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Update on Lucado and the Chinese President

I've been curious to find out what happened on Lucado, Atchley, et al.'s trip to China. Atchley reports on how it went in a video (if that link doesn't work, search for "Trip to China Report" from August 9, 2006, on this page for the RealVideo link) on the Richland Hills church of Christ web site. Here's a summary: The trip was the brainchild of John Bentley, a missionary in China who, along with his wife Lisa, founded Harmony Outreach, a ministry that operates a children's home for special-needs orphans in China and helps connect people and organizations to China (see the Harmony Outreach website and also a Tyndale House Publisher's bio about Lisa). John had the idea to arrange a delegation of Christian leaders from America including:

  • Rick Atchley (Richland Hills Church of Christ, Richland Hills, TX)
  • Bob Russell (Southeast Christian Seminary, Louisville)
  • Max Lucado (Oak Hills church, San Antonio, TX)
  • Gary Smith (Fielder Road Baptist Church, Arlington, TX)
  • Royce Money (President, Abilene Christian University)
  • Rick Gregory (Vice President and Dean, Dallas Baptist University)
  • John Bethany (representative from Focus on the Family)
  • David Llewellyn (Attorney)

to meet with government officials about the possibility of better relations in China with the Christian faith. In order to go, they had to have a sponsor. "Chinese Charity Association" (maybe he meant "China Aid Association"?) had agreed to be their sponsor but got cold feet a couple days before they were to leave. When the group left for China, no meetings had yet been arranged. Once they had arrived, several important meetings were planned. The group visited John and Lisa's "Harmony House" orphanage. Apparently, China's one child policy means that babies with problems are discarded/abandoned. They met with the Chinese association in charge of social work. They agreed that it would be OK to come and do good works (for example, for the poor) in Jesus' name. They met with the equivalent of the state dept. They talked to the equivalent of our secretary of state about dreams for a more cooperative relationship with Chinese government. He listened politely and said "let us continue to dialogue more." They had lunch at the embassy in Beijing with US ambassador. They met with the state department for religious affairs, with the person with the cabinet level position in the party (an atheist) who controls all religion in China. He gave them the standard spiel that there are 16 million Christians in China and that the constitution says China allows freedom religion. They also met with an underground church leader. Overall, the trip seems to have resulted in plans for more activities and engagement with China. In less positive news about China, from an article this week in the NY Times by Howard W. French titled "China Adds Restrictions in Effort to Shake the Faith of Independent Congregations":

Tuanqianbu, China...Despite the 100-degree heat, there was a crowd at the little Protestant church this Sunday... Two weeks earlier, as many as 500 police officers surrounded the congregants as they were closing in on their long-held dream of completing construction of a new church nearby. The 3,000 or so people were driven away from the site, and those who argued or resisted in any way were arrested and, according to their lawyer, beaten. Then the church, with all but the roof in place, was demolished. The campaign against this poor little church outside Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in eastern China, is part of a national wave of repression against independent, or underground, churches that are not registered with the government and do not recognize the authority of state-appointed spiritual leaders. Since the law regulating religious affairs was introduced in March 2005, provincial and local governments have begun a series of crackdowns on underground churches across China. The vaguely worded new rules call for local governments to "standardize" the management of religion nationwide. The Chinese crackdown, which also affects other faiths, especially Buddhism in Tibet and Islam in the far western Xinjiang Province, comes at a time of booming growth in underground churches across the country. The right to practice any of five recognized faiths - Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam and Protestantism - is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, and the authorities routinely insist that religious freedom exists in this country. Under Chinese law, however, all recognized faiths must be registered and approved by the government, and they are closely monitored and required to follow strict and frequently changing regulations... According to the China Aid Association, an American Christian advocacy group that monitors religious freedom in China, 1,958 pastors were arrested at churches like these in the last year alone. Although the crackdown is decentralized, with each province and locality carrying out the repression on its own, the pattern is as unmistakable as the constant stream of incidents. In one recent case, in Tongwei, a village in eastern Anhui Province in late July, 90 children were reportedly detained with 40 adults after the police raided a Protestant Sunday school, calling the church teachings "illegal evangelism." Around the same time, in Hebei Province in the north, as many as 90 protesters were arrested after demanding the release of two clergymen from the underground Roman Catholic church, who had been detained without explanation.

Sounds like "complete freedom of religion" to me!

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