why this happened and what it says about the church in China. ... I do know this: Baptists will care because this is connected to Lottie Moon."
Baptist historian Justice C. Anderson put it best when he wrote: "If they had a Pope, Southern Baptists would surely insist that he beatify Charlotte Digges Moon."
Lottie Moon died at the age of 72 on board a ship in the harbor of Kobe, Japan. She was trying to return to America for treatment of a variety of ailments, some linked to a near-starvation diet during famines in remote northern China.
The announcement protecting Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai as a cultural site came just before the Southern Baptist Convention's early December week of prayer for the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Since 1888, total receipts in offerings linked to her work have raised almost $2.1 billion for international missions. Last year's drive raised $156 million.
"When I became active as a Southern Baptist, I kept wondering, 'What's the big deal with Lottie Moon?' I quickly figured out that she is, in fact, a big deal," said Harper, reached by telephone. "When I started reading about her life and all that she accomplished, it seemed like she was Xena, a 6-foot-7 warrior who could lift a school bus with one hand.
"But she was only 4-foot-3, with a graduate degree in English. She was fluent in five languages -- which was not common for a young woman raised in a prominent family in Virginia. ... If you read her letters, her writing was immaculate. Back then, young women didn't head out into China, back in the impoverished countryside, and build missions and educational projects for women and men."
Moon's image has evolved from one generation to the next. For some, she was a Southern belle whose self-sacrifice made her a martyr; for others, a revolutionary "she-preacher" and true radical. Most of all, noted religion scholar Elizabeth Flowers, Moon's life created a "veritable cottage industry" of plays, musicals and picture books.
In one drama, a Women's Missionary Union member delivered a monologue describing how "Christ had appeared to her on Christmas morning, carrying in his nail-scarred hand her contribution to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering," noted Flowers, in "The Contested Legacy of Lottie Moon," part of a Baptist history project edited by Harper. "That 10-dollar bill, which she had crammed into the offering envelope at the last minute ... paled in comparison to the hundreds of dollars she had spent for her husband and children in carefully wrapped gifts, new toys, and an elaborate holiday meal."
This image was not unusual. Harper said that it's almost impossible to overstate the degree to which Moon's life of self-sacrifice has touched millions of Southern Baptists over the decades -- especially at Christmas.
"Lottie Moon was an amazingly complex woman. She was not what you would expect -- on any level. She's a lot more," he said. "That's why she still captures the hearts and minds and souls of so many people. ... For millions of Southern Baptists, if you say 'missions' and 'China,' they still think 'Lottie Moon.'"
(Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King's College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.)