PORTLAND, Ore. (BP)–Evangelist Luis Palau released a six-paragraph statement, dated Nov. 28, expressing a measure of regret over comments he made about religious freedom in China during a mid-November trip to the communist giant.
During the China visit, Palau was invited by President Bush to join in worship at a registered church in Beijing.
The issue was recounted by The Washington Times on Nov. 28. “Mr. Palau told reporters that some reports of religious persecution are unjustified,” The Times reported, drawing from a transcript it obtained via the Web. The newspaper stated that Palau “suggested that China’s unofficial churches should register to ‘receive greater freedom and blessings from the government.’”
The Times reported that Palau “then compared church registration in China to American tax law. ‘Even in the United States, you can’t get away with defying order,’ [Palau] said. ‘I feel that registering is a positive thing for the followers of Jesus. Believers should live in the open, especially when the Chinese government offers it.’”
Palau continued, “Jesus said that we are the light of the world and that we should not be kept hidden or in the dark. Therefore, believers should share their faith openly. If I were Chinese, I would definitely register. Not registering only lends to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.”
The Times also reported: “In a Nov. 19 interview with China Daily, posted on the newspaper’s Web site, the evangelist said, ‘Chinese people enjoy more religious freedom than people overseas imagine’ and said he’d been allowed complete latitude in his weeklong visit.
“‘Nobody told me what to say and what not to say,’ he said,” The Times reported.
The Times’ article quoted the president of a Texas-based organization named China Aid Association as calling Palau’s remarks “irresponsible and misleading.”
Bob Fu, in an e-mail circulated to the news media, stated, “To equate the church-registration requirement by the IRS in the U.S.A. for tax purposes to forced registration under the Communist Party’s Religious Affairs Bureau is totally misleading. Reverend Palau’s China religious-freedom remarks will be much more convincing if he is allowed to do an open evangelism in the Tiananmen Square, just like what he did at the Mall in Washington, D.C., recently.”
Fu’s e-mail also included statements from individuals identified as pastor Zhang Mingxuan, chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, and evangelist “Sarah” Liu Xianzhi, a spokesperson for the South China Church. Fu’s e-mail stated, “Over 1000 [South China Church] pastors, evangelists and believers were arrested and imprisoned since 2001.”
Palau’s full statement of Nov. 28 follows:
“I regret some of the remarks I made to reporters during my recent trip to China. It’s not my role as an evangelist to suggest that churches in China should register. My role is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“My prayer and desire remains the same … that working together with all believers in the Lord Jesus we can see total religious freedom in China and open doors to publicly proclaim the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I love China. I love the Chinese people. I have been praying for China since I was sixteen years old. Those prayers have intensified in recent years as I constantly and continually encourage Christians worldwide to pray for China.
“It has always been one of my goals to help and protect God’s people, not create problems for them. I’ve lived in countries where Christians endured hardship for their faith and I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for brothers and sisters who have suffered for being faithful and dedicated followers of Jesus Christ.
“I have been permitted to preach in China now for over five years and have seen hundreds come to faith in Jesus Christ. This has been one of the greatest joys of my more than 50 years of ministry. I pray these trips are symbolic of changes taking place in China and that these changes lead to greater religious freedom.
“I was surprised, but honored when asked by President George W. Bush last weekend to join him at a Chinese-language worship service in Beijing. It is evident that Mr. Bush sees religious freedom as a very important issue concerning China-US relations as he has repeatedly expressed in public.
“I continue to appeal to Christians around the globe to especially pray for China. It would deeply pain me if any of my comments would provoke any kind of trouble for God’s saints in the Peoples Republic of China. And I pray our sovereign Lord would not allow it.”
Among the comments challenging Palau’s remarks in China, Zhang Mingxuan was quoted by Fu as stating: “It’s rather ironical that while Rev. Palau was propagating that Chinese pastors today won’t get arrested unless breaking the law, but barely two weeks ago (on November 8) a Beijing house church pastor Cai Zhuohua was sentenced to three years simply because of printing bibles [sic] and other Christian literatures.” Fu described Mingxuan as having been “arrested many times for his faith” and stated that he was “kidnapped in Beijing Train Station by the Chinese security agents one day before Rev. Palau’s press conference.”
“We demand Rev. Palau to retract his irresponsible remarks which deeply hurt the feelings of hundreds of house church prisoners and their families,” Mingxuan said.
“Sarah” Liu Xianzhi was quoted by Fu as stating, “I do want to let Rev. Palau know there are still 16 pastors and evangelists from our church serving in different prisons in China now…. Rev. Palau is always welcomed to visit our church and pastors in the prisons.” Fu described Xianazhi as having served six years in prison for her faith and having been “tortured severely until 2004 at the age of 34.”
A report by Mission Network News, meanwhile, quoted Werner Burklin, founder of China Partner Ministries, which works with the registered church, as agreeing with Palau.
“All Christians can worship freely if they just abide by the law of the land. People are not being persecuted for their faith in China, they’re prosecuted for not abiding by the law of the land in many instances,” Burklin told MNN.
If all Christians in China were persecuted for the faith in Christ, Burklin said, “… millions of people in China who are Christians now would be in jail.”
MNN then quoted a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, Tom Nettleton, as stating, “We have obviously a lot of admiration, a lot of respect for Mr. Palau and for the work that he’s done around the world. However, I think in this case his comments are misguided.”
Nettleton told MNN that when a church registers with the Chinese government, “[it] means that the communist party-controlled government approves who’s going to lead the services. The communist party-controlled government approves when and where you can meet. Government-approved pastors are strongly discouraged from preaching on the second coming of Christ, which they call the doomsday theory. And, nobody under 18 is allowed to attend one of these registered churches.”
Nettleton also stated, “The reality is, to register with the Chinese government in most cases means greatly compromising your beliefs and saying, ‘The communist party comes first, my faith in Christ comes second,’ and obviously as Christians that’s not a compromise we should be willing to make.”
Compiled by Art Toalston.