How do Pentecostal and charismatic churches navigate the political terrain in countries where politics can be repressive, religious freedoms are not well protected, and pentecostalized forms of Christianity are viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility, by those in power? Drawing on fieldwork in China, this article explores how unregistered Pentecostal and charismatic-leaning churches negotiate restrictive environments and attempt to make inroads into the public arena. I suggest that although these religious communities operate on the margins of the religious marketplace, they can nonetheless be considered patriotic. Such patriotism is demonstrated most readily through prayer and worship services, but also indirectly through the development of charitable and social work programs. This repertoire of patriotic action has two important implications for our understanding of religious groups in China. One is that it helps demonstrate that even unregistered religious communities are made up of patriotic and productive citizens who do not necessarily seek to challenge the authority of the party-state. The other is that religious leaders advocate patriotism, believing that it both strengthens and grows their churches, while combating negative images across the state and society.
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Vala (2009) however suggests that patriotic education classes may have the opposite effect and cultivate resentment of the state.
Cao (2012) notes a similar dynamic among some Boss Christians that he calls “spiritual nationalism” a multilayered process in which urban Chinese Christians tap into the country’s national development and rise as a global power. In contrast Wang et al. (2013:71) observe one unregistered church in Henan that preaches “We will do better than the government” (Women hui bi Zhongguo zhengfu zuo de geng hao 我们会比中国政府做的更好).