WASHINGTON (BP)–The Chinese government’s refusal to allow Christians to participate in the Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization was a “gross violation of the rights guaranteed to them by their country’s constitution as well as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights,” Southern Baptist religious freedom specialist Richard Land said.
“This brazen act by the Chinese government reinforces the world’s negative opinion about that government’s treatment of its people,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom. “If China wants to be respected as a great power, it needs to respect the human rights of its people.”
Christian house church groups in China were invited to attend the global gathering, Oct. 17-24 in Cape Town, South Africa, encompassing 4,200 delegates from 198 countries. The Chinese groups had made plans to send about 200 delegates.
When some of the selected delegates prepared to leave for Cape Town, Chinese authorities blocked their departure. About 100 delegates were detained by about 1,000 police officers when they sought to depart Oct. 13 from Beijing International Airport, according to the China Aid Association.
In 1989, for the last Lausanne congress, held in Manila, the Chinese government also prevented about 200 delegates from attending, the Lausanne organization noted in an Oct. 18 news release.
Land’s full statement, which was released Oct. 22, follows:
“The Chinese government’s decision to prevent Chinese Christians from participating in the Lausanne Congress is a gross violation of the rights guaranteed to them by their country’s constitution as well as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which China signed in 1948.
“Those detained were denied their universally recognized right to religious liberty.
“Yet this affront is not only borne by these persecuted Christians, it is also borne by the church as a whole. As Christian leaders have gathered this past week in Cape Town to discuss the future work of the church throughout the world, they were denied the opportunity to hear from representatives of the church in China.
“The absence of Christian leaders from China at this conference has deprived the church of crucial input from one of the world’s largest Christian communities. This brazen act by the Chinese government reinforces the world’s negative opinion about that government’s treatment of its people. If China wants to be respected as a great power, it needs to respect the human rights of its people.”
Knowledgeable organizations estimate there are at least 60 million Christians in China, despite the communist regime’s efforts to suppress Christianity’s growth. China is one of eight governments designated by the U.S. State Department as “countries of particular concern,” a label reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
This summer, the British Broadcasting Corp. and National Public Radio broadcast series highlighting the recent growth of Christianity in China, according to Compass Direct News. The BBC series, which had the benefit of unprecedented access to churches that have registered with the government, was “glowing,” Compass Direct reported.
Some Chinese Christian leaders, however, have denied the government has made any progress in religious tolerance. The president of the Chinese Christian House Church Alliance, which consists of unregistered congregations, described the kind of persecution Christians endure in a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, which was released by ChinaAid. The alliance’s leader, Zhang Mingxuan, listed instances in which Christians in China were fined, beaten, arrested and sent to labor camps, and church buildings were destroyed.
In addition to the deployment of officers to the Beijing airport to prevent delegates from attending the Lausanne Congress, Chinese authorities assigned about 20 officers to keep another prominent Chinese Christian leader under house arrest. Fan Yafeng, head of the Chinese Christian Legal Defense Association, was placed under house arrest Oct. 12 following statements he made to NPR on government harassment of the delegates. The ERLC honored Yafeng with its 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award.
Abraham Liu Guan, a delegate who was blocked from traveling to Cape Town, told NPR that China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and Ministry of Public Security ordered border patrol not to allow the delegates to leave because they posed a threat to national security.
According to the Oct. 18 news release from the Lausanne organization, “[O]ver the past two years in-country selection coordinators carefully worked through relationships to include representation of all Christian communities in China, including observers from the China Christian Council and Three Self Patriotic Movement and participants from rapidly growing urban house fellowships and large rural churches.”
However, according to other reports, the Chinese government was displeased that representatives from the state-controlled Three-self Patriotic Movement were asked to sign a commitment to evangelism, something that members of the state church were unable to do because of regulations, according to a Compass Direct report Oct. 15 based on the Ming Pao News.
The Lausanne congress, the third since 1974, was convened to discuss various issues and challenges facing the church. Congress attendees had “profound regret” that the group from China was kept from the gathering, South African Lausanne Committee chair Peter Tarantal said in the organization’s Oct. 18 news release.
Henry Luke Orombi, archbishop of the Church of Uganda and honorary chair of Lausanne’s African host committee, said, “Not having [the Chinese delegates] here is like not having Brazil at the World Cup — it is unimaginable. We want them to know that this community reflecting the worldwide Body of Christ stands with them as they gather in spirit with us here.”
Hannah Cummings is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.