NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The future of the persecuted church in China will be “darker before it becomes brighter,” Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, told Baptist Press as the Olympics drew to a close in Beijing.
“Given the increased persecution before and even during the Olympic Games in spite of international attention, we can only expect persecution to increase in severity in the year following the Olympic Games,” Fu said.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also acknowledged a challenge ahead for the Chinese citizenry now that thousands of tourists have headed for home.
“We need to pray for our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ as they struggle in their country for freedom of conscience and freedom of faith,” Land said in a statement to Baptist Press.
Fu, who met with President Bush at the White House days before Bush left to attend the opening ceremony in Beijing, noted several occurrences prior to and during the Games that indicate where the country might be headed in terms of religious freedom.
“The first and most notable was the detention of House Church Alliance president Zhang Mingxuan and his wife,” Fu said. “The second was the deceptive arrangements made by the Communist Party of China to accommodate President George W. Bush’s visit to a house church in Beijing.
“The Chinese government staged a house church, replacing normal members with government officials,” Fu stated. “Public Security Bureau authorities also tried to detain pastor Hua Huiqi for his attempt to attend the service with President Bush. On Aug. 19, four Americans were stopped in the airport for trying to bring 300 Bibles into China. The Bibles were confiscated and the Americans were released.”
Also, the Chinese government had posted signs throughout Beijing requiring citizens to report any “socially unstable element,” referring to house churches, so that the government could deal with them, Fu said.
“These instances combined with the harsh rhetoric of Zhou Yongkang, the leader of the Central Political and Legislative Committee within the Communist Party, who has called for ‘extraordinary measures to be taken against house churches,’ leaves no doubt China has no intention of easing persecution against believers,” Fu said.
“We were somewhat surprised by the brazen attitude of the Chinese government to carry out such measures in full light of the Olympic Games,” he said. “[H]owever, the pattern of irrational cruelty and persecution comes as no surprise.”
While some may have hoped that having the worldwide spotlight on them during the Olympics would have caused the Chinese government to loosen their grip on religious expression, Fu said it might actually have done the opposite.
“If anything, the Olympic Games have given China a bolder stance in solidifying their communist and socialist agenda. It is our concern that after the pride of hosting the Olympics, China will make an even more concentrated effort to control those ‘elements deemed harmful to the harmonious society’ — house churches,” Fu said.
The China Aid leader said he doesn’t believe protests by Westerners surrounding the Olympics had much effect on the central government in China. He does, however, hope the protests during the torch relay opened the eyes of many Chinese citizens who might now wonder why the world objects to their country’s policies.
“I believe opening the eyes of ordinary citizens to the atrocities taking place in their own country will be tremendously impactful,” he said.
Even so, Fu reiterated that he expects persecution to increase in the years following the Olympics.
“Beyond the outright rhetoric of the CPC against house churches and other groups is the fact that in the light of the international community’s focus on China during these Olympics, the CPC has made no effort to pause or even silence their outright persecution of house church members,” Fu told BP. “If the CPC is willing to do this while the world is watching, what is to stop them when attention is diverted?”
All people of all nations should be able to enjoy their God-given rights, Fu said, and it is absolutely wrong of the Chinese government to deny such fundamental privileges.
“When any government tries to control these basic human rights, that government should be held accountable,” he said. “We will continue to expose the atrocities and make known to the world that what the PRC is doing is wrong, and it should stop. The harmonious society China is trying to create will only come to fruition with the sustainment of true religious freedom.”
Land, who serves on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, recalled a two-week trip he took to China in 2005. He and other commissioners traveled to various parts of China and met with religious groups and government officials.
“It was clear during the course of our trip that our Chinese hosts were increasingly frustrated that the commission delegation was not more impressed with the degree of toleration afforded religious groups in China,” Land said. “During a lengthy discussion with Chinese officials on the last night of our trip, this frustration bubbled to the surface, and I explained to our Chinese hosts that we were aware of their frustration.”
Land said there is no doubt that religious expression is given more latitude in today’s China than in the old Soviet Union or in China under Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China.
“They have expanded and gilded the cage in which people of religious faith operate in the People’s Republic of China,” Land said, “But it’s still a cage in which the government decides what degree of religious expression will be tolerated at any given time and, when the government’s line is crossed, what punishments will be meted out.
“As I explained to the Chinese officials, toleration is not freedom, and what the Chinese people deserve and are entitled to is religious freedom, not religious toleration,” Land said. “No one knows what the future course of religion will be in China, but it is certainly an expanding presence, particularly Christianity, in Chinese society.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, contributed to this report.