I suppose there may be a village in Kazakhstan whose inhabitants don’t know who Jeremy Lin is, although I doubt it. I am sure there are very few Americans who aren’t familiar with what the Wall Street Journal called Lin’s “quintessential underdog story.”
It has something for almost everyone: Lin’s off-the-bench heroics with the NBA’s New York Knicks, his Asian-American roots, Christian faith, and Ivy League background.
There are many reasons to root for Jeremy Lin. But here’s another: his story has helped draw attention to a group of even bigger underdogs, Chinese Christians.
As part of its coverage of what has been dubbed “Linsanity,” the New York Times has been reporting on Lin’s impact in his parents’ native Taiwan and on the Chinese mainland.
He is so popular that politicians on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have rushed to embrace him. While Taiwan has an obvious connection to Lin, the Communist government wasn’t about to be left out of the hoopla. The head of the Communist Party in one Chinese province announced that Lin’s maternal ancestors were natives of village near the provincial capital.
While Communist officials were quick to note the birthplace of Lin’s ancestors, they were silent about Lin’s Christianity. In fact, Lin’s great-grandfather converted to Christianity under the auspices of American missionaries in the early 20th century, making Lin a fourth-generation Christian.
None of the Chinese coverage of Lin’s exploits mentioned his faith. As a result, relatively few Chinese citizens know about Lin’s faith. After all, for the Communist Chinese to acknowledge Lin’s Christianity would be, to put it mildly, awkward.
The press here in the United States, however, is less reticent. In its reporting of Lin’s impact in China, the Times described China’s Christian minority as “often-persecuted” — as well as the various efforts the Communist government has used to contain the spread of Christianity. While there is a lot more that can be said about the subject, the Times deserves credit for at least pointing out the irony in Beijing’s embrace of Lin.
What is even more ironic is that the Lin story broke around the same time that China’s next leader, Vice President Xi Jingping, was touring the United States. Among the people who protested Xi’s visit was the writer Yu Jie, who recently moved the United States after being tortured and held under house arrest by Chinese authorities.
Yu, like many prominent dissidents, is a Christian. Similarly, most of the Chinese lawyers brave enough to take on the government are Christians. To talk about human rights in China without mentioning the role played by Chinese Christians makes as much sense as talking about Jeremy Lin without mentioning his faith.
Despite the efforts of the government, it appears that Chinese Christians are learning about Lin’s faith and drawing inspiration from it. That’s great.
What I hope happens here in the United States is that even more Americans learn about the faith of Chinese Christians and the price they pay for that faith. With all due respect to Lin and the Knicks, those are the underdogs I’m rooting for.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.
Publication date: February 27, 2012