WASHINGTON (BP)–Bob Fu, a leading advocate for the persecuted church in his native China, received a Southern Baptist religious freedom award during a ceremony at the Library of Congress Feb. 7.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), presented Fu with the 2007 John Leland Religious Liberty Award, which described Fu as:
— “a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus as pastor of a house church and leader of a Bible school in the People’s Republic of China, a nation politically hostile toward Christianity;
— “a bold witness for his faith who endured arrest and imprisonment by Chinese authorities;
— “a brave refugee to the United States who inspires the Christian community to fight for the liberation of their brothers and sisters in Christ living in the grips of persecution.”
The award, presented for the 16th consecutive year by the ERLC, is named for the Baptist preacher of the late 1700s and early 1800s, John Leland, who strongly advocated for religious freedom. Leland worked with James Madison, often described as the Father of the Constitution, to gain support for the First Amendment’s guarantees of no government establishment of religion and no interference with religious free exercise.
A native of China, Fu founded the China Aid Association after he and his family fled to the United States in 1996. China Aid monitors and reports on religious persecution by the Chinese government, especially of the unregistered church, which Fu said consists of from 60 to 80 million adherents. Fu’s organization also seeks to aid persecuted believers in the world’s most populous country.
In his speech after receiving the award, Fu said he wants China to prosper but believes “this can only be realized as true religious freedom is fully embraced in China and protected by the rule of law.”
“My hope is that the Chinese government will recognize that Christianity and other true peaceful religious groups do not need to be controlled and are not a threat to the government but, rather, are one of the needed building blocks for stability and can provide much-needed help for promoting non-violence during this time of transition in China’s history,” he said.
Fu urged the audience of about 70 people –- which included legislative and executive branch staff members, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom staffers and representatives of non-governmental religious liberty organizations -– to maintain “religious freedom as a top priority but also understand this is a complex issue in the Chinese mindset and Chinese history.”
Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., commended Fu, saying, “You personify what the Great Commission is all about.”
Franks told the audience, “If we go out into all the world, whether it be China or wherever it is, and do what we can to influence them to see people have the freedom to believe and to worship God as they choose, I promise you we will be strengthened in our own country in profound ways.”
Before his conversion to Christ, Fu was a leader in the student democracy movement that was smashed at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. He became a house church pastor and a founder, along with his wife, Heidi, of a Bible school before being arrested and jailed in 1996. He started the China Aid Association in 2002.
The ERLC’s trustees voted in September to give the 2007 award to Fu. President Bush received the 2006 award. Previous recipients have included U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum; Congressmen Charles Canady and Frank Wolf; the late Adrian Rogers, three-time SBC president; the late evangelical theologian Carl F.H. Henry; and Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest who advocated for human rights in the former Soviet Union.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.