News Articles

BP Ledger, Nov. 26 edition

EDITOR’S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each week from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.

Today’s BP Ledger contains items from:
Hannibal-LaGrange University
Hardin-Simmons University
Forum 18 news service

HLGU Celebrates the Inauguration of Dr. Anthony Allen as 17th President
By Rebecca Penner

HANNIBAL, Mo. (Hannibal-LaGrange University) — It was a morning of pageantry and ceremony on Friday, October 26th, as Hannibal-LaGrange University inaugurated Dr. Anthony Allen as its 17th president.

A recorded greeting was given to Allen from President Emeritus Dr. Woodrow Burt who was unable to attend due to his being abroad, teaching for a semester at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England. “I offer my congratulations to Dr. Allen, the HLGU Board of Trustees, and the HLGU faculty and friends,” Burt said in the message. “With his strong faith, solid experience, and clear vision, Anthony Allen is the right leader to take Hannibal-LaGrange University to the next level.”

Similar greetings were also given from Dr. Bob Agee, President Emeritus of Oklahoma Baptist University, and Dr. Kevin Shrum, trustee chairman of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who told HLGU “you are getting a jewel.”

The inaugural address was brought by Dr. David S. Dockery, president of Union University and author and editor of 35 books.

In his address Dockery said the president of a Baptist university “needs the mind of a scholar, the caring spirit of a pastor, the savvy of a business leader, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros.”

Dockery also addressed Allen and the audience equally with his message continually going back to the point that the Lord is preeminent in all things, is the only one who satisfies and “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” Colossians 2:3.

Following the inaugural address, Dr. Lawrence Clapp, friend and mentor to Allen, gave the inaugural charge and prayer. “There’s power in personal touch,” he said to Allen. “Share your heart with their heart…Take time to touch people with faith because the people who are going to build this school are the students you send out of here.”

The climax of the event was reached when Allen was presented with his presidential medallion by Terry Buster Sr., chairman of the Board of Trustees who quoted Isaiah 66:2 saying, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

After receiving the medallion, Allen gave his presidential response, saying, “I’m here simply because there’s a long line of good people along the way who invested in me, who made me a priority, who gave me a good start in life.”

He also listed his Four Pillars of Administration that he believes should hold up Hannibal-LaGrange University. “We need to be distinctively Christian, demonstrate doctrinal and denominational commitment, be academically excellent, and be strategically focused.”

Allen continued, saying that “excellence in Christian higher education must begin with a stellar faculty and I’m committed to investing in the faculty to see that we have the necessary resources to fulfill our mission to teach and to educate students.”

During the ceremony, Allen was also presented with resolutions from the Southern Baptist Convention, the Missouri Baptist Convention, the Missouri State House of Representatives and the City of Hannibal.

Other inaugural events included a special chapel service and dinner on Wednesday, an evening commemorating the history of HLGU on Thursday, an inaugural reception following the ceremony, and a concert featuring Big Daddy Weave and Aaron Shust on Friday.

Senior pastor Steve Dighton and worship pastor Bill Shiflett of Allen’s home church, Lenexa Baptist Church, were our special guests at Wednesday morning chapel. Shiflett and his wife Kerri led the congregation in praise and worship followed by a message on servant leadership from Dighton. As a special surprise, Allen closed chapel by singing Chris Tomlin’s version of “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.”

Wednesday night, students dressed up for a student steak supper in the cafeteria.

Thursday night, two of HLGU’s ministry groups, The New Edition and Praise Song, along with the media communications and theatre departments presented the story of HLGU from its start in 1858 to present day. Afterward, a dessert reception was held in the lobby of the Roland Fine Arts Center.

After the inauguration on Friday, the president’s reception was held on the blue court in the Mabee Sports Complex. Later on, the day was rounded out with the well-attended concert by Aaron Shust and Big Daddy Weave.
International Students Celebrate Thanksgiving Feasts with HSU Faculty and Staff

ABILENE, Texas (Hardin-Simmons University) — While most of the Hardin-Simmons University campus population took time off for the Thanksgiving break, some faculty and staff members welcomed international students into their homes for the Thanksgiving meal.

