A prominent Chinese evangelical pastor, Hong Yu-jian said that he was pleased to hear that Bush will see evangelical house church representatives at the White House.
"When I heard this (news), I was happy. That was my first reaction and I support Bush’s decision to see the representatives," said the Vancouver-based pastor, who emigrated from China over ten years ago, and has been a favored guest-speaker at churches from North America to Southeast Asia.
U.S. president Bush will meet with three prominent Christians associated with China’s "underground" house churches – Yu Jie, Li Baiguang, and Wang Yi – at the White House, Thursday.
Bush, who considers himself a born-again Christian, has often urged Beijing to improve religious freedom in China, where believers are only allowed to worship in state-sanctioned churches that are closely-monitored by religious affair officials whom report directly to Beijing.
The U.S. president raised up religious freedom questions during his visit to Beijing in November and during China President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House in April.
In past weeks, China has come under pressure to improve its stance on religious freedom and human rights, especially with the media scrutiny that will follow during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Hong said that though "some people may not like what Bush does" because they feel that "he shouldn’t interfere with religious affairs," what the U.S. president is doing is moral because "this is about human rights."
"All people were created by God’s image…and are precious in His eyes…and do not deserve to be prevented from enjoying their human rights," Hong told the Gospel Herald in a telephone interview.
Beijing has insisted that it is supportive of religious freedom in China, and has often cited the number of Bibles printed domestically as proof.
"The Chinese government really desires to give an image of religious freedom…and…wants to take its place in the international community," says Hong, who pointed out the recent China Bible Exhibition soon to be held in Atlanta indicates this desire.
The Canadian-church pastor, nonetheless, emphasized that if "Chinese house churches cannot have freedom to worship freedom and not face pressures to conform with regulations… of government churches, and not fear arrests by police, then we cannot say there is religious freedom in China."
Discussion on religious freedom heated up on domestic-Chinese discussion boards and forums after reports of the upcoming White House meeting surfaced, Tuesday. However, several sites were inactive by at least Wednesday afternoon, though it cannot be confirmed if government-censors were involved.
The White House meeting scheduled for Thursday comes just as Beijing faces a dispute with the Vatican over the power to appoint Chinese Catholics and Rome’s subsequent accusations that China violated human rights by coercing Catholic leaders to bless the consecrations of two Bishops without papal blessing.