From the Worldwide Faith News archives

NCCCUSA China Delegation Report

Date 23 Oct 1998 08:11:50

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Contact: NCC News, 212-870-2252
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 NEW YORK, Oct. 23 ---- The Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell 
slipped into the back seat of the taxi at New York's 
Kennedy Airport, exhausted following the long flight back 
from China yet exhilarated at the rapid growth and 
increasing vitality of the Chinese church that she had 
witnessed during her eight-day visit.

 But when Dr. Campbell - General Secretary of the 
National Council of Churches - mentioned to the driver 
where she'd just been, his immediate question was, "Are 
they still beating up on the Christians?"

 "I get that question everywhere," Dr. Campbell sighed 
as she recounted the incident.  "Are there regulations to 
be observed by churches in China?  Yes, and by all 
organized bodies.  Are the regulations onerous and 
restrictive?  Sometimes.  Many of them we would not accept 
in our country.  Are laws guaranteeing religious freedom 
unevenly applied?  Yes.

 "But Christians in China are terribly offended at the 
tide of rumor that there's widespread, terrible 
persecution, and asked us to advocate for a more accurate 
portrayal of their situation," Dr. Campbell said.  "These 
people deserve our support.  The most damaging is when 
people say, `The people in the registered churches aren't 
real Christians.'  That's so arrogant.  Of course they are 
real Christians."

Dr. Campbell spent Oct. 8-15 in China as leader of a 
seven-member official NCC delegation visit that included as 
members Ambassador and Mrs. Andrew Young. (Ambassador Young 
is the NCC's President Elect for 2000-01.)  Their purpose 
was to look at the current status of church-state relations 
in China.

The delegation's very full program included briefings 
by the China Christian Council and discussions with the 
U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing.  They visited Yenjing 
Seminary in Beijing and had meetings with top Chinese 
officials and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.  They 
were received by Chairman Li Ruihuan of the Chinese 
People's Political Consultative Conference and Mr. Yeh 
Xiaowen, Director General of the Religious Affairs Bureau.

Dr. Campbell said Chinese Christians "told the 
delegation over and over again, in effect, `Are you 
listening to us?  Do you not see our growth?  We are doing 
the best we can.  We are running to catch up!'"

China's Church Marked by Rapid Growth

 China's Protestant Christians numbered about 700,000 
in 1949.  When the Cultural Revolution struck in 1965, "the 
church disappeared for more than 10 years," said the Rev. 
Dr. Albert Pennybacker, NCC Associate General Secretary for 
Public Policy and a member of the delegation.  "Its leaders 
were taken into custody.  Its church buildings were 
confiscated and closed.

 "At the end of that terrible period, a Christian 
community emerged committed to self-governance, self-
propagation and self-support," he said.  "Now the China 
Christian Council tells us that they count 11 million 
Christians, 12,000 registered churches and at least 25,000 
`meeting places,' which may use private homes."

 "Christians in China reflect the best of China's 
vibrant young generation as well as the faithful who 
survived religious persecution during the Cultural 
Revolution," commented delegation member Sharon Maeda, 
Deputy General Secretary, Mission Contexts and 
Relationships/Mission Education, General Board of Global 
Ministries, United Methodist Church. 

 Church growth has been, and continues to be, so rapid 
that one of the biggest challenges facing the China 
Christian Council, the NCC's historic partner, is to keep 
pace in the training of clergy and lay leaders and 
refurbish churches returned by the government.  

In Nanjing, the NCC delegation worshipped in Mochou 
Church, where Ambassador Young preached to 4,000 people on 
the theme of "God's Amazing Power of Love."  At the end of 
the service, people crowded four rows deep around the altar 
rail and knelt in passionate prayer.

In Beijing the delegation attended a jam-packed mid-
week worship service in an "unregistered" meeting place - a 
three-room private home in a crowded working class area.  
"People from the neighborhood come at 8:30 a.m. three days 
a week to sing hymns, study the Bible and pray," Ambassador 
Young said.  "One of the hymns they sang said, `The Kingdom 
of God shall triumph in spite of the weakness of little 
churches like this.' We had the feeling of being in the 
early church, as described in the Book of Acts."  

The group's first stop was Shanghai where they were 
formally received by the China Christian Council and the 
Three-Self Patriotic Movement.  During the opening 
reception at the International Community Church, a choir of 
four welcomed the delegation with moving Chinese hymns 
composed and written by the Chinese themselves.

Chinese Christians "didn't deny the serious 
persecution during the Cultural Revolution," Ambassador 
Young said.  "They said one of the reasons the church grew 
so after the Cultural Revolution was because during it, 
Christians didn't turn in their neighbors.  They suffered 
themselves rather than implicating others.  

"The moral example they set during the Cultural 
Revolution was the key to their evangelism and propagation 
after the Cultural Revolution.  That's a story you never 
hear," he said.  "And I think the Chinese government has 
recognized the role of religion in stabilizing and 
encouraging people to live moral and responsible lives."  
Commented Ms. Maeda, "It is clear that the government of 
the Peoples Republic of China welcomes the good citizenship 
and community leadership of Christians."