Bonnie Powell, coordinator of undergraduate admissions, said she was expecting some interesting conversations during the holiday as she and her family and two HSU international students traveled to her sister’s house in Cisco, Texas, for the holiday.

Powell can always be counted on to share holidays with students. “I think that holidays are important events, and they are most fun when shared with lots of family members and friends. I cannot imagine sitting home alone on a day such as Thanksgiving,” Powell says. “To some of these students, this might be their first Thanksgiving in the USA. I hosted a foreign exchange student from Finland for nine months. It was so much fun introducing her to our American traditions. It is fun to explain to them what we do on holidays, and it is nice to hear about the holidays they celebrate,” she says.

“HSU is home to more than 50 international students,” says Kim O’Dell in the athletics office, who was pairing the students with families. Approximately 20 international students were staying in Abilene during the Thanksgiving holiday. “Students love to experience a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so it is a time that HSU faculty and staff can participate in this wonderful opportunity to share the season and bring another part of the world into their own home,” O’Dell says.

Dr. Janelle O’Connell, professor and head of HSU’s physical therapy department, and her husband, HSU professor of physical therapy, Dr. Dennis O’Connell, hosted Deetan, a student from Malaysia. Joining them were colleague and professor of physical therapy, Dr. Marty Hinman, and her husband Pete; the O’Connell’s three children and their spouses, Evan and Heather O’Connell from Purcell, Oklahoma; Cameron and April O’Connell from The Woodlands, Texas; and daughter Keelan O’Connell, from Washington, D.C.

“Our traditional food is turkey with all the trimmings and this year we are adding lasagna,” O’Connell says. The day promised to be a busy one for Deetan and his host family, as they participated in the Abilene Runner’s Club Turkey Trot. “If the weather is nice, we hope to kayak and canoe on Lytle Lake or toss the football around in the yard and watch football on television. We also enjoy a rousing game of Pictionary,” O’Connell says.

John Snapp, director of human resources at HSU, says they will be welcoming Dawei He (David), an accounting major from Shanghai, China, and Gang Liu (Sam), from Kunming, China, into their home for their traditional meal. “We are expected to have around 20 family members plus our two international friends and one of Brody’s friends, Brandon. [Brody is Bonnie’s son who attends HSU.] Brandon is an HSU student from Colorado who is not able to go home for Thanksgiving either.”

Powell tells a funny story that happened to her when she hosted an international student for the Christmas holiday last year. Powell says her family sometimes plays a game called Chinese Christmas. “We purchase gift cards and exchange them. As I started explaining the game, I realized our visitor was from China — we were playing Chinese Christmas. He didn’t get it, because he did not actually celebrate Christmas in China.” Powell says she was suddenly afraid that he would be offended, but as it turned out, it was a nice surprise for him to find out that Americans play such a game. Powell says he was also very happy with the gift card he was able to take home with him.

Other faculty and staff members sharing the day with HSU’s international students were Dr. John Eric Swenson, professor of psychology; Dr. Joseph Bailey, professor of communications; and John Neese, HSU’s athletic director.

China: Weibo & freedom of religion/belief
By Magda Hornemann, Forum 18 News Service

OSLO, Norway (Forum 18) — The popular Chinese microblog Weibo has served as an effective means for individual religious adherents to express beliefs and to voice criticisms about phenomena concerning religion. It has also served as a platform for news about freedom of religion or belief violations. However, Weibo’s limitations are evident in that criticisms of the state, especially of the central political leaders, are limited and can only be indirect. Moreover, there is no indication that it has been able to mobilise effective collective action to address specific cases. So Weibo has yet to demonstrate an ability to be used to effectively protect religious freedom.

