The Last Anglican Bishop: K.H. Ting Remains a Key Figure in China

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Editor's note: An ecumenical delegation from the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches in Canada visited Christian churches in China last April. During a stop to Nanjing, the delegation met briefly with Bishop Ding Guangxun (who in the Wale-Giles Romanization of Chinese is also referred to as Bishop K.H. Ting), the last Anglican bishop in post-denominational China. Bishop Ting is a well-known figure in international Christian circles..

Nanjing

AT 90, STILL quick-witted but in frail health, Bishop K. H. Ting remains one of the most sought after Christian leaders in China. No one, it seems, who visits China wanting to know more about Christian churches there, ever leaves without seeing him. That includes his admirers and detractors alike.

Often called the last Anglican bishop in what is now post-denominational China, Bishop Ting has lived through some of the most turbulent periods in Chinese history and has been a key figure in helping Chrism churches survive these difficult transitions, including the now-infamous Cultural Revolution.

Not everyone agrees about his contributions--some have labeled him a closet Marxist because of his support for socialism in China--but Bishop Ting and his views about Chinese society and Christianity cannot be easily discounted. He is a man with a genial smile who doesn't hesitate to express a caustic but well-thought-out remark.

For a church to survive, he said, it must be relevant to its milieu. "For the church in any country to have a selfhood of its own, a real and not a borrowed identity is all-important," he wrote in an essay. "First it provides evangelical effectiveness in the country it is located, and second, it gives enrichment of the church universal in its understanding and worship of Christ." It is a sentiment that is all too important in China, given the burden of its colonial past where religion was not only imposed from outside but was in some cases, in collaboration with imperialism.

On the matter of religious liberty, which many--especially from the West--say is absent in China, Bishop Ting argues that the issue is "not just a legal matter or a question of human rights."

In an essay, Religious Liberty" in China: My Perspective, he argued that religious liberty must also carry the weight of social responsibility. "What are the leaders of the religion for which liberty is sought going to do with liberty once they have it? What are the social consequences of their ways of using that liberty?" He recalled that during China's war of resistance against Japanese aggression in the 1930s "there were Protestants in China who preached from the pulpit that the aggression was ordained of God: The Chinese had sinned and God sent Japanese troops to punish them." He also recalled that" quite a number of foreign and Chinese leaders were entirely without sympathy for the people's liberation struggle," asking Christians to pray that God would drown the army in the river. …