Richard Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, says people are often surprised when he tells them of preaching to Christian congregations numbering in the thousands in mainland China.
"The fact is that Christianity is flourishing in China, and much of the vitality is due to the labors, over many decades, of Bishop K.H. Ting," Mouw said.
Ting, an Anglican bishop and recognized leader of China's government-sanctioned Christian churches, died Nov. 22. He was 97. Memorial services were held Tuesday.
Mouw said his friendship with Ting, also known as Ding Guangxun, began with an invitation to speak at Mouw's 1993 installation as president of Fuller in Pasadena, Calif. Critics of Ting's close relationship with China's Communist Party and government pressured Mouw to withdraw the invitation. Ting's relationship with Fuller began 10 years earlier when a Fuller delegation led by Mouw's predecessor, David Hubbard, visited China.
"We stuck with the decision, and the bishop participated," Mouw said in a statement. "The visible protest during the ceremony was carried out quietly and with respect."
Ting is considered one of the most influential Christian leaders in China since the 1950s, serving as chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China and president of the China Christian Council. He was vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from 1989-2008.
"He has a positive legacy in many people's eyes because he pushed forward Protestant Christianity and its interests in China, albeit under the scope of the government," Carsten T. Vala, an expert on Chinese Protestant Christianity who teaches at Loyola University in Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times. "But he was also a lightning rod, seen by those in the house churches as having compromised by leading the Communist Party-controlled church."
Ying Fuk-Tsang, a divinity professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the China Post that Ting should be credited with rebuilding the church after the Cultural Revolution and pushing the government to adopt policies favorable to religious freedom. He said Ting also spearheaded reforms in the state-sanctioned church, making it less political and serving believers' spiritual needs.
"He has made contributions as well as mistakes and no other Christian figures had as much influence as (he did)," Ying said.