Chinese microblogging

Since being founded in 2009, Weibo, a microblog that has elements of Twitter and Facebook, has become one of the most popular Internet platforms in China. According to the 30th Survey Report of the China Internet Network Information Center of 28 September 2012, as of June 2012 there were 538 million Chinese Internet users. In October 2012, the Singapore-based China Internet Watch reported that China’s Data Center of China’s Internet (DCCI) indicated that nearly 90 percent of China’s Internet users are Weibo users. This means that the number of Weibo users, at approximately 450 million, is more than the entire population of the United States and is almost equal to the population of the European Union.

Weibo is the generic Chinese term for microblogging. There are several Weibo providers. Sina Weibo is the best-known provider and is the one that most Chinese think of when referring generally to Weibo. However, according to Steven Millward, a Shanghai-based social media expert, Tencent Weibo has the largest number of registered users with 469 million as of June 2012. Sina Weibo has approximately 370 million registered users and over 36 million average daily active users. Netease Weibo is third, with over 260 million registered users.

Internet censorship

China has long imposed censorship on the Internet, including of foreign-based websites. Foreign sites which have been blocked include those related to the persecution of Christians and other religious faiths, the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong religious movement, the Muslim Uygurs of Xinjiang and a number of Catholic sites. Most such sites remain blocked today.

Chinese search engines prevent searches for sensitive terms, including religious freedom-related terms such as “Falun Gong” and “Dalai Lama”, or provide only links to state-sponsored sites proving the government’s view.

However, the growth of the Internet, including more Chinese-based websites, the spread of new platforms – such as Weibo – and tools, including proxies, have made such censorship more difficult.

Weibo and state-society relations

According to Professors Guobin Yang and Craig Calhoun of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, respectively, Weibo has displayed even faster speed, greater reach, and more interactivity than other Internet vehicles, such as websites used by Chinese environmental activists to oppose the building of dams on the Nu River in south-western China. As a result, Weibo has accumulated many achievements during its short period of existence.

For example, in July 2011, two high-speed trains collided outside Wenzhou, in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. News of the collision – which led to 40 deaths and injuries to 191 people – was immediately posted on Weibo. Tens of millions of users posted and re-posted information about the collision while engaging in discussions. According to a 28 July 2011 New York Times report, when Weibo exposed the local government officials’ directive to lawyers that the latter should not accept cases from the families of victims without the former’s approval, the local government immediately withdrew the order and apologised. According to the same New York Times report, when Weibo users discovered and criticised the local government’s decision to bury the first train to cover up the incident, local officials quickly unearthed the train and sent it for analysis.

But despite Weibo’s achievements, no one should deny the presence of the state. As stated by a China-based American with the alias Martin Johnson who founded two websites, Greatfire.org and Freeweibo.com, which monitor Internet censorship in China: “The reason why Weibo exists is because the [Communist Party of China] allowed it to.” Indeed, the communist state has incentives to support Weibo. As Reuters noted in a 31 October 2012 report, industry executives in China indicated that the government can use Weibo to obtain “real-time feedback on policies and a method to take stock of the public mood.” The same report quoted Michael Anti, a Chinese blogger and journalist, as noting that the Chinese central authorities can use Weibo to take action against local officials and rival factions. According to Anti, if Weibo “is a battlefield … the government seeks to occupy it, not destroy it.”

So Weibo may become a vehicle for political change in China – or serve as a means by which the Communist Party remains in power. The verdict is still out on which side will eventually win the day.

Weibo and freedom of religion or belief

Religion and religion-related topics are popular topics on Weibo sites.

Based on a review of Sina Weibo from mid-October 2012 to early November 2012, Forum 18 has found that Buddhism has by far been the most popular religion mentioned. A large number of Weibo users engaged in discussions and postings about Buddhist-related topics, even potentially sensitive ones.

For example, a controversy surrounding the stock listing of sacred Buddhist sites elicited much discussion on the platform. In particular, news that a Vice President of the state-approved Buddhist Association of China had criticised the planned stock listings was posted and discussed.

According to Christians in China, an English-language website written by people inside and outside China, Christianity “is thriving on the fastest-growing and most powerful … media platform ever seen in history.”

