Christian persecution groups responded with strong objections to controversial statements made recently by evangelist Luis Palau, who claimed that there was greater religious freedom in China and urged churches to register with the government.
"[Palau's] position discounts the suffering of our brothers and sisters in China, and assumes the good will of a government that hasn't earned that assumption," wrote Todd Nettleton, director of news service for the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), on the VOM Persecution Blog.
During his fifth trip to China, the highly respected evangelist said at a press conference in Beijing on Nov. 19 that he wanted to ¡§make every effort to let people know that there is more freedom in China than people have anticipated," and that he would "personally" encourage unregistered churches to register and "receive greater freedom and blessings from the government."
"I feel that registering is a positive thing for the followers of Jesus," Palau stated. "Believers should live in the open, especially when the Chinese government offers it. 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," he added.
Palau's statements concerning persecution in China came as a shock and a disappointment to much of the Christian community and drew the protests of persecution watchdogs internationally.
"Luis Palau echoes common misinformed preconceptions about registration in China when he says that the government's urging of house churches to register is similar to the way churches must register in the U.S. and in his native country, Argentina and hence, he urges unregistered congregations to register," wrote Glenn Penner, Communication Director for the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) in Canada, in a statement to The Christian Post.
Penner noted that rather than receiving "greater freedom and blessings" from the government, Chinese churches actually lose rights when they register with the government including: the absolute right to choose who will lead services; the right to choose location and time of services; the autonomy to appoint pastors and preach about the second coming of Christ; the ability to allow children under 18 to attend Church meetings; the right to perform evangelistic works outside of designated places of worship; the freedom by clergies to choose who and where to study; and the headship of the church.
Registered churches in China must submit to the authority of the Communist Party-controlled government, yielding power to the government to approve basic Church decisions.
"Christians are under a biblical mandate to disobey laws that call for them to disobey scriptural principles or to give to Caesar that which belongs to God," Penner exclaimed.
"The whole idea of mandatory registration is a violation of religious liberty and basic human rights. Governments are not given the mandate to grant religious freedom; this is a God-given right. Governments can only acknowledge this right."