Why did you want to produce this study on the True Jesus Church?
I first encountered the True Jesus Church in China when a woman struck up a conversation with my husband and my baby son on a bus in a city. She invited him to church that evening. At the time we were attending a local Three-Self congregation, so he asked, “Is it a Three-Self church meeting?” She said no. So he asked, “Is it a house church meeting?” She said no. I was intrigued to hear about this church that defied the categories I had in my mind for Chinese Christianity. I went to the meeting place in a sort of commercial building and found that it was in fact a True Jesus Church. I had previously encountered the True Jesus Church in Taiwan but was surprised to find them here, in the PRC. In addition to being intrigued by the True Jesus Church’s out-of-the-box identity, I also wanted to investigate the relationship between native religious culture and transplanted Christian culture within the church. It struck me as extremely Chinese, but also very like other global forms of restorationist Christianity such as Mormonism.
Multiple identities are a standard feature of human culture and society. Everyone possesses what French sociologist Bernard Lahire has called an internal plurality (2011). As Lahire sees it, individuals are ‘the bearer[s] of heterogeneous habits, schemes, or dispositions which may be contrary or even contradictory to one another’ (2003: 344). Relatedly, in their comprehensive work on identity theory, Peter J. Burke and Jan E. Stets have argued that, ‘We take on many identities over the course of a lifetime, and at any point in time we have many identities that could be activated’ (2009: 131). In other words, everyone’s internal plurality includes multiple identities that can be activated for diverse purposes. (Continue reading the introduction here.)
Viewers of the BBC’s Scots in China with Neil Oliver were treated to a few images from the CSWC’s archives. The images show Scottish medical missionary Dugald Christie, Chinese medical assistants, and some unidentified workers wearing masks to protect them from the plague. Christie was born in Glencoe in 1855, studied medicine in Edinburgh, and went to China in 1882. A series of lantern slides on Christie’s life, including his three decades of missionary service in China, were acquired by the CSWC and included with other collections on the International Mission Photography Archive (IMPA). Producers from Matchlight, which produced Scots in China, found the images on IMPA and contacted our archivist, Kirsty Stewart. Always helpful, she was happy to provide them with the information they needed. They were used in a segment highlighting the work of the Scottish Churches’ China Group and the legacy of Scottish medical missionaries in China.
The following tribute was written by Professor Sanneh’s longtime friend and colleague Professor Andrew F. Walls.
We have learned with sorrow of the passing, after a short illness, of Lamin Sanneh, D Willis James Professor of World Christianity at Yale University, co-founder and joint convener of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of Missions and World Christianity. The Group’s annual conferences, meeting in Yale and Edinburgh alternately, have been an important feature of the life of our Centre.