The author of one article on the site, “Christianity on China’s Microblog,” noted that prominent Chinese Christians, including those from Taiwan, have used Weibo to publicise their faith and have attracted large followings.

For example, Pan Shiyi, a real estate tycoon who is a Christian, has six million followers on Weibo, while an unnamed Taiwan actor and his wife, both Christians, have four million followers.

Many of the Weibo postings on religion are self-expressions of personal faith. For example, one active Muslim Weibo user is a female university student, who regularly posts personal declarations of faith. In a similar vein, on 3 November, a Catholic user posted the following statement: “Thank God that I was born in a Catholic family with devout Catholic parents..”

“Without religious freedom, there can’t be a real Constitution!”

The topic of religious freedom has been very popular on Weibo. Since April 2012, users have engaged in discussions about the connection between the state Constitution and religious freedom. A scholar from Peking University in the capital Beijing wrote: “Without religious freedom, there can’t be a real Constitution!”

Other users have also criticised the current state of freedom of religion or belief in China, either explicitly or implicitly identifying the government as being responsible for the problems. “In foreign countries, including Taiwan, there are Bibles or Buddhist sutras in the hotel room,” a user wrote on 1 November. “That is religious freedom!” On 2 November, a user responded to a posted news item that the authorities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region would provide accident insurance to Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns with this comment: “The Tibetan people said: What’s given to them is not what they wanted; all they want is religious freedom.”

A news report was posted on Weibo about the public announcement by Shanghai’s newly-ordained auxiliary Bishop, Ma Daquin, that he would resign from his post in the state-approved Catholic association immediately after his ordination. Bishop Ma’s announcement resulted in the state’s decision to close indefinitely the Catholic seminary with which he is affiliated. On Nov. 2, one Weibo user responded with this posted comment: “In fulfilling its earthly obligation to obey Caesar, the Christian shepherds and their lamb must not contradict the basic nature of the church. A regime that deprives a religious organisation of autonomy, and attacks and divides religious workers through personal threats and briberies is not qualified to say that the country under its rule has realised the separation of state and religion, and religious freedom.”

There seem to be clear indications of different levels of interest in discussing religious freedom from Weibo users of different religions. For example, the number of postings about religious freedom as it applies to Protestant Christianity and Catholicism is significantly greater than the number for other religions. Some space is allowed on Weibo for discussions on religious freedom in Tibet and Xinjiang, but the number of posts is significantly fewer than for posts dealing with freedom of religion or belief as it affects Christian churches. Likewise, posts are few on topics connecting religious freedom and Buddhism or Daoism, which may reflect the general Chinese perception that religious freedom is not a problem for those religions.

References to the term “religious persecution” can also be found on Weibo. However, such references generally occur in the context of discussing Western history. Based on an admittedly short timescale snapshot of activity on Weibo, Forum 18 did not note references to this term in the context of contemporary Chinese politics.

Weibo and promoting freedom of religion or belief

Based on the available information, including a snapshot of the activities on Weibo, it seems that individuals enjoy considerable space to discuss religion-related topics on Weibo. Followers of religions have used it as a platform for declarations of faith. In this sense, Weibo has become a vehicle for interested parties to promote their religion and its virtues.

At the same time, Weibo also permits overtly non-religious users to post criticisms about religion. This could be significant, as the state currently generally refrains from criticising religion due to concerns that anti-religious rhetoric might promote social instability.

That religious freedom has been such a prominent discussion topic is also interesting. As suggested earlier, the state may be allowing such discussion because it wants to get a sense of the “public mood” on this sensitive political topic. That postings about religious freedom violations involving local Protestant Christian groups have been allowed suggests that the central government may be using Weibo to monitor the behaviour of local authorities, which have been the primary violators of religious freedom.

This may indeed serve as an incentive for the state to maintain Weibo. On this note, Weibo continues to include postings about the situation of Beijing’s Shouwang Church, which garnered international attention when it was not permitted to worship in the building it has purchased. However, it should be noted that the latest postings about the church were dated October 2012.

Nonetheless, Weibo has limitations. First, discussion of religious freedom has involved mainly scholars and intellectuals, which suggests that it is not yet an issue with broad mass appeal in China. Second, while religious freedom violations are points of discussion, Weibo’s potential to mobilise people to defend religious freedom has not been used. The postings about religious freedom violations that Forum 18 has observed have been individual expressions of indignation about the violations, or support for the victims of those violations. No posting seen by Forum 18 has called for collective action.

This observation matches observations made by others about the Internet’s limitations in China. Gary King, a professor of political science at Harvard University, and his two doctoral students, had conducted a survey entitled “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression,” which involved over 1,000 Chinese websites. The survey was conducted in the first half of 2011. King and his associates concluded that Chinese Internet censors have generally targeted postings that call for social mobilisation.

In addition, religious topics that are deemed sensitive, such as Falun Gong, which has been banned by the state, cannot be found on Weibo. When Forum 18 searches for the term “Falun Gong” on Weibo the entire website shuts down on the computer, even though Forum 18 is allowed to return to Weibo through a different webpage. Interestingly, the term “Dalai Lama” can be found on Weibo, but the context is invariably historical and theoretical.

Forum 18 is not able to determine how quickly postings are deleted. However, according to experts, censorship can take place either immediately or several months. For example, according to Chi-Chu Tschang, a MBA student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who carried out a project on Weibo in May 2012: “The fastest a post was deleted on Sina Weibo was just over 4 minutes. The longest time it took for the censor to get around to deleting a message on Sina Weibo was over four months.”

Censorship appears to be one of the few forms of “punishment” levelled against violators of the unspoken rules. As described above, another form of punishment is either the appearance of an error page or the blanking of the page altogether. Tschang also observed that Weibo administrators have issued notices to violators that their postings would be deleted. Sina Weibo has also indicated that repeat offenders could be prevented from posting new materials for up to 48 hours and, in some cases, even have their accounts cancelled.

However, Forum 18 is not aware of additional punitive measures, including personal interrogation, physical harassment, or arrest, in connection with religious freedom discussions on Weibo. Nonetheless, there are reports suggesting that posting negative stories on the Internet can result in arrests for the poster, as indicated in a 23 November 2012 report by the New York Times about the arrest and detention of a former journalist in the south-western province of Guizhou.

Both foreign residents and local Chinese residents are allowed to post information on Weibo. In December 2011, the Chinese authorities issued regulations that required all Weibo account holders to disclose their real names when registering to use the platform. However, Sina Weibo revealed in its filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that it has not always complied with this regulation “for reasons including existing user behaviour, the nature of the microblogging product and the lack of clarity on specific implementation procedures..” Other than this requirement, no documentation appears to be necessary. Forum 18, for example, was able to register a Sina Weibo account without providing any identity documentation.

The relatively light punishments certainly should not act as a permanent deterrent to anyone wishing to post sensitive comments. In this sense, it may be that postings on Weibo can be far more “politically incorrect” than writings on printed media, including newspapers, magazines and books. Yet, it is also telling that there do not seem to be many postings that fall into clearly taboo areas.

For example, criticisms of the central leadership have not been observed on Weibo, even though criticisms of local authorities can easily be found.
Internet users in China are not allowed to criticise the country’s top political leaders. As Reuters suggested on 31 October, this may reflect the fact that censorship rules are formulated at the central government level with little input from local authorities. Therefore, censors tend to concentrate on postings that make specific references to central political leaders. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that Weibo users, especially Chinese residents, have adopted some form of self-censorship.

It appears that Weibo is advancing religious freedom in China to some extent. But it is not yet (if it ever will be) an effective means for people to mobilise to actively defend their rights to freedom of religion or belief. For now, Chinese Weibo users will have to be content with the ability to express their religious or non-religious beliefs publicly, which would have been unthinkable in China not very long ago.

For analyses of other aspects of religious freedom in China, see www.forum18.org/Analyses.php?region=3.

Forum 18 News Service, based in Olso, Norway, reports on the persecution of religious adherents.

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