News Articles

Bush attends church in China

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush attended the worship service of a church registered with China’s communist regime Aug. 10 and afterward promoted freedom of religion in a brief public statement.

The president’s visit to the Beijing church, however, came only days after Chinese officials detained the head of the country’s House Church Alliance, and it took place with him surrounded by participants affiliated with the government instead of regular worshippers, according to an American-based organization that aids unregistered churches.

Bush and his wife Laura were among those in the congregation for a morning service of the Kuanjie Protestant Christian Church. The worship service was part of a busy day for the president. He also visited with Chinese leaders and attended the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Standing with the pastor and a children’s choir outside the Kuanjie Church’s building after the service, Bush told reporters it had been a “great joy and privilege” to worship in Beijing.

“[I]t just goes to show that God is universal, and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion,” Bush said.

The president thanked the pastor for his hospitality and expressed gratitude to the choir for singing “Amazing Grace” and “Edelweiss.”

Later in the day, Bush met with Chinese President Hu Jintao as well as the country’s premier and vice president.

Bush told Hu, “China will be a better place if there is more freedom of religion,” said Dennis Wilder, the U.S. National Security Council’s director of Asian affairs, USA Today reported. “President Hu seemed to indicate that the door is opening on religious freedom in China and that in the future there will be more room for religious believers.”

Of his meeting with Hu, Bush told NBC’s Bob Costas later it was “hard to tell” how receptive the Chinese president was to his request for more religious liberty.

“I went to church here, and I’m sure the cynics say, ‘Well, you know, it was just a state-sponsored church,’ … and that’s true,” Bush told Costas. “On the other hand, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, ‘Religion won’t hurt you; you ought to welcome religious people.’ And it gave me a chance to say to the government, ‘Why don’t you register the underground churches and give them a chance to flourish?’ And [Hu] listened politely. I can’t read his mind, but I do know that every time I met with him I pressed the point.”

China Aid Association reported Aug. 7 Chinese authorities had arrested Zhang Mingxuan, president of the House Church Alliance; his wife; and another pastor. They were being detained at an unknown site in Henan Province, according to China Aid.

The detentions continued Beijing’s year-long crackdown on Christians in unregistered, or underground, churches and other religious adherents. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has reported nearly 700 Protestant leaders have been arrested in the last year.

At a July 29 White House meeting, China Aid President Bob Fu urged Bush to attend an unregistered church instead of a registered one while in Beijing. Fu gave the president a list of house churches that would welcome his attendance, but Fu said he had the impression Bush would attend a registered church. Fu was one of five Chinese freedom advocates invited to meet with the president.

White House officials said the Chinese regime denied Bush’s request to attend worship with an unregistered church, according to The Washington Times.

Chinese authorities limited attendance at the Kuanjie Church service in which Bush participated primarily to security and political officials, as well as others they selected, China Aid reported.

In a 2005 visit to China, Bush also participated in a worship service at a registered church. He said in a public statement afterward he desired for the communist government not to fear religious adherents.

Bush spoke against China’s human rights record on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Speaking Aug. 7 in Thailand, the president said, “The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.

“We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential,” Bush said. “We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”

China’s communist regime responded by denying there is a lack of religious and other human rights in the world’s most populous country. It also took issue with what it described as Bush’s interference in China’s affairs.

USCIRF, as well as some federal legislators and human rights organizations, urged Bush not to attend this year’s Olympics because of China’s human rights abuses. If he ignored their request, USCIRF called for Bush to take several steps to encourage religious freedom during his trip, including giving a speech on the issue to be broadcast live in China and meeting with leaders of a church that is not registered with the government. There was no such speech, and the president apparently did not conduct such a meeting during his stay in Beijing.

While he was at the Olympics, however, Bush confronted Russian leaders over that country’s Aug. 8 military incursion into the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Bush told NBC’s Costas he was “firm” with both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitriy Medvedev over what he described as Russia’s “disproportionate response.”
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

    About the Author

  • Staff