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NCCCUSA China Delegation Report
CAROL_FOUKE.firstname.lastname@example.org (CAROL FOUKE)
23 Oct 1998 08:11:50
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Contact: NCC News, 212-870-2252
Email: email@example.com; Website: www.ncccusa.org
106NCC10/23/98 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CHINA'S CHURCHES: "VITAL, GROWING,
ADDRESSING THEIR PROBLEMS"
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
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
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
"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
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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