The constitution of China guarantees the right to religious belief, but it recognizes only a few churches. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are called Mormons, is not one of the five officially recognized religions. However, they do have a legal presence in the country under very strict rules. Since obedience to law is a basic principle of Mormonism, the church has respect within the government.
Most Chinese citizens become Mormon while living or traveling outside the country. When they return home, they are often unsure of how to find church meetings in China and how to live the gospel without breaking the law. In order to help prepare them, inform the leaders they worked with outside of China, and to help non-Chinese people traveling to China prepare, the Mormons have developed a website to provide basic information. The Church has blocked the website from within China, so it must be accessed prior to the person’s return to China.
Rumors periodically surface that the Mormons are preparing to send missionaries to China and the recent lowering of the minimum age of missionary service sparked those rumors to resurface. On the announcement page, the Church explains that this should help stop the rumors. The Mormons never send missionaries anywhere they aren’t legally permitted to go and the website clearly outlines the rules that must be followed.
The Mormons have a Priesthood Administrative Leader in China who can assist Mormons once they return home. He helps them to find their local congregation and to understand the laws that must be obeyed. Mormons can contact him by email prior to returning home.
Mormon Chinese citizens have been permitted to hold worship services in China since 2004, but citizens must meet apart from people who are not citizens. Missionary work is forbidden, but under certain regulations, Mormons who convert outside the country may be allowed to teach their family members the gospel, take them to church. Those family members may be baptized. They cannot, however, teach the gospel to their friends and except for family members in approved situations, Chinese nationals may not be baptized.
Chinese citizens are cautioned not to distribute religious literature, to have religious blogs or websites, or attend church with foreigners. People from Taiwan or Hong Kong who live in China attend with citizens. If they are only there on vacation or business, they meet with foreigners.
Scriptures, magazines, and lesson materials are available in Chinese and there are video messages in Chinese for those living outside of China.
The Bible counsels us to take the gospel to all the world, but we are also responsible for obeying local laws regarding faith. Mormons trust God to open doors to previously closed areas when the time is right, something He has done many times before. In the meantime, those citizens of China who have the opportunity to discover the gospel abroad are able to share it with their own families, and as their families grow up and take their place in China and as they pray for their government leaders, a path is gradually and respectfully built. For instance, Bosnia officially recognized the Mormons in 2012. The German Democratic Republic began allowing missionaries into the country—and citizens to leave it for missionary service elsewhere—in 1988. Czechoslovakia began to recognize the Church in 1990. That same year, the first local recognition of the church occurred in Russia, opening the door for other cities to follow.
These types of successes make Mormons willing to wait and to pray until China grants them recognition. If God challenges us to take the gospel to all the world, He can also open the doors to do so legally, if we are patient.
Learn more about the new Mormon website for Chinese Mormons.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that have appeared in LDS magazines. She is married to Lincoln Bittner and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to two girls. Terrie became a Mormon at the age of seventeen and has been sharing her faith online since 1992. She can also be found blogging about being an LDS woman at LatterdaySaintWoman.com.