However, stressed Victor Hsu, NCC Director for East 
Asia and the Pacific, who staffed the delegation, both the 
China Christian Council and the government officials the 
delegation met admitted repeatedly that there were problems 
in the implementation of the religious regulation during 
this decade.

"When we talked with Christian leaders," Dr. 
Pennybacker said, "they spoke of problems between a growing 
church and a developing government and country.  They spoke 
of regional problems where `ultra-leftists' remain in 
positions of power.  However, they emphasized their 
government's commitment to religious freedom for all.  

"They talked of China's commitment to the rule of law 
and its value for the churches, in spite of sometimes the 
inadequate administering of laws in their large and varied 
country.  But consistently they denied that persecution was 
widespread or an intentional government policy."

Continued Dr. Campbell, "China knows its relationship 
with the United States is very affected by the degree of 
religious freedom that's practiced.  Even the highest 
officials said, `Our law is that people worship in their 
faith without interference.  But there are places local 
officials don't always grant people as much as they should.  
If that's pointed out - as it has been by the China 
Christian Council - we will look into it and act.'"

Counseled Dr. Peter Pizor, Chair of the Worldwide 
Ministries Division of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who 
serves on the faculty of Northwest College, Powell, Wyo., 
"My advice for U.S. Christians would be to celebrate the 
emerging strength of Chinese Christians, rejoice as they 
share their faith, and at the same time be realistic and 
recognize there are problem areas.

"The government's administration of religion in China 
is heavy handed," he said.  "There are party officials in 
several of the provinces who are overzealous.  There are 
places where free expression of worship, although provided 
for under Chinese law, is not fully honored."  But he 
cautioned against generalizing, urging that "when we hear 
of problems, we need to look at them carefully and deal 
with them as individual problems.

 The NCC delegation raised two particular cases with 
government officials, advocating for:

  release from prison of Father Su Zhimin, a 65-year-old 
Roman Catholic bishop of Baoding in Hebei Province.  He 
has spent off and on a total of 20 years in prison, and 
it is reported that he has been subjected to much abuse 
while in prison.  His present status is unknown. 
  "We let them know we felt that when they keep in prison 
church leaders with international visibility they don't 
help themselves and make it hard for us to make a case for 
religious freedom in China,"  Dr. Campbell said.  Added Dr. 
Pennybacker, "It is persuasive when representatives of 
Protestant and Orthodox Christians, for instance, plead the 
cause of a Catholic leader.  I believe we were heard." 
  increased tolerance of groups such as one that has come 
to be known as "The Shouters."  Commented Ambassador 
Young, "In China the image of religion, from Buddhism 
and Taoism, is `quiet meditation.'  The Shouters believe 
if you're not hysterical you're not saved.  We made the 
point that there's a place in Christian experience for 
that kind of emotional religious expression."

"Our call for tolerance," Dr. Pizor said, "was made 
in every conversation at every level.  It was done on an 
individual basis as well."  In general, Dr. Pennybacker 
said,  "We urged a greater confidence in the entire 
Christian community, registered or unregistered, as loyal 
Chinese.  We asked government leaders to make allowances 
for the diverse and sometimes belligerent or excessive 
religious voices that always emerge.  It is the nature of 
religion.  I believe we were heard.  Time alone will allow 
us to judge the impact of our engagement with these leaders 
of China."
 Most Chinese Christians value their identity as a 
"post-denominational" church.  "The eagerness of some 
Western denominations to reintroduce themselves into China 
will be viewed by Christians there as an inappropriate 
intrusion," Dr. Pennybacker said.  "Such activity would be 
disrespectful of Chinese Christians."  One such situation 
creating tensions is in Mongolia and North East China, 
where Korean missionaries are establishing missions and 
programs without reference to the local Chinese churches.

 The Three-Self Principle helps create an indigenous 
Christian church no longer under the control of 
missionaries from other parts of the world.  Said Ms. 
Maeda, "Their Three-Self Principle allows us to build a 
true partnership without the inequity of a donor/recipient 
relationship.  It is a wonderful model of self-
determination for Christians in other developing 

 "It was my second time in China in two years," Dr. 
Campbell said.  "I sense more ease on the part of the 
pastors, more comfort with their capacity to act out their 
Christian faith.  I see the church gradually coming more 
and more alive.  I think there will be a future with a 
tremendous interaction between China and the United States.  
We will have to be partners for the good of the world."

"We try to see a country through our partners' eyes 
and ears, what it's really like for Christians who have to 
live and work on a daily basis in that country," Dr. 
Campbell said.  "The United States can offer to the world a 
model of religious liberty but we can offer it as a gift 
rather than use it as a club." 

Mr. Hsu reported that "the delegation discussed 
several possible measures for telling the wonderful story 
of God working in China through Chinese Christians.  The 
first step will be a report to the upcoming NCC General 
Assembly in Chicago, to be presented Nov. 13 by Ambassador 
Young.  It will take time and commitment to impress on the 
American public that the Church of Jesus Christ is alive 
and well in China, despite imperfections.  I hope very much 
that the member communions will be supportive of our 
follow-up plans once they are worked out